The third episode of Taboo aired last Saturday and the less that we can say is that alliances are found in the weirdest place. Oh, and also that, if the power balance is at your disadvantage, you should probably not marry. Always a good reminder.
So we open the episode on three children emptying the pocket of a corpse by the Thames. This reminds us of one of the themes of the show: LIVING IN THE 19TH CENTURY SUCKS!
One of the children is Winter and she implies that she has understood who the corpse is: James Delanay’s assailant. We learn that the corpse is missing its heart and once again Winter hints that James might not need a breakfast this morning.
Speaking of James remember how in the last episode we have left him bleeding to death in a dark alley? Well, he has manages to find a doctor. It’s our dear Dr. Dumbarton who confirms that James needed no breakfast. The good doctor sutures James’s wound but take a malicious delight in making his patient suffer. He wants James to tell him what he wants for Nootka. James gets the best of the doctor by not letting pressure and pain change his judgment. He wants a monopoly on the commerce of tea with China. But he also discovers that the spy that can arrange him a meeting with the president is actually a woman. I guess looking for only 50% of the pro-Americans is easier than looking for 100% of them, so it might as well be a victory for James.
While James is probably on his way home we are taken to the Prince Regent George’s apartment. Solomon Coop informs him about the existence of James Delanay and the conflict about Nootka. They both sees this has an opportunity against the Americans and decide to deal with James. It is strongly implied that they would prefer dealing with him without having to make a deal with him. What a bunch of nice people!
And James arrives home. He is schooled by his butler who is concerned with him not coming home last night and then by him being wounded. They discuss the aggression and decide that it’s time for the Delanay’s household to live in a cave once again (they are going to bare the windows). Both James and his butler go out to meet with Atticus to up-grade the family’s arsenal. James takes advantage of Atticus and his band of joyous people you wouldn’t like to meet at night to make a grand threatening entrance at Thoyt’s agency. While learning of James’s arrival from his assistant Thoyt becomes strangely relatable by answering: “Tell him I am dead”.
But James wants to make a will so Thoyt does so and informs the East India Company of it. Sir Stuart’s two favorites scapegoats enter his office to tell him that the sole beneficiary of James’s will are the United States of America. Once again Stu humiliates them by telling them that not only he knows but has already drawn the appropriate conclusions: that the East India Company must keep James Delanay alive to avoid a dangerous legal precedent. You know Stu being intelligent is very important but being a good Human Resources director consist in a hiring competent people too. Just saying.
We cut back to James who is home once again. He is wandering in his shirt (I am not complaining) while his butler voices an entire variety of concerns. He brushes them off and decides to go to the cellar in the hope that the contract of Nootka’s sale might be there. If he doesn’t encounter the contract down there he encounters Winter who probably think she wasn’t creepy enough last episode. She informs him that she sometimes sleeps here, give him the silver tooth of his assailant and asks him to teach her magic. James send her back home.
He then goes to his mother’s room, probably to have a look there too. Expect he has a psychotic episode there. His butler finds him, sitting on the floor, covered in ashes and with the rest of the room in an impossible mess. We learn that close to the end of her life, James’s mother was held captive in this room for her own “safety”, forbidden to speak her mother tongue. James seems less than okay with this and he continues to question his butler. Indeed he has found a bird engraved in the fireplace and he has the same bird tattooed on his back from when he was in Africa. Both him and his butler are puzzled by this discovery.
We let James on his mother’s grave (which is not on consecrated ground) and go back to the East India Company. Salomon Coop and Stuart Strange are meeting. Stuart Strange wants to use what we knows about Delanay in order to make the Crown change its position on India but the conversion doesn’t proceed as he has planned. Indeed Salomon Coop informs him that he has already received an offer from James, asking for a monopoly on fur against Nootka and that the East India Company is basically fucked on the India question. Stu looses his cool and declares “You realizes that this all business is about vengeance!”. To which Coop responds that he doesn’t know what he has done to James to deserve this but that he should probably change his management of Human Ressources methods. However Stu has not said his last word and reveals that James can very well sell to the USA too. Coop tells him that in this case they could do common cause and mentions Lorna Bow.
And speaking of Lorna Bow, here she is on stage overacting in an outrageously anti-French play in front of a shitty audience. Coop is here watching the play, being as condescending about the play as I am, and asking question about her. We learn that the theatre pimps out its actors even if Lorna doesn’t take part in this commerce. Coop gives a letter and gold coin to an employee of the theater to pass it to Lorna.
Next scene, we joins James walking in a sort of homosexual orgy. We don’t understand what he is doing here until he sees and goes talk to a familiar face. It is the East India Company’s clerk with enough makeup to make any Halloween costumes of Marie-Antoinette look pale in comparison. It happens that James and Godders went to the same East India school/institution. And James plans to blackmail poor Godders in spying on the Company for him. So many nice people!
