Taboo episode 6 review

Taboo’s latest episode finds James Delaney at his lowest ebb…

This review contains spoilers.

Making enemies of the most powerful bastards in the land is finally taking its toll on the devil James Delaney. Episode six left our anti-hero at his lowest ebb. He’s lost his ship, been betrayed, was almost drowned by the ghost of his mother and now looks to have been framed for murder. 

I say framed because if Delaney really did kill Winter—the little mudlark whose death warrant was signed the moment she started talking starry-eyed of her dream of escaping to America—he’d have to resign as this show’s lead. We’re on board with the sister-shagging and villain-disembowelling, but drunkenly murdering a poor kid? They’d have to change the name from Taboo to Pure Evil.

Winter was most likely a casualty of the war now raging between Delaney and the company after they were thwarted in their search for his gunpowder stash. The next to fall will surely be coerced spy Godfrey, who should have known better than to run to a house the East India must have under surveillance. 

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Poor Godfrey. It doesn’t pay to be in love with James Delaney. As one of the only characters on this show currently displaying a pulse, Lorna Bow should take note.

There was a contagious outbreak on the show this week, but it wasn’t cholera. Symptoms included stiffness, silence and haunted, bug-eyed staring. As Patient Zero, James had infected Zilpha and Ibbotson, both of whom suffered ponderous trance-like attacks. Delaney suffered worst of all, and was seen silently gazing at nothing in a number of situations—waist-deep in the river, wandering the ruins of Bedlam, in the hold of his ship, at the rainy graveyard after digging the grave of Thorne Geary…

Yes, it wasn’t all bad news for James this week. He did finally get his end away with Zilpha, but couldn’t really enjoy it thanks to his dead mum doing the psychic equivalent of knocking on the door proffering a cup of tea mid-act. Less cup of tea, more murder-by-drowning, but either way, it put him off his stride.

James is plagued by drowning not only because of his experience at sea, but also because his deranged mother tried to kill him in the river as an infant, Brace told him. It’s time James learned what’s what, says Brace, before huffily toasting him a muffin and not elaborating (thus earning him this week’s ‘Most Traditionally Gothic Player’ award. What nineteenth century melodrama would be complete without a housekeeper muttering ominously about ‘the truth’ but failing to ever provide it?).

A window in Zilpha’s calendar had opened up for James after she dispatched her husband by means of a skewer to the heart. Corpse the first. Next James repaid Ibbotson for his loose tongue in the confessional booth by removing it. Corpse the second. Then he sliced up a double-crossing minion to make corpse the third, with little Winter making it four murders and a funeral. Glum stuff indeed.

Only the gunpowder scam and Cholmondeley’s light-through-the-cloud appearances provided some fun this week. (Well, that, and the bit where Dumbarton and his nurse pal dressed up in fake beaks like massive rooks.) The brilliant Tom Hollander seems to be having a fine time hamming it up as Cholmondeley, growling out pun after pun like an opiated Skeletor.

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Jessie Buckley too, deserves praise. She evidently didn’t get the memo about winding the acting dials up to eleven and as a result has capably presented Lorna as a recognisable, likeable human being. The scene of her visit to the Geary house was gripping, and all of it down to her.

With all the gunpowder-stirring, it was a shame that last week’s promising conspiracy plot went largely unattended. The East India Company men’s racist hypocrisy in their dealings with George Chichester was keen stuff, another brief flash of vitality among the deadness and confusion elsewhere. 

Read Louisa’s review of the previous episode, here.