Taboo (FX, Tuesdays, 10/9C) continues to add layers of character and suspense as it creeps into darker and darker territory.
Blacklisted, James Delaney takes alternative roads to continue his plans to keep the family trading company alive, while the reveal of his secret affair with his half-sister, Zilpha, leads to an unsettling result for her. Meanwhile, the East India Company finds itself in a very precarious position.
The fifth episode opens with the promised duel between Delaney (Tom Harvey) and Thorne Geary (Jefferson Hall) – an event that gives Geary a sense of his personal worth, yet leaves both of them alive.
With his new blacklisting, Delaney had set out to find an alternative method of procuring gunpowder – by enlisting the aid of a chemist and showman named Chomondley (Tom Hollander), and Helga’s (Franka Potente) girls.
Two more attempts on his life cause Delaney to take certain drastic actions – visiting Dr. Dumbarton (Michael Kelly) and Countess Musgrove (Marina Hands), for instance.
Meanwhile, the East India Company finds itself on the hook for the Crown’s stolen saltpeter – and facing an even more dangerous foe: George Chichester (Lucien Msamati, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Game of thrones), a black gentleman who has been pestering the Prince Regent (Mark Gatiss) about an investigation into the murder of almost three hundred slaves by an East India Company ship’s captain.
There’s also the matter of the Crown’s efforts to locate the stolen goods – including the searching of Delaney’s home and Helga’s place of business among many potential hiding sites. And we haven’t even gotten to the follow up to the definitive establishment of magic as a part of the show – as Delaney’s psychic connection to Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) shows.
Another example is the way he heeds his horse’s anxiety in a most intriguing way – that saves his life…
Written by Steven Knight and Ben Hervey, and directed by Anders Engström, the fifth episode of Taboo’s first season carefully spreads out its revelations like overlapping tiles on a freshly built rooftop. The overlaps are carefully placed for maximum structural effect and the stress of the structure disbursed evenly throughout.
Interesting dichotomies are constructed as well – as when the man Geary so loudly decries as a savage shows him mercy during their duel. Delaney may be rough and ruthless when he has to be, but he’s also capable of sensitivity – even though it would seem to be going against his nature. After all, isn’t that what civilization is?
We’ve seen, in recent episodes, that Lorna Bow is not to be trifled with. She’s smart, capable and willing to take chances – and she seems to have developed a fascination with her late husband’s son. Buckley’s performance is mercurial and subtly witty – Lorna is terrific at letting people see only what she wants them to see (she is an actress, after all).
Even though Delaney has taken steps to get around his blacklisting, new pressures are applied to him, forcing him to take ever more drastic steps and setting up further intrigue. If only he could figure out how the Americans know so much about his business…
As episode five concludes, the Gearys are in a strange new position – providing the episode’s cliffhanger. It’s a situation that makes us wonder if Delaney’s connection with Zilpha is a one-way or two-way window.
Once again, Taboo provides a riveting hour’s worth of dark, surprisingly cheeky entertainment.
Final Grade: A