I am no longer behind on Taboo, so we’re going to talk Episode 2. While the first one centered on making us acquainted with the main character and explaining where his conflict with the East India Company stems from, this one starts the “action”. Let’s get started, shall we?
The episode opens in Sir Stuart Strange’s office. One of his subordinate enters, and Sir Stuart demonstrates human resources management in a way that Tywin Lannister would have appreciated. The subordinate was supposed to have James Delanay killed, as the last episode implied, but hasn’t done anything yet. Displeased Sir Stuart explains, with all the calm in the world, that in the absence of James’s death, his subordinate will be looking for a job somewhere else.
We cut to James digging up what he buried last episode: a bag full of diamonds. He counts them and locks them in a newly acquired safe. He then proceed to give a weapon to his butler, who reluctantly accepts. James uses the occasion to inquire about how his father might have been poisoned but keeps the other man in the dark regarding the real reason for his questions.
The next scene takes place at a ships’s auctioning. James buys the Felice Adventurero as a representative of Delaney Nootka Trading Company (Nootka being the name of his land in North America). But surprise surprise, one of the East India Company’s employee is there and quickly decides to go back to his master to tell him everything about this new development.
This leads us to another class in Sir Stuart’s micro-management. After insulting everyone for their lack of intelligence, Stu proves how smart he is. If James knows so much about the current transactions between the USA and England, and has refused their offer, he must have been contacted by the Americans before coming back to London!
Speaking of James, leaves an inn to discover that his horse has been stolen. Thankfully, the thief has the good taste to leave his name, and James goes seek him out. We are thus introduced to the sympathetic figure of Atticus.
James and Atticus know each other, but Atticus doesn’t want to say why he stole James’ horse just yet, he wants to have a little chat. He asks his “old friend” what the biggest thing he saw in Africa was for his book. James is pissed, but answers him. Atticus continues this totally normal conversion between two totally normal old buddies by informing James that someone did contact him to kill Delaney’s father. James tries to find out who but Atticus doesn’t provide more information. Our protagonist changes strategies and buys Atticus’s services, a sort of information network.
Two new characters take the stage next: Solomon Coop and King George III. The first one tries to inform the second about the American blockade. The King, presented as mad and incompetent (someone likes Monarchy here), focuses on tiny details rather than the big picture. He wants the American ships to be sunk right away, against the opinion of the Council of Regency. He then decides the East India Company has to be mistreated, too. Solomon Coop answers “I intend too”. It seems that a new player has entered the game.
Back with James. He is stopped by night on the dock by a serious contestant for the title of creepiest kid ever.
She informs him that her names is Winter and that she lives (but isn’t working yet) at the brothel that James displaced one episode ago. She heard the “Madam” talking with a man about James’ imminent demise, and offers to lead him to the ship where the man lives. James is suspicious but decides to follow her. They row to the boat, the kid continues to be strange and creepy and James burns the ship down. Problem solved, I guess?
Still, James thinks that it might be interesting to have a conversation with the “Madam”. He goes to her, after an argument with his butler, and tries to make “friends” with her to benefit from her information network. To do so, he takes her wig off and tells her that he has knows Winter is her daughter. Charming, as usual. James leaves the place taking Helga’s help (that’s the “Madam”) for granted.
Burning ships just the day before probably reminded James of his own new acquisition, so he boards the Felice Adventurero, only to discover that it was a slave ship. He recalls the time he used to serve on such a ship, specifically its sinking. This causes a mental breakdown, the second one he has while remembering the slaves that died.
The day after, I presume, James heads to a hospital to meet a certain Dr. Dumbarton (played by Michael Kelly). They are both creepy as fuck, and, once again, surprise surprise, the good doctor isn’t just a doctor but also an American spy. James wants him to organize a meeting with the President of the United States of America. To prove his good faith he displays his knowledge of current affairs of the USA and England and that he came by it via another American spy. Dr. Dumbarton doesn’t trust him and threatens him with a gun to make him leave.
