In the latest ‘Taboo’ recap, James duels with his brother in law, Dumbarton makes a demand more than a request and Zilpha faces an exorcism for her crimes of passion…
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
With only three episodes remaining in the inaugural season of ‘Taboo’, the grand plans of James Delaney will soon come to fruition but many of his machinations to bring down the East India Company started to unfurl in the latest episode.
Last week, James orchestrated a heist to steal saltpeter from the East India Company, which he planned to use to speed up the process to make his own gunpowder. The gunpowder would then be used for trade as James plotted to rebuild his family’s company with his prize possession of the Nootka Sound as the ultimate bargaining chip.
Unfortunately, James’ alibi included a high society party where he finally came face to face with the mysterious Carlsbad — the head of the American spy network in England — before getting into a drunken tussle with his brother-in-law Thorne, who has been breaking down week by week as his wife Zilpha falls further and further in lust with her own sibling.
Before the party can end, Thorne challenges James to a duel where his hope is to eliminate the wayward Delaney child so he can finally reclaim his wife all to himself.
As it turns out, the duel was only a very minor part of the episode as the bigger plot developed with Delaney’s gunpowder supply becoming a major point of contention for his ultimate survival, a chemist who has his eyes on Delaney’s “stepmother” and a Royal decree that may bring the East India Company to its knees.
With that said, let’s recap ‘Episode Five’ of ‘Taboo’…
The Exorcism of Zilpha Geary
The episode begins with the duel between James Delaney and Thorne Geary — each given a pistol with one shot and the rules of first blood. In other words, if you miss with that bullet and don’t kill your opponent but still draw blood, that puts the competition to an end. Thorne wants this to be a duel to the death but the rules in England won’t allow for it.
Delaney arrives at the site of the duel without a second to help prepare his pistol so his “stepmother” Lorna plays that role after she rides with him on the boat and decides to watch because she’s never seen a man die. Meanwhile, Thorne is flanked by a young steward, who checks his pistol, before the two men square off on opposite sides of the field.
When the two men begin walking towards each other, Thorne fires and blasts Delaney in the shoulder but he barely flinches. Thorne looks like some sort of black magic must have cursed his bullet but his thoughts soon turn to regret when he’s staring down the barrel of Delaney’s own gun as he awaits the trigger being pulled to put an end to his life.
Instead of killing his brother-in-law, James tells Thorne that he hopes this lesson has been valuable before turning the gun on his opponent’s second and shoots him in the back. Delaney explains that Thorne chose a steward who was an employee of the East India Company and they have a vested interest in making sure the owner of the Nootka Sound doesn’t die. Remember, if Delaney perishes, the Nootka Sound automatically reverts ownership to the United States.
So Delaney reminds his brash brother-in-law that this latest exercise should teach him where he fits on the hierarchy when it comes to the all powerful East India Company.
Thorne returns home defeated as Zilpha greets him inside. She begs for information on the duel, looking both happy and frightened at the same time. Thorne refuses to divulge what happened and instead tells her to find out through rumors — the same way he had to find out that she used to sleep with her own brother. It’s unclear if Zilpha’s upset was the thought that James may be dead or that her husband returned home at all.
Later that night, Zilpha is once again writhing on the bed in pure pleasure while thinking of her brother and this time she even utters his name. In a fit of rage, Thorne batters his wife before what we can only assume ends in another disgusting kind of assault.
The next night when Zilpha emerges — with cuts and bruises all over her face — Thorne grabs her and explains that the only way to purge her devilish brother from her body is to perform an exorcism. So with a creepy priest in tow, they tie her down and perform the ritual which includes the “minister” rubbing his hands all over Zilpha’s body. When it’s finished, Zilpha is motionless as the priest tells Thorne to give her time to recover.
After untying her at some point later in the night, Zilpha goes to her dresser and pulls out a giant sewing needle while Thorne looks at her and wonders why she’s not coming to bed. Under her breath, Zilpha says “teach me” and “guide me” while caressing the sewing needle. Whether or not Zilpha exacts revenge on her asshole husband will have to wait until next week but if Thorne wasn’t already the most hated man on television, he certainly moved up a few more notches with his behavior this week.
Traitors and Negligence
Following the heist to steal the saltpeter from the East India Company, the crown in England is up in arms because that supply was earmarked for them to produce their own gunpowder with it. That means anyone and everyone who is a suspect is now going to face the wrath of the Royal army and that starts with James Delaney.
Soldiers search the Delaney house and the Delaney Trading Company offices and they even look through Helga’s whorehouse after hearing that some women assisted in the heist. Unfortunately, no one is talking and the soldiers find no trace of the saltpeter.
Knowing that the royal family is hot on his trail, Delaney seals up any potential leaks when he visits with Atticus and his men, who pulled off the heist. He issues another payment and then a warning to every man in the room that if they confess to the crown to receive a reward, the punishment will be far worse than the payoff.
In face, James already heard about one man in the room who has already considered betraying him and so as recourse he cuts his thumb off and reminds everybody else that they will receive the same or worse if they double cross him. James then visits the brothel but his methods with Helga’s girls are much friendlier as he tosses the thumb down as a warning along with a diamond as a reward if they keep their mouths shut.
While the crown continues to search for the culprits, the East India Company has just as much to lose in this heist because the saltpeter had already been purchased, which means they could be charged with negligence for failing to deliver it. That means they also have an interest in recovering the chemicals before someone else turns it into gunpowder.
Unfortunately a company man sent to interrogate one of Helga’s girls ends up dead — courtesy of Atticus’ men who are tasked with protecting the brothel — and he leaves with a note pinned to his body that reads ‘Died while on company business’ — a not so subtle reminder that people like this will be dealt with rather harshly.
