Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Taboo Reminds us that James is no Hero

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We are already at mid-season in Taboo and the less we can say is that violence is now upon us. Let’s have a look at how it’s done.


The episode opens on what could be the day after Lorna’s last representation, in the Delaney’s home. Some soldiers, working for the Crown, storm the house and arrest a frightened Lorna. Before she is taken away, James tells her that the Crown wants her to sign papers, that she shouldn’t, and that he is going to get her out of this.

We follow her in an 19th century prison whose esthetic is: “we do not consider the Human Rights as mandatory”. There she is stripped of her overdress and brought to Solomon Coop. He proceeds to continue to undress her, threats to rape her (and to let others rape her) and then have her hanged if she doesn’t sign a paper granting her Nootka shares to the Crown. But fortunately the East India Company is here! (this is a sentence that I thought I would never write).

They manage to get Lorna out of this dreadful situation. More than shaken by the experience, she first dismisses James’s butler help, before accepting when he makes a move proving that she might be more accepted by the Delaney’s family that she thought.

We cut to the East India Company where Sir Strange is enraged by the duplicity of the Crown. Indeed Coop has tried to get Nootka for the Crown only which goes against the deal they have previously stricken. Stu is even more distressed by the fact that it’s James that gave them the information about Lorna’s arrest and as therefore made the East India Company his toy. Some more well thought insults are spoken before Sir Strange sets his mind on stopping his negotiation with the Crown about India.

The next scene shows us a meeting between James and Godders in a brothel/hotel room. Godders informs James that the Crown will not give him the monopoly he wants. He also reminds him that, if he plans to trade with the Indians, he will need gunpowder and that he will not be granted a permit for it. James grunts and insults Godders.

But still, he makes his way to a public demonstration of chemistry. The chemist seems to know his business so James decides to cock-blok him by offering him a job.

Well when I break glassware I get criticized!

Coming back home James asks his butler how Lorna is. His answer is that she seems pretty okay but since she is an actor, who knows. James goes see her directly. Lorna rightfully accuses James of not caring for her and having put her in a position of danger for his own interest. James simply answers something along the line of “That’s what I do”. Lorna tries to get more information out of him but she ends-up sort of flirting with him (PLEASE DON’T!). James looks a bit receptive but doesn’t enter the game. However he demands of her to bring him the chest full of his father’s possessions. Lorna simply states that she is tired and bids James good night.

Both of them seems a bit disappointed by how the conversation went but James as just the think to cheer himself-up. He is going to magically send wet-dreams to his sister! (this joins the club of the sentences I thought I would never wrote). A delirious sequence divided between Zilpha, James and the “dream” follows.

Eventually the sequences is cut by Zilpha’s husband entering her room. He seems drunk but notices that his wife wasn’t simply “sleeping” as she claimed. He therefore decides to rape her. Urg, mariage, am I right?

James is waiting the chemist at the farm where we saw the mysterious Delaney boy in episode 1. Once the scientist is here, they both proceed to look at the quality of components which will be used to create gun powder. The chemist states that he will need human piss and saltpeter to accelerate the process. There is only two places where you can find saltpeter ready to be used in England, unfortunately. One of them seems impossible to access, the other one is the warehouse of the East India Company.

“We, the union of all working horses, have decided we will not go to work again until the conditions of safety are greatly improved.”

The chemist leaves and James is about to do the same but his horse, which has hidden his French roots all this time, decides it’s a good time to go on strike. It seems to be complaining about the absence of safety that its daily job entails. James decides to go investigate this absence of safety. And he falls on a hitman send to kill him. They fight. James is seriously injured but still managed to best his opponent by being a generally more terrible person. However, mysterious little Delaney was here and saw everything. James is going to have some trouble win his trust now.

Back at his home James learns that he has been invited to a ball by a certain Countess Musgrove. She has a terrible reputation as a seductress who won her social status using her “feminine charms”. Lorna joins James and his butler in the kitchen. James invites her to come to the ball with him.

But before the festivities starts James pays a little visit to Helga. He decides that from now on he will buy the urine produces by the brothel, which will make Atticus laugh to no end after, and tells Helga he is buying her services and the one of everyone working there for the night. He is planning a robbery.

