Spoilers – The second episode of Taboo saw our mysterious anti-hero James Delaney start to carry out his plan.
In episode one we were introduced to the son everyone thought had died in Africa, now returned following his father’s death.
His father’s lawyer told James that he was the sole heir, much to the annoyance of the East India Company who would like to own Nootka Sound on the North American Pacific coast.
He was also suspicious over how his father died and enlisted the aid of an anatomist to find out more. He was told that his father was probably poisoned using arsenic, administered in large doses over a short period.
There were also hints as to the unusual relationship he seems to have with his half-sister Zilpha and even a long-forgotton brother.
This week started with Sir Strange running out of what little patience he had with James and ordering his execution.
His outwardly calm tone hides a cold and calculated nature that seems to have no sentiment or moral compass. This is clearly a man who will do anything for the good of the company and expects his minions to do likewise.
James once again heads to the outskirts of London where he digs up some diamonds hidden in a shallow hole…we love that handy little spade!
Back at home he shows his wariness even with the only man he really trusts, as he tells Brace to change where he buys the food but fails to explain about his father’s poisoning.
We also get a glimpse of the massive diamonds he has in his possession, no doubt obtained in Africa…though at what price we can only guess.
He then heads to a ship auction and acquires a Spanish merchant brig for the princely sum of 800. The word soon goes round that the ship is so James’s new company called Delaney Nootka Trading can begin operations.
This news causes Sir Strange to really lose his rag and he wonders how James knows so much about the negotiations, but most of all where he got the money to buy a ship.
He concludes that they (the Americans) got to him first and gave him money in return for his services.
The most interesting character we were introduced to this week was by way of a horse theft, which leads James to an old acquaintance in the form of butcher and killer for hire Atticus.
This rogue holds court at the Dolphin tavern and has eyes and ears all over London. After some negotiating James hires him to watch his back and we have to say this is a man who you’d rather have on your payroll than your enemies…plus he has awesome tattoos.
Another new character we are introduced to is the Prince Regent. He is a man suffering from gout and too much of everything, by the looks of it. Played by an almost unrecognizable Mark Gattis and this royal comes across as intelligent but petty and quick to anger. He demands the American blockade of Britain be lifted and interesting he also shows no love for the East India Company.
It makes you wonder whether he might well be useful to James at some point, even thought it would seem the crown would be his natural enemy.
Yet another new character appears in the shape of 13-year-old Winter, who warns James a man has been asking about him at Helga’s brothel. The girl says this silver toothed man meant him harm and that Helga was well aware of this.
He believes the girl and ends up burning the ship where the man is said to be sleeping. We are left guessing whether the man actually died in the fire or not. But the very act really highlights the young Delaney’s disregard for the law or even his own safety.
Back at the house James asks Brace where his father kept his most important things. He is seeking the treaty that shows his father acquired the land at Nootka through trade, not force. This could be important if the Crown or the East India Company take the matter court.
His search proves fruitless but he does spot an advertisement for a play called The Painted Savage. The name of the actress playing the part of the Indian Princess is highlighted, and her name is Lorna Bow.
Then he’s off again and it’s back to the brothel where Helga is servicing a client over a desk and is only too happy for the sudden interruption.
He asks her about the girl Winter, but Helga denies her existence. James is not put off and continues his line of questioning and taking off Helga’s wig he says “I like to see what lies beneath.”
He also says Helga has good in her, in her eyes and he sees the similarity with Winter- realizing she is her daughter.
Helga agrees to help him with information from clients, but she wants him inside her first!
James declines this distracting offer and she tells him what she knows.
Whether Helga will become a trustworthy ally remains to be seen. She’d probably have to more in his debt to become really loyal…
Back at the docks James takes ownership of his sturdy little brig but when he heads into the hold the slave chains bolted to the floor bring back a flood of terrible memories.
We get our first extended glimpse of the tragedy that obviously occurred some time during his time in Africa. He writhes on the floor and grasps the chains in some sort of trance brought on by memory or empathy.
He strips naked and we see his body is marked with tribal tattoos and also some fierce looking scars.
