Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Taboo Makes You Want to See James Fail

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Considering that James is up against the East India Company, it’s pretty big achievement for us to be rooting against him. Let’s see what happened in Taboo episode 7 that made me go to the dark side (without cookies or Darth Vader).


The episode opens on Winter’s funeral. Not in a cemetery, because prostitutes weren’t considered good enough for such an honor, but by the riverbank to allow her body to be carried to the ocean. Helga insists on it despise the priest’s reluctance. James is here too, but far away from the ceremony. The whole scene reminds me how miserable life was for 19th century prostitutes (or for the children associated with them).

As far away from the idea of the “funny whore” as you can get.

In the meantime, the world’s least funny chemist delivers James’ son to the Delaney’s house. The butler doesn’t really want to take him in, but Lorna does it anyway. However, she slams the door on the chemist’s face (she has no time for mediocre men who are also mediocre chemists).

She must have also walked to the riverbank because we see her joins James before the end of the ceremony. She assures him that she knows he didn’t kill Winter, he replies that he isn’t so sure. Before leaving Lorna spots a kid who runs away when she tries to talk to him. The scene changes point of view, and we join Atticus and Helga on the boat on their way to drown Winter’ body somewhere appropriate. Atticus offers his condolences and tries to tell her that “There is no certainty that it was James who did it”. She retorts that there is no certainty that he he did not. Who can blame her?

James, back at his home, is having dreams/hallucination of Winter, and we discover that he really doesn’t know if he is guilty or not. Suddenly, someone is knocking on the door in the middle of the night. James goes to see who it is and surprise surprise… It’s Chichester!

If you refuse to meet truth and justice, truth and justice are going to seek you out.

They have a brief conversation about what happened on the slave ship that sank. James was the only survivor and was among the men who nailed down the hold where the slaves were. After that, James was first a slave then took part in slave trade, killed one of his associates and stole diamonds. What a nice guy! Nevertheless, and despite James’ general rudeness and creepiness during the conversation, Chichester wants him to testify against Sir Stuart Strange. He will be granted a royal pardon if he does so. James says that he has a counter offer.

The next day James trusts his son with the key to his safe and then goes to the docks. He seems to want to talk to Helga, but she shoots at him before he can reach the brothel. So, he decides to go to his office where people won’t be shooting at him. Zilpha joins him, probably to fix the details of their future and relationship (move in together maybe?). But James stops her before she can really start on the subject.

They reenact their dialogue from episode three, but this time the roles are reversed. It’s Zilpha who insists that they are the same person and James who declares that he is over with this relationship. I am as shocked as Zilpha, even if this was already implied in the last episode.

After this James goes to check on the gunpowder hiding spot that Atticus is looking after for him. They discuss Helga’s case, even after James made it perfectly clear that the room they are standing in is the room his mother was locked in. Because this conversation needed to be more awkward. Anyway, Atticus points out that Helga is going to betray them and that they should “deal with her”. James is against it and forbids Atticus from doing anything to her.

Back at his house again, he is surprised to see that Lorna and his son are cooking. They tell him that the Butler is ill, or drunk, or dying. In short, he won’t come out of his room. James goes to seek him out.

He interrogates him about the number of rats in the house, a number that doesn’t add up to the huge quantity of poison the butler bought around the time of old Delaney’s death. The man then confesses that he did kill James’s father but it was a mercy kill. James came home too late, both for old Delaney and for him. James, who seems to have known about this for a long time, appears strangely unmoved by the confession. He just asks his servant to go to the kitchen to help with the cooking.

We joins Sir Stuart Strange at the East India Company where a new ‘subservient’ announces that his first meeting, with two women, is ready. It’s Helga and one of her “girls”. They denounce James in the “giving gunpowder to the USA” business. This is high treason and hoo boy is the East India Company happy about it. As much as a child on Christmas morning. However, they are going to keep Helga and the girl under custody. Because they are women and prostitutes, so how can the East India Company respect them?

“I like my human low-lives obedient.”

However, once again, Godders runs to James to inform him of the betrayal. James was having a hallucination of his dead mother, for a change, and doesn’t seem really disturbed by the news. He takes Godders for a romantic ride instead.