Him and Lorna are getting ready for the ball. It happens that Zilpha is there too. Once again seeing her brother she decides to isolate herself. They have a discussion of the kind “I love you.” “Me neither”. But this time things are changing because Dr. Dumbarton happens to be here and has heard the entire conversation. Zilpha goes back to the party mortified and the good doctor laugh at James. But he tells him that the USA are ready to grant him and his sister new identities if he agrees to sell Nootka.

In the meantime Atticus and his men are in the process of robbing the East India Company with the help of Helga and her girls. The all thing goes fairly well and they live with a cart full of saltpeter.

I am summoning Robespierre’s spirit as I write this.

Back at the party, which is turning in the perfect exemplar of why the French decided to kill all the nobility, Lorna makes the acquaintance of Zilpha, who asks her if it’s okay if she makes a move on James (NO IT’S NOT, RUN FROM HERE LORNA!). Zilpha says that she mustn’t be completely sane to have that kind of desire and adds of course she is okay because she is his sister. Lorna looks positively intrigued.

Speaking of James, he is intercepted by the mistress of the house who “invites” him to take part with her in a magic trick. It allows them to have a private discussion and she reveals herself as the American spy he was looking for since episode 2. It’s more a first contact rather than a precise discussion on the terms and conditions of an agreement but Countess Musgrove makes it pretty clear that he will sell to the USA. And then she threatens Zilpha.

Zilpha noticing that both Countess Musgrove and James are looking at her and retreats to her husband. Unfortunately he is both drunk and high and while seeing James starts completely loosing his mind. Seeing that he is one step away from screaming to the entire world that James and Zilpha have had (still has?) an incestuous relationship, James forcibly brings him to the gardens.

All the party follows, because excitement! (we are missing one or two good guillotines in this country). After having copiously insulted James, Zilpha’s husband challenges him to a duel “to the death” and…



This episode was undoubtedly more action-packed than last ones. But was it good? “Yes!” wants to answer my over-enthusiast heart. “Yes but…” tempers my naturally pessimistic brain. Let’s have look.

There is three explicit sexual encounters but, even if one didn’t need to be shown and another one was a bit to edgyTM for my taste, none of them over-sexualize women’s bodies. Women are always nearly fully clothed in them. The most naked one is Zilpha during the dream sequence. She is wearing a regency night-gown. We have seen more revealing clothes. Two out three sex scene actually look more grotesque than anything else, but I think that they were supposed to look grotesque. So good point to the show for that.

There is also the issue of rape. I think I will not shock anyone in saying that TV-shows tend to trip over the carpet while tackling the issue . But Taboo does a pretty decent jobs with it. In the case of Lorna there is no rape but she is threaten with it. And still, while being stripped of her clothes, she isn’t sexualized at all. You know she is naked from waist up, but  you never see her breast. What you do see however is the bruise on her arm, her skin turning blue under the effect of the cold. Facing rape put her in a position of weakness, not in a sexualized one. And she hold her ground.

Behold the incredible titillation of the scene!

She even hold James responsible for what happened and he doesn’t deny it or minimized it. Praise the Lord! Zilpha’s one isn’t shown on screen but still you sympathise with her. Because you know, we are adult and don’t have to hear cries and see tears to know that rape is bad.

The episode also does a good job reminding us that James isn’t a saint. He is homophobic, doesn’t care for what happen to others around him and seems to take pleasure in violence. And it is addressed by his butler. If you root for James Delaney you root for him knowing full well that under normal circumstances (Taboo not being a TV-show) you shouldn’t.

The acting is impeccable in this episode. The scene, at the East India Company, is magnificent, Jonathan Pryce is doing a fantastic job in making us love to hate Stu. The new characters introduced are pretty good thanks to that too. Especially Countess Musgrove. She manages too play her role of eccentric mondaine while being completely unfazed by James and appearing to be the one controlling completely the situation. I hope we will see her more often.

Does this look like the face of mercy James?

However… THAT DREAM SEQUENCE WAS UTTERLY RIDICULOUS! Come on! Magic sexual fantasy? You are worth better that this show. Please no more of this for the rest of the season. And stay clear of magic too, that doesn’t really suit the tone of show. Seriously don’t.

Oh boy that was bad!

In short my heart loves this episode, my brain has trouble forgetting that dream sequence. Do as you must with it and see you next week for Taboo episode 5.

All Images Courtesy Of FX Network.

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