Taboo Season 1 Episode 3 Recap: For All The Tea In China

Photo: Courtesy of FX.
We are being tested. How far will we go with a character who one minute has honorable motives when it comes to old friends, children, and his mother's people, then the next is maybe, probably eating the heart of his would-be assassin and writing love letters to his sister? If James Delaney were played by anyone less hot, er, compelling than Tom Hardy, would we be able to stomach him? Would we be able to forgive him for never washing his face? Both questions are irrelevant, obviously. I can't look away.

Let's begin with Delaney's first assumed transgression, cannibalism. The evidence: Winter and the other street kids found the dead assassin's body by the river, missing a heart. The American Dr. Dumbarton said his spy found him with pieces of the Malay's flesh in his mouth. There's a chance that's a lie. There's a chance Delaney himself made it all seem that way, in order to make himself look more dangerous to his enemies. There's also a chance that there's a part of him that is as unbound by Western morals as the rumors say he is, as the moments when we've seen Delaney hallucinate and strip and rant seem to hint. Either way, this question keeps everyone on their toes, which is where he likes us to be.

While Dumbarton stitches him up, with that historically accurate and stomach-turning lack of anesthesia and disregard for cleanliness, Delaney lays out one more missing piece of his plan. He does not want to sell Nootka Sound to the highest bidder. He would instead like to hand it over to whichever country would like to give him "all the tea in China," which means exclusive trading rights with China from Vancouver Island. This, for some reason, pleases Dumbarton, who inadvertently informs Delaney that his contact, Carlsbad, is a woman.

Still unshowered, still wearing all that blood smeared on his face, Delaney limps around town with a new plan to stay alive. Step one, board up the windows and doors of his house — which in the end, didn't do much to save his father's life, Brace reminds him. Brace is kind of the best character on this whole show. Even as he tries to match his boss' gruff tone, he's such a softie, clucking about Delaney like a mother hen after his every brush with death.
Step two is a little more solid. With the protection of his pal Atticus (who also hasn't washed off the blood that was splattered on his face last episode), he visits his lawyer and draws up a will that leaves Nootka Sound to the Americans if he dies.

"The savage boy is cunning too," Strange admits, because, yeah, that means the East India Company should try to keep him alive now. It's just the Americans who have motive to kill him.

Step three is to keep searching for the Nootka treaty — and this is the first time we get to see that his house consists of more than a cramped attic and a dark kitchen. The guy really should kick back and enjoy his space a little more. Anyway, after Winter eerily says something about the bird Delaney has on his back, he goes and finds the same bird etched in the back of the fireplace of his mother's room. What does it mean? To Brace, it means that Delaney's coffee and eggs are getting cold. I was mostly worried that he was going to continue not washing his face and then go around town wearing all that soot forever.

Step four: visit a drag performance/male brothel where, under all that powder, is a very familiar pretty face. I knew that look Delaney gave the EIC clerk in episode 1 was supposed to mean something. Turns out young Godfrey once fell in love with him when they went to school together. (Slash fiction in 3, 2, 1...) For now, Delaney's main interest in his old pal is for his spying services. I have my doubts that he has the stomach for it.

Step five is where I just can't: winning back the heart of sister Zilpha. She protests too much that she's no longer interested in their sinful past but then arranges for a meeting so she can straddle her dear brother and give him a kiss goodbye. My only hope is that we'll somehow learn that she is really his stepsister, not his father's daughter. Wouldn't that be such a tidy way to make this less nauseating?

All this time, was he forgetting to make a plan for his new stepmummy? That's the big question. The king's secretary, Solomon Coop, thinks Lorna Delaney can be of service to the EIC and the crown. Brace would like to dispatch her with a bullet. Delaney seems to want to make her an ally or something. Unfortunately, she doesn't realize she's a pawn in all this, and falls victim to a convoluted plot involving a staged kidnapping by the Duke of Richmond, whom she stabs to defend her honor.

"Now they have a good reason to come for her," Delaney tells Brace. Can't wait to see how he handles that one.
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