Then opens a sequence where we see James making progress for his trading company while exchanges letters with Zilpha which are being read out-loud. It could be resumed as such: James “Come on, I know places where we can pork without anyone bothering us about being brother and sister.” Zilpha: “I have a husband, leave me alone.” Totally normal correspondence.
After Zilpha’s last letter we follow James back home, where Lorna Bow is waiting him. She claims that she has document proving that she own half of the inheritance and that she wants the other half of the house against her half of Nootka. James nearly has another psychotic episode while she is speaking. He manages to avoid the worst but didn’t agree or disagree to Lorna’s proposition. He, however, welcomes her to stay here saying that she is in grave danger. She accepts.
We continue to follow James who is going to his office. On his way he meets his brother-in-law who he invites in. The man who claims to be here about insurance business actually reveals that he is here to talk about Zilpha. He knows everything about her past and he explains to James how it makes me even more horny and that their sex sessions have became brutal. I wonder how he has managed to leave this office alive.
Following this nice little conversation, Zilpha and James meet in a church. They discuss the profond nature of incest (“I used to believe we were the same person”) and Zilpha proceed once again to reaffirm that she is over with all that. Well she does that while sitting on James’s lap with her skirts tucked up, so not very convincing here Zilpha.
James goes back home and tries to discourage Lorna to go acting tonight. She doesn’t care and still go. We cut to a “nice diner” between Zilpha and her husband. He starts speaking about her periods, shaming her for her past incestuous relationship, and blaming her for their lack of children. And the all thing in front of the servants. Nice.
Back to the theatre, Lorna tries to give a representation of Shakespeare but the public is more interested in sex. Leaving this shit-place Lorna is stopped by a female fan who offers her a ride in her carriage. Lorna is reluctant but finally agrees. While in there she understand that her theater has pimped her and that Mrs N°1 fan is supposed to deliver her to the client. She fights back against the client and N°1 fan. She is saved by James and they both manages to get safely to their house. But it is obvious that things are going to be awful for her after this point.
Well, to be a bit honest, I am not as enthusiast about this episode that I was about the last two. It’s not that the episode isn’t good, it’s just that know I know the ambiance of the show and I am installed in a comfortable routine.
I even have one or two criticisms. Let’s start with the costumes. The Prince Regent’s is laughable, even more when we have Thoyt who presents a decent face for someone who has survived smallpox. They are also not very diverse either. Zilpha seems to have 3 gowns for now. You might think 3 gowns in 3 episodes is a good ratio but let it sinks that we have seen her in all of those different situation: funeral, social gathering, alone at home, at the opening of the will, dinning at home, entertaining friends at home. And I am probably missing one thing or two here. So yeah, maybe it’s a problem of budget, but still.
There is also the all business with the Crown. You might remember that last time I thought that the Prince Regent was the King. Well if it had not been brought to my attention I would have made the same mistake this time again, and I am an History nerd. The show makes no effort to clarifie the situation. And it would not take a lot: Just have Coop talks as a representative of the Crown rather than the King.
However, for other matters, the show continues to explain what’s happening pretty well. Dr. Dumbarton can suture James not because the last miraculously teleported himself in the good doctor’s cabinet but because Dr. Dumbarton has asked someone to follow James. This someone seeing James dying has brought him to Dr. Dumbarton. Easy, but necessary when you want your show to be taken seriously.
The show is not bad at foreshadowing either. It was hinted since the first episode that clerk will have some kind of importance. Which one we didn’t know but now that he enters the picture more fully it’s not weird or off-putting. In the same way, I think that Zilpha’s husband insistence on her inability of being pregnant might hint her being the mother of the boy we saw in the first episode.
What I liked the most in this episode is the depiction of “weak” characters. This characters who are gravitating in this world populated by ruthless killers, might they be very “civilized” or not, but who still continues to fight for their right. We have Zilpha asking for oranges to her servants to save her honor. Godders saying “I am too drunk for this conversation” to escape the situation. And of course Lorna, who is hooted on stage, defending her performance and the art but when leaving the theatre has tears in her eyes. This are beautiful human characters. And the writers doesn’t forget that the violence of the world is the problem, not their apparent weakness.
In general they seems to understand the unfairness of unbalanced power in relationship. It is particularly visible in the depiction of marriage. Zilpha is stuck with the biggest dickhead in London. Delanay father confined his first wife in a room and forbid her to speak her mother tongue. He then didn’t give Lorna any chance to escape the theatre which pimps out its actors. I have the impression that Mr Delanay was colossal asshole too. In one word, don’t marry girls, it’s bad for you.
Once again Taboo stays very good and I advise anyone to watch tomorrow’s episode.