Taboo Season 1 Episode 6 Recap: "The Devil Is Here"

Photo: Courtesy of The CW.
I thought there was an unspoken rule with antiheroes that if we stuck with them through some mostly terrible acts, they would ultimately redeem themselves with a hidden good motive. Or something. With Taboo, I'm beginning to suspect James Delaney is doing quite the opposite. We started off thinking everyone but Brace was wrong about him, that he's not some kind of cannibalistic demon. With each episode, he's proving his haters right.

The episode begins with a clue, or a mystery disguised as a clue about the origin of Delaney's troubles. According to Brace, his mother tried to drown him as a baby, and that's why his father sent her away to Bedlam. I see three options here: 1) That was the act of a mentally ill woman, and the trauma of her actions is what set him astray; 2) His mother saw that he would one day do unspeakably evil things, and she sought to drown him to prevent that; or 3) she is some kind of evil spirit who still possesses him from time to time. That spirit could have been what tried to drown him in the river again (as poor little Robert looked on), or he could be losing his mind even further. This would be a cool option: Robert is telekinetic and was trying to drown him so they wouldn't have to mix that highly explosive chlorate into the powder. No such luck.

I watched every one of those gunpowder scenes through my fingers. The whole thing brought back memories of that episode of Lost, when the unfortunate chemistry teacher demonstrates the dangers of highly unstable sticks of pirate ship dynamite. (I'm glad I didn't fast-forward, or I would have missed Cholmondeley's clever description of how loud and volatile it is to bring a baby into a marriage — so true, sir.) And with every step here, there is an opportunity for Delaney to say, "Oh, we have enough disposable laborers here, let the boy go back home to safety." There is no need for him to be among the potion stirrers. Their little trick of having the kid in the coffin to prove to guards that the carriages contained cholera victims would work just as well with a full grown man. I suppose Delaney wants him there to keep farmer Ibbotson quiet, which, um, really backfires.

Let's have a moment of silence for Ibbotson. He's one character you could easily misread based on the fact that he looks like the greedy villain from a Dickens novel. (Just last year, the actor, Christopher Fairbank, did in fact play one on the TV show Dickensian.) But to the contrary, he seems motivated by genuine care for the boy he's raised. When he finally cracks, after seeing Delaney take Robert away in that death-trap carriage and finding the bird carving he believes to be a mark of the devil, he doesn't run to the East India Company but to a priest (who, yeah, then runs to the EIC). This is the point at which I began siding with Delaney's enemies. The body count for his plan is running too high, while the reason behind it is either weak or not yet fully revealed.
Photo: Courtesy of The CW.
Pictured: Oona Chaplin as Zilpha Geary.
He's not yet as evil and self-serving as the EIC, though. George Chichester's tale of what really went down with the Influence (a.k.a. the Cornwallis) is chilling, if not unsurprising. By 1804, the slave trade was illegal for the British, so some in the EIC developed a plot to hire a skeleton crew for a ship they said was empty as it left the port of Cabinda. In reality, it carried twice its capacity, which is why it ran aground. To cover their tracks, the captain ordered that the slaves be drowned in their cages. Oh, and Chichester happens to know one more piece of damning evidence — that Sir Stuart Strange's brother owns a sugar cane plantation in Antigua. How is Strange going to get around this one? Well, he might as well blow up Delaney's boat, just to make himself feel better. I'm pretty sure in the midst of all this, our sweet prostitute spy Godfrey's going to go into cardiac arrest.

One casualty no one is mourning: Geary. One might be inclined to pity how he gets his hopes up for his new gig in Australia solving all their problems, only to have them dashed by Zilpha. Then again, abusive spouses love to take their victims to far off, isolating locales to increase their dependency, so good call, Z. Just slip him that hat pin straight to the heart. When she runs straight to Delaney to inform him of this, she says she did it, "just like you said," which surprises him.

"When did I...?" he trails off. This could be another hint that there's some kind of evil other thing directing both their actions. I'd still like to think that's what got them back into bed with each other after the funeral, because grossgrossgross. Is it guilt about incest that makes Delaney leave to go play with flint in his gunpowder room? Or guilt about almost strangling his sister while seeing visions of his mother? My skin is crawling either way.

Geary's out of the way, but that means little once the EIC blows up the ship on which he was planning to whisk his sis away to America. When he and Atticus slit the throat of the man who was supposed to be guarding the ship, Atticus asks whether the guy sold him out because Delaney cut off his thumb earlier, or if Delaney cut off his thumb because he had a premonition that the guy would sell him out. Delaney has no answer, but lets Atticus keep the heart because he's generous like that. What was the look of relief on Atticus's face after he left? Was Atticus the one who sold him out? Or is he just creeped out by his old buddy and glad he didn't decide to cut his throat on a whim?

That's a valid fear. Also, it turns out I was scared for the wrong innocent child all this time. Robert's fine. Winter, not so much. Delaney warns her that he's not fit to be around as he wades into the water in a drunken rage over his lost ship, and then —Mom visions! Wham! — it's morning, and oh, no. She's lying there, practically disemboweled, just like the corpses of his victims she'd found before. Dare we hope someone else framed him for it? Was it an evil spirit possession or a blackout-drunk fit? Is there any difference? I'm not sure there's any explanation that can make me get over this one.

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