As he hacks out the chains we see flashes of drowning slaves begging for help. He carves a bird into the deck of the boat, seemingly as for of exorcism for those once held in bondage.
When he gets home Brace and he exchange some deadpan banter, before James tells him about the assassin. The two of them have pretty good potential, like a darker and wittier version of Bruce Wayne and Alfred.
His next visit is to an American doctor who is also a spy. It turns out James has had dealing with American spies in the past and he knows some of the secret codes. He claims to have known a man called Colone, but the doctor spy does not trust him.
James wants a line of communication with he president and explains he has something of great value that the British want to kill him from.
He also names the head of the American Society of Secret Correspondents in London, this is a step too far and the doctor pulls a pistol and demands James leaves.
We are left wondering just how deep his relationship with the Americans goes and where exactly his loyalties lie.
He’s also sent his half-sister one of the diamonds he dug up earlier, she quickly hides it away – no doubt from her greedy husband!
However, it is not clear why he has sent it to her. Is it to enable her independence or perhaps because he knows her husband’s days are numbered.
Next it is down to legal business and Thoyt wants to know what he is intending to do. He makes it clear to slippery lawyer that he knows he is in the pocket of the East India Company, “you are their whore” he tells him.
Hoyt defends himself and tells James the company has more men, weapons and ships that most of the Christian countries combined.
“Do you think all who submit are evil? No, we are submitting to the way the world has become.”
The reading of the will and meeting with the creditors proves a noisy business. With his half-sister’s husband being furious and the creditors noisily demanding their cash.
On finding out his wife is not in the will he swears they will “haunted this nigger to justice.”
Such a nice guy, you wonder why such a seemingly smart and strong woman ended up with such a man
James agrees to pay all the creditors and to their surprise pours out the coins need on the table. This is despite the fact he has not inherited his father’s debts. It’s not clear if this is just bolster his reputation, repair some of his late father’s or just out of a sense of natural justice.
Then for once, James gets a surprise as woman steps forward and claims to be Lorna Delaney, the grieving widow!
James asks about documents, he is obviously fishing for the treaty…she seems a good match for him. When Thoyt advises they do not speak to each other, James says he has no love for the theatre and Lorna quips back she has none for German brothels.
It will be interesting to see whether Lorna becomes an ally or an enemy, her interest might just be some quick cash but it feels like something more complicated.
As fast as his little legs can carry him, Thoyt is off to a meeting with the East India Company and tells them the exciting news that a dispatch from Dublin has confirmed the marriage.
Sir Strange is delighted, though Thoyt points out that she would still need to take James to court to have any claim on half the island upheld.
However, at this point you almost feel sorry for Thoyt in his naivety. Sir Strange’s interest is not because she can challenge the will but because once James has been murdered she will be the sole heir.
Near the end of the episode James joins his sister at a music recital and you can feel the tension when she notices him.
She steps outside, but only because she’s worried he will make loud declarations.
He asks if his loudness bothers her and she says: ‘in the forest no, in the jungle no.”
Then in the most explicit acknowledgment of their incest yet, he says: “You used to straighten your skirts and march away like nothing had happened.”
Emotionally she asks: “Who marched away?”
Then she asks him if he really ate flesh
He offers to tell her everything if she leaves the concert and goes with him. For a moment she seems tempted and then dispels it with: “I would laugh at you, but you’re not well.”
They obviously had a passionate and complex relationship in the past and James’s assertion that they will always be very close makes you wonder about the so-called lost brother…
As he walks home a figure stalks him and as the recital music plays in the background the two figures meet in a vicious and sudden knife fight that leaves the would-be assassin on the ground. Savagely James bends down and takes a chunk out of the man’s neck and we see he looks to be the Malay that Helga had mentioned earlier.
However, James is wounded too with knife in his belly and as he starts to lose consciousness he sees a vision of Africa…
We are sure he will survive but this episode raised a lot of questions.
How did he acquire all those huge diamonds?
Why did he send his sister a diamond?
What were his dealing with American spies in the past?
Was he really a cannibal or was it more ritualistic thing?
Will Lorna be a friend or foe?
Who hired the assassin?
Oh and you can find out about the real Nootka Sound here.
Catch Taboo at 10PM on FX Networks.