Taboo Episode 5 Recap: Buying Souls For Beads

Photo: Courtesy of FX.
These days, there is something comforting about watching a scenario in which bad men acting in their own self-interest might inadvertently do something for the good of others. That could be the case on Taboo — if the right bad men prevail over the other bad men.

On a semi-related note, today's observation about Tom Hardy: He gets more attractive when his character is showing something like compassion, but when he's a callous schemer who would sacrifice the life of his maybe-son/brother, his features transform into something grotesque, and you can imagine smelling his unwashed hair through the screen. How does he do that?

That's as much a mystery as James Delaney's magic. It would seem to take a real clairvoyant to know that Geary's second in their duel was in the pocket of the East India Company and thus would fail to load his friend's pistol. Or it could just be Delaney's death wish at work. An argument against his clairvoyance is the fact that Lorna does seem to surprise him quite often. He didn't expect her to wade through the river to witness his duel. No one bought her transparent lie that she was bored and had never seen a man shot before. She's getting attached to her wicked "stepson."

Zilpha also can't hide her worry for Delaney when she sees her husband come home unharmed. You could almost feel sorry for Geary, until you remember he just announced her deepest, darkest secret in the middle of a society party. He can suck it. Later, when he beats her to a pulp for saying "James" in her sleep, he sinks to a new low of evil characters, in a show with no shortage of them.

Back at Casa Delaney, our favorite schemer has already forgotten the duel. His mood is downright buoyant (by which I mean he takes a break from scowling and threatening lives) at Brace's news that soldiers are running around town searching for the stolen saltpeter. It's NBD, he explains, because the saltpeter had already been purchased by the crown, so they'll be all too happy to prosecute the EIC for negligence rather than bother hanging Delaney, whom they still want to keep alive so that Nootka Sound won't go to the Americans. Okay, great for you, James, but what about all your accomplices? All of Atticus' guys and Helga's girls are caught between threats from the EIC, temptations to take bribes from the EIC, and the much scarier threat that Delaney will run in and chop off their thumbs or worse. I hope he's paying them extra for their stress.

Pause for a soothing interlude in which Delaney rides through the countryside on his white horse. Pretty, pretty. Oh. Never mind. There's another mutilated spy on the road.

Off in his improvised gunpowder factory, things are almost going well. There's Cholmondeley, who never met a gross substance he didn't like tasting (bat shit, yum!), working away in the barn, not a worry in his mind except whether Delaney thinks he could make a move on Lorna. (The charmer describes her as "among the large group of women I would sleep with" AND "among the much smaller group of women I would masturbate over." Swoon!) He won't give the chemist his blessing for her, but he does give him an "apprentice," the poor little traumatized boy we're all assuming is his son now. A nervous little kid making explosives — what could go wrong? We get that answer soon enough when the Americans decide to pressure Delaney into making the gunpowder just for them, and to make it available in just eight days. That will require "the French experiment," which will almost certainly result in someone being blown up. I am probably going to have to fast-forward through any scene involving the kid from now on. My heart can't take it.

There's a distinct possibility that Lorna will eventually save the day. She's becoming something like Delaney's moral compass, anyway. When she brings him that long-awaited trunk, with its hidden Nootka Sound treaty, he tries to shock her with the story that his father bought his mother with beads and then sent her to Bedlam when she wouldn't pretend to be Spanish or Italian. Nope. That moping judgment won't fly with her. Maybe he hasn't literally "bought a soul for beads," like she implies, but he treats all the souls in his care like they're disposable.

Speaking of men who think people are disposable, we can finally get to the plot point in which bad guys fighting each other might do some good. The Prince Regent and Solomon Coop want to pin something on Sir Stuart Strange, and looky here, Coop found these old letters he'd been ignoring from guy called Chichester. Every year for the past nine years he has written on behalf of the "Sons of Africa," asking for an investigation into the sinking of the slave ship Influence, in which 280 men, women, and children died. Other than Brace, this Chichester guy might be the only person in the Taboo universe who does not act out of pure self-interest. So, naturally, I'm worried about how he'll be used and abused when the EIC grants him "full and willing cooperation" for his investigation. I'm also worried for Delaney. He has some kind of guilty conscience about surviving that accident, which could mean that he had something to do with causing it while he was still working for the EIC. Whether he did or not, Strange could be planning to frame him for it.

There is some good news for Delaney, courtesy of Carlsbad, who informs him that the U.S. has agreed to his terms for Nootka Sound. Interesting that she doesn't seem to know about the whole gunpowder thing — something's fishy there. I want more scenes with the charismatic spy, whose husband doesn't mind if she sleeps with other men as long as they don't have cholera. Cute! And I'd like fewer scenes with Zilpha being all possessed and abused by the men in her life. Let the girl rest. Or don't and let's see what she decides to do to Geary in his sleep.

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