Finally, James reveals that he’s hidden the saltpeter at the cattle farm where he stashed his little brother/illegitimate son (this has been rather confusing because at the beginning of the series it appeared that was his half-brother but now the suggestion is that it could be his son despite Delaney being gone for 12 years and the boy looking like he’s maybe 10 years old). Regardless of the boy’s heritage, Delaney has stashed the saltpeter there along with his new chemist, Cholmondeley, who is busy at work producing his gunpowder.
On the way to the farm, Delaney encounters a man following him on horseback but of course he gets the drop on him, slices his chest, legs and ass and sends him back as a warning to either the East India Company or the Crown that this is not going to end well for the next person they send after him.
At the farm, Delaney finds out that Cholmondeley has his eyes on Lorna, but he quickly tells the chemist that she’s not available to him. Perhaps James wants to keep her for himself? And finally, James addresses the young boy and tells him about the saltpeter heist so he has just as much knowledge as anyone else involved.
He then sends the boy to Cholmondeley to serve as his apprentice as he mixes all the chemicals together to make the gunpowder that Delaney can use for trade as he re-launches his family’s company.
Burn Them All
Back at home, Delaney scoffs at the book and letter that arrived at his house as a gift for Lorna from Cholmondeley. He warns her that the chemist would not be a good match but Lorna quickly replies that she has no desire to return his affection anways. She will, however, take the book that he sent so she has something new to read.
Later that night, Lorna finds Delaney alone in his bedroom burning all the letters that his father had written to him in the 12 years he was gone. The letters came from the trunk that Lorna finally returned to James as part of the agreement to allow her to stay there at the house.
Brace seemed almost frightened of what was inside that trunk because it contained all of Horace Delaney’s secrets. It turns out he was correct because James wanted the trunk because that’s where his father hid the treaty that he made with the Nootka Indians in exchange for gunpowder and beads and he received the land and a new wife. That same wife that eventually gave birth to James.
So it’s clear by James burning those letters that he’s not going through all of this to honor his father’s memory because he hates the man who bought his mother and forced her to become his wife and bear his children.
Explosions in the Sky
The next day Delaney is summoned to the hospital where he meets with Dr. Dumbarton — the American spy disguised as a caring doctor — and he’s given a demand. The Americans are running dangerously low on gunpowder and in 10 more days they will be completely out, which means the war against the British would become rather perilous.
Dumbarton demands that Delaney get his gunpowder ready for purchase or perhaps they will have to pay a visit to the farm that no one is supposed to know about and deal with the illegitimate son/brother that he has stashed out there. Delaney has kept a tight wrap on the people he’s been using but clearly there’s still a leak somewhere.
Delaney informs Dumbarton that even with the saltpeter there’s no way to produce gunpowder in as little as eight days. Dumbarton disagrees and informs Delaney about “the French Experiment” and to mention that to his chemist who is processing all the chemicals.
When Delaney tells Cholmondeley about this meeting, he reveals that “the French Experiment” happened under similar circumstances where they needed to produce gunpowder in a very short amount of time. It seems the French introduced another highly volatile chemical to the process that allowed gunpowder to form at a much quicker rate, but it was also very, very dangerous. The formula calls for the perfect amount of chemicals and constant stirring around the clock or the entire concoction will explode.
James tells Cholmondeley that he will provide the man power but he needs to get to work on the gunpowder now or they will all hang in eight days. Cholmondeley challenges James by asking if he’s willing to put his son in harm’s way with this plan, which receives no response whatsoever. Perhaps James didn’t answer because Cholmondeley was correct or maybe he doesn’t want anybody else to know that it’s actually his half-brother. Either way, Delaney ignores the taunt and puts Cholmondeley to work to make the gunpowder in eight days.
Finally, James goes to visit with Carlsbad, who has no idea about Dumbarton’s plea for gunpowder but trusts if he asked for it, the Americans surely must need it.
Carlsbad is more concerned with telling Delaney that the Americans have decided to grant his wish. He will be given all the tea for trading but in order for the U.S. to cater to his demands, he must sign the treaty before leaving London. That’s going to require a lot of trust and that’s in short supply for James Delaney lately.
And finally, Solomon Coop meets with the Prince regent to discuss the theft of the saltpeter and the Crown’s appropriate response. Clearly they know Delaney was behind the heist, but they can’t prove a thing and no one is talking. The other option is to go after the East India Company for negligence and considering the two sides are at odds already, that seems like a good enough recourse of action.
But rather than just charge the East India Company with negligence as the Prince regent suggests, Coop has another idea.
He ends up meeting with a man named George Chichester, who represents a group known as the Sons of Africa. For the past nine years, Chichester has been writing letters to the Crown to investigate the sinking of a ship called the ‘Influence’ that went down with more than 280 slaves on board. Chichester believes that members of the elite East India Company were involved with the slave trade and orchestrated the sinking of this ship. Chichester had been asking for a Royal commission to look into this ship and the East India Company’s involvement in its sinking.
See Coop suggested when speaking to the Prince regent that instead of going after the East India Company as a whole, where they would surely give up a couple of workers to be hanged for allowing the saltpeter to be taken, he prefers that they go right for the jugular. In this case, Coop wants to go for Stuart Strange, the head of the East India Company, who is accused of being involved with this dastardly slave trade ship disaster.
Why battle the snake when you can just cut the head off?
The Prince regent orders a Royal decree that a commission will begin looking into the sinking of the ‘Influence’ immediately, which forces Strange to react. He tells one of his men to write a letter back to the crown offering full cooperation before then instructing him to burn all the letters and information as instructed to cover up the crime.
Delaney has now managed to pit the two most powerful forces in England against one another as he plots his escape to America. Rather ingenious — assuming he lives long enough to enjoy the spoils of war.
‘Taboo’ returns next Tuesday night at 10pm ET on FX