Taboo Episode 3: Recap and Analysis

Taboo’s third episode represents the first breaking of tension, and the start of significant action. In the previous episode, James Delaney bought a ship for the East India Company, and planned to speak to Thomas Jefferson. He met Lorna Bow, who becomes an important character in the third episode. The previous episode ended with an attack on Delaney, and his possible death. Fans awaited in suspense for Delaney’s fate, wondering how the show could possibly go on without the main character.
The episode begins with a close-up on a dead body. Winter orders the other children to saw off the man’s silver-tooth, as they wonder if the scavengers had taken the man’s heart from his body. James Delaney is alive, and is stitched up by Dr. Dumbarton. Delaney, shaking from pain, is interrogated by Dumbarton, who threatens to hurt Delaney if he didn’t give him answers. Delaney admitted that he didn’t want money for Nootka Sound, but he wanted a monopoly on the tea trade with China, and would trade Nootka with any country that would give him the monopoly. At the docks, Delaney and Brace meet Atticus, who provides Delaney with weapons and takes him to Thoyt. Delaney draws up a will with Thoyt, as a clever way to avoid death; Delaney’s will leaves Nootka Sound and all of his belonging to the United States government. The East India Company, thus, realizes that it is in their best interest to keep Delaney alive; rather, Delaney’s biggest threat is the U.S. government. Still, Delaney boards up his house, and meets Winter again in the basement. She offers his rightfully-earned silver tooth, but he lets her keep it. Winter takes note of the tattoo on the back of Delaney’s neck. After meeting her, Delaney hallucinates about a strange, filthy woman, and peels off the boards covering the fireplace. He sees a strange symbol on the wall, which matches the tattoo on the back of his neck. He questions Brace, knowing that he has all the answers about his mother. Delaney visits his mother’s grave, once again begging the question of the meaning of the enigmatic symbol. The king’s officer, after receiving a letter asking for the monopoly on sea otter pelts from Delaney, visits the king’s enemy, the East India Company, in order to give the monopoly to Delaney from the Company. However, the Company refuses, not willing to risk its important business dealings. Delaney visits a brothel of men dressed as women, and identifies one man who works for the East India Company. Delaney pays him to give him information. Back at his house, Lorna Bow demands possession of half of Delaney’s home, as the legal widow of Horace Delaney, and Delaney agrees to let her live with him and Brace. In his office, Delaney gets a visit from Thorne Geary, claiming that he wants to sell ship insurance. Later, Delaney and Zilpha meet in an empty church for a romantic reunion. Zilpha kisses Delaney as an ultimatum to make him stop seeing her, but he still refuses. At her home, Zilpha is subject to a violent episode by Thorne, enraged that Zilpha is unable to produce a child. Lorna goes off to the theater to act, and after she is swept up by a carriage, apparently by a fan. However, at the destination she is forced to the home of a government official. She attacks the Duke, and is later saved by Delaney. Delaney realizes that the government will come for Lorna because of her crime, as part of a plot to control Delaney.
In the third episode of Taboo, James Delaney is revealed to have bitten the Malay’s heart and killed him. He is concluded to be a cannibal, another allusion to the title, Taboo, and a possible connection to his time in Africa. The question of the identity of the hired killer was revealed, as well as the motive: he was hired by the East India Company. He was thwarted, to the East India Company’s disbelief, and Delaney was supposed to be kept alive, putting the Company into a greater dilemma. The doctor that stitched up Delaney seems merciless, willing to unstitch Delaney for answers. Zilpha and Delaney finally show concrete evidence of their romantic, incestuous relationship. Thorne seems to know about their relationship, as he alluded to it in his conversations with Delaney and Zilpha. He tells Zilpha that he’s sorry he’s “not related to her”, in reference to her inability to conceive with him. This may mean that Zilpha had borne a baby with Delaney, possibly the young boy on the farm. Winter shows up again, and it is unclear whether she is real or not, as she was able to enter Delaney’s boarded house. Finally, Lorna Bow seems to have opened up more to Delaney. They have a close living situation, and Delaney had protected her. Thus, she should be less aggressive about her share of the inheritance, and she may leave for Paris, as suggested by Delaney, because of her fugitive status. While Delaney had protected her, Lorna still represents the strong, confident woman, as she had defended herself from the Duke, unafraid to use a weapon and unwilling to engage in anything without her consent. Zilpha, on the other hand, is confusing. She continued to refuse Delaney’s offers to leave together, yet she went ahead and kissed him, in order to keep him away. This only makes Delaney want to be with her more, and this action against the consent of her husband is uncharacteristic of her. Fans see Zilpha in a following scene, cowering under the violent tantrum of Thorne because of she can’t have a baby with him. Clearly, Thorne does not know about a woman’s body. The final woman of Delaney’s life is his mother. Delaney, still a stalwart, mysterious man, has the weakness of hallucinations, and some of them are about his mother. He is discovering more about her, which will pave the way for her backstory in later episodes. A few questions of past episodes were answered, but more questions come up. Is Delaney a cannibal? The sudden, surprising bite to the man’s heart shocked fans, who wonder what more taboos does Delaney practice. Will there be zombies and monsters in the show? His recurring hallucinations include a zombie-like woman with ragged black hair and rags in fog and a swamp, and other fantasy creatures are expected. What does the tattoo on the back of his neck mean? Delaney thinks considerably about it, contemplates its meaning, and wonders how he even got it. What happened to Delaney’s mother? She remains an elusive, puzzling secret, who tortures Delaney’s mind.
Taboo, set in the 1800s, naturally has an accurate historical background to continue the story. For example, the East India Company demonstrated its might and power with respect to the kingdom. The East India Company is comparable to today’s CIA: a ubiquitous, powerful organization that influences politics and government more than what is morally correct. Another historical accuracy was the London Underground gay club, where Delaney met the East India Company official. In 1800s London, the gay culture was secret yet thriving, called molly-clubs. While Godfrey, the official, accepted payment to spy for Delaney, he also had a crush on him, which gave him more reason to help Delaney.
The third episode of Taboo has sped up the pace, with greater action by several characters and a movement of the plot. Viewers are left with the rescuing of Lorna by Delaney, and wonder if Lorna will leave London because of her rash attack against a royal official. Fans of Taboo are finally shown the true nature of Delaney’s relationship with Zilpha, and in the next episode wonder what more will happen between the two—as it cannot be nothing—and await the answers to many questions.