Stu decides to go see Coop to tell him the good news. At first, Coop doesn’t seem thrilled by the idea of meeting him (remember, he is leading a campaign against him through Chichester), but when Stu explains that he has something on James that will give Nootka to the Crown, Coop is much more open to cooperation. Of course, the fact that Stu still wants exactly the same monopoly that James demanded probably explains why Coop doesn’t stop the enquiry against him just yet.

James leads Godders directly to Chichester, and they both try to convince the lad to testify against Sir Strange. Godders doesn’t want to because it is really dangerous for him, but in the end, James finally convinces him. Chichester leaves. Soldiers are coming, but Godders manages to escape. James doesn’t even try to get away, is arrested,  and the soldiers brings him to the tower.

Next, we focus on Lorna, who is looking for the child she saw after the funeral. She finds him and convinces him to tell her what he knows of Winter’s death. Turns out James didn’t kill her, a member of the Company did. She goes home to tell the butler (and James if he were here), but find him crying. He informs her of James’s arrest and says that he should have killed him too.

In the tower, Coop asks James to reveal the names of the pro-American activists in London. If he doesn’t, he will be tortured. James demands to meet Sir Strange in private. Coop laughs at him and leaves.

The episode continues with James being torture and everyone getting impatient over the lack of answers they are getting. We get a scene of the first meeting between Sir Strange and Chichester where Stu is basically a racist asshole, and Chichester tells him that he is still going to get him.

By the end of the episode, facing James’ persistent silence, Coop accedes to his demand. James and Stu are left facing each other and James tells Sir Strange,

“I have a use for you…”

Suspense! Mystery! What a way to tease the final episode!


Let me be perfectly clear, the episode is still very good. But, it introduces a huge problem with James’ character. Before we get to that, let’s begin with what is good.

Most of the characterizations stays consistent for each character. It is difficult to be true to a character when they are facing a catastrophe because by definition they are not going to act normally, but the audience must still think that they are the same person. In a way, when facing an extraordinary situation a character must react extraordinarily, but not uncharacteristically. It is complicated to do, I understand, but it’s a necessity.

There are 4 characters who are extremely well written in this episode. Lorna, who tries to uncover the truth. Helga, who is rightfully enraged against James. Godders, who tries to protect himself while doing the right thing. And the butler. Special mention for how good his scripting is. Having him broken by the simple confession of his crime and James’ absence of reaction is really well-thought.

The acting is impeccable as well.

However, the writing of James’ character isn’t that great that episode because we are left wondering what his goal is. Up to this point, it has seemed to be to get away from England and recreate a society free of ‘Taboo’ (roll credits) for the people he cares about. This idea was supported by his incestuous love for his sister (as weird as it is, it was working), the filial bound he has with his butler, the interest he took in his son, and the general liking he seemed to have for the outcasts of London.

His break-up with Zilpha after he had spent 5 episodes courting/convincing her that they were soulmates is more than anti-climatic. It goes against what appears to be his initial motivation. It’s cruel, too, because he ruined her life. Remember that even if her husband was a dick from the beginning, it was James’ unwanted courtship that triggered the living hell Zilpha was left facing all alone. The only reason James was interested in getting her out of her wedding was to sleep with her. He never showed any interest in protecting her from her husband. That kind of let down put him, in my view, in the same category as Theseus and Jason (both of whom abandoned their wives, Jason after vowing to love Medea forever but then marrying another woman for political ties). And I think that what Medea did to Jason in retaliation was justified.

James’ lack of reaction to his butler’s confession further undermines his initial motivation. Why does James Delaney do what he does? Who does James Delaney love? Nobody, I want to answer. Maybe his son? And maybe Winter if I want to be perfectly honest. But, even that isn’t blatant.

It could have been a good story. Having James shift from his initial position and leave his incestuous love and his family behind him in order focus on the future through Lorna and the children. But his constant obsession with his mother contradicts this. Furthermore, I have an impression that the latter came too late in the narrative to result in a satisfying season finale. As of now, I enter the last episode from a position of it being very difficult to root for the protagonist.

If Taboo manages to pull if off, I will be really impressed. In the mean time, the last episode is tomorrow, and I hope you all to enjoy it.

All Images Courtesy Of FX Network.

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