Then it’s Zilpha’s first appearance of the episode! Her brother has MAILED her a diamond (who does that?). She rushes to hide it from everybody. Marriage is going just fine.
James will be seeing her soon, since the public opening of his father will is about to happen. Before it, though, he meets with Thoyt. A really good piece of dialogue ensues in which Thoyt, accused of working for the East India Company, defends himself by saying that everyone bends before the Company because if they don’t, they break. It makes-up for his strange introduction in the last episode.
Both men goes to the public opening of the will where Zilpha, her husband, and an angry mob of Delenay’s father’s creditors are waiting for them. As predicted, James is the sole heir. He even manages to control the mob by proving that he can pay them here and now. But a woman emerges from the crowd. She is named Lorna Delanay/Bow and she claims to be Delanay’s father’s widow. If true, she would have a right to at least some of the inheritance. Suffice to say James doesn’t seem all that fond of her.
At the end of the episode James stalks his sister to a party. When she notices him, she goes outside to have a word with him and we learn that I WAS RIGHT. Incest there is and it was consummated. So great because I WAS RIGHT but not so great because, you know, incest. Anyway Zilpha pretty much tells him that she doesn’t want to see him, and James answers that he will continue to stalk her. Family relations are going just fine.
James leaves, but he is followed by a man. They fight, stab each other, but James gets the best of his opponent by ripping his throat open with his bare teeth. Cannibalism going just fine. The episode ends here, with James wounded in an alley.
So what is there to keep in this? Apart from Sir Strange’s fantastic advice in human ressources management of course. Well it’s pretty obvious from the length of the recap that this episode was pretty intense. A lot of things happened but most of all, a lot of new characters were introduced. And this is where the show shines particularly.
Don’t get me wrong, the plot is interesting, but what I found the most striking was how well the introduction of six new characters of importance was handled. If I don’t have a lot of things to say about Solomon Coop and George III, I found the four others particularly interesting.
Winter, Atticus, Dr. Dumbarton, and Lorna only have only one or two scenes each, and yet they make a definitive impression on the viewer. Winter, beyond her creepy demeanor, seems to get on way too well with James, who is himself a bit unsettled by her. You tell yourself: this kid has seen some shit. Atticus, with his jovially threatening attitude, which compliments James’ just fine, and desire to write a book is fun to watch. I also have to give credit to the writer for showing us how his information network actually works, rather than giving him mystical omniscient powers like some people on other shows.
Dr. Dumbarton has a pretty intense scene presenting him as a clever patriot and an very tense spy, but it’s Lorna who gets the best characterization. She appears first as a lyrical theater actress, sure of herself and her rights. But, the scene after, the camera stays on her while she is alone in Thoyt’s office. She repeats to herself this tiny mantra:
” Calm, pretty, certain, fragrant. “
She isn’t so sure of herself after all, but she stills wants what his rightfully hers. She’ll do her best to get it, too, acting the part of a woman who is going to win this fight. It makes her 100% more interesting.
The episode also develops characters already introduced. Special mention goes to Thoyt, who is now excused of his weird introduction in Episode 1. Helga and Sir Strange also are a layer thicker than last episode. It makes them more enjoyable characters, even if Sir Strange is still evidently an antagonist we are not supposed to be rooting for. The writers also have the good taste to begin to explain how James came to learn everything he knows now. That way, when he acts, we know he didn’t just read the plot. It’s a low bar, but it exists.
The question of incest is pretty well addressed, too. Even if it’s obvious that they want us to see chemistry between Zilpha and James and want us to feel uncomfortable about their relationship, it’s not just to be edgy. It is presented as something with plenty of room for abuse, which causes suffering and involves persons not entirely of sane mind. You know, as incest probably should be treated. It’s almost as if the show wants us to think by ourselves a bit! (I know it’s shocking.)
Another high point of the episode is the music, which is more noticeable than last time. It’s beautiful and fits the atmosphere really well.
All in all, Taboo continues to be good, and I am eager to see Episode 3.