Warning: this review of “Episode 8” of Taboo contains spoilers.
Bloodthirst was indeed quenched in the explosive season finale to the grubby period drama Taboo. James Delaney’s master plan came to fruition, and the end result was as bloody and brutal as one has come to expect from this show. Delaney and his rag-tag group of misfits have set sail for the New World, leaving a trail of death and destruction in their wake.
Taboo hasn’t been afraid to shove the viewer’s face into the dirt, wiping its grimy hands on our shirts and covering us in a horrid stench. It gets off on making the viewers and characters feel as uncomfortable as possible. Nobody is safe. As Delaney once said, those who surround him are condemned to the “league of the damned.” And eternal damnation befell many a character in this final episode.
Zilpha, spurned by her brother last week, was the first to snuff it. She took a plunge into the Thames River, freeing herself from the trappings of life. It comes back to this season’s theme of freedom and feeling chained both figuratively and literally. Even after Zilpha broke free from the clutches of her abusive husband, Thorne, she still felt like a captive in her own body. Now rejected by her own brother, she saw no other way to freedom than taking her own life.
It’s a rather disappointing ending for Zilpha’s character who never really got to do a whole lot other than looking like a deer in the headlights and getting beat up by arseholes. As fun as this series has been, the writing of the female characters, in particular, Zilpha, has left a lot to be desired, and the role of Zilpha felt like a waste of Oona Chaplin’s talent.
Another female character that popped her clogs this episode was brothel Madame Helga. After blaming the death of her daughter, Winter, on Delaney, Helga had snitched to the East India Company and was holed up in a safe house until the trial could begin. She was, of course, freed when Delaney put his master plan into motion. But again, freedom came at a price and Helga was gunned down during the battle between the Crown and Delaney’s men. I guess snitches really do get stitches.
Not only do snitches get stitches; they get hung from the rafters after having their face dyed blue (he didn’t blue himself). That’s right, Dr. Dumbarton turned out to be a double agent, an American working on behalf of the Company, hoping to get the rights to Nootka from Delaney. While most were striving for freedom, Dumbarton’s freedom was bought, and Delaney made sure to give him an appropriate red, white, and blue send-off.
You may be thinking, wait, wasn’t Delaney chained up in a cell being tortured by Solomon Coop the last time we saw him? Indeed. But as we suspected, his capture was all a part of his grand plan. After threatening to reveal Sir Stuart Strange’s secrets, Delaney was able to procure a ship and his freedom, with all charges from the Company dropped. Strange, the season’s most obvious big bad, was more than happy to sacrifice his two bumbling henchman – Petifer (Richard Dixon) and Wilton (Leo Bill) – in an effort to maintain his own freedom.
Strange didn’t get off scot-free, however. In fact, he didn’t escape at all. He was blown up in his office after opening a parcel from Delaney (which he assumed were the deeds to trade routes) that contained a homemade explosive manufactured by Dr. Cholmondeley. This scene had a touch of Walt blowing up Tuco’s office in Breaking Bad about it. A fitting end for an explosive, nasty character played by the always excellent Jonathan Pryce. Although we never saw him die on screen – but I’d be surprised if his head were still attached after that explosion.
Speaking of Cholmondeley, the season’s break-out character played by the superb Tom Hollander, he was half-blown up during the mayhem at the docks. While he was still breathing and talking at the end of the episode, his face and body were severely burnt and charred, and he was muttering incoherently about someone named Maria. Not that muttering incoherently is unusual for a character on this show.
Lorna Bow, perhaps the only female character with depth, also took a stray bullet and was being nursed back to health as the ship set sail. Lorna had a great scene earlier in the episode when she interrupted Countess Musgrove’s afternoon tea to make some threats about the gunpowder. “Who are you?” “I’m Mrs. Delaney.” “His wife.” “No. I’m his mother.” Brilliant. Lorna also kicks Delaney out of his depressed funk once he learns about Zilpha’s death. “We could just sit in these rotting chairs in this shitty house.” Jessie Buckley has been on top form in this role and looked more than comfortable blasting down bad guys with her musket.
One of the few people that didn’t die or get shot or blown to smithereens was servant Brace. But his fate may be even worse, condemned to loneliness and solitude after being ordered to stay in London. “You were not born for freedom. You wouldn’t know what to do with it,” Delaney told him. Punishment for murdering his father? Or a genuine concern for a friend? Either way, keeping Brace in London means that, should Taboo get a second season, we have a character to keep us in the loop with the goings on back home. The gluttonous Prince Regent and torturous Coop also continue breathing, for now, which means we have two big bads remaining in London too.
Also escaping the episode alive were “poor, sweet Godfrey,” tattooed henchman Atticus, and Delaney’s probable son Robert (who has a future career as a postman for sure). All of them now members of Delaney’s merry band of misfits journeying to lands anew. But they’re not heading to America like Delaney promised. Instead, they are headed to Ponta Delgada in the Azores, an archipelago of Portugal, where James hopes to find Colonnade, the American agent mentioned earlier in the season. As the ship’s Union Jack flag is replaced by the stars and stripes of the USA, it opens up many possibilities for future episodes.
Overall, a blood-spilling, bomb-exploding, cast-killing finale that tied up most of the loose ends in a satisfying and thrilling fashion. Yes, the show is often ridiculous and self-indulgent, and yes, Delaney is invincible and knows too much, but if you allow yourself to be swept up in the dark, murky river which is Taboo, it is one of the most entertaining shows on television. Here’s hoping for a season two!
-We shouldn’t forget about George Chichester. While he didn’t get to bring down Strange himself, Delaney did leave him his and Godfrey’s written confessions, so that Chichester will be able to seek some form of justice.
-Did the original theme music come back? Yes! As mentioned back in Episode 2, the creators changed the theme music after the first episode but promised the original theme (played on a celeste) would be back for the finale. Why exactly? Who knows?
-Is Zilpha really dead? Delaney told Lorna that if his sister were really dead, he would hear her singing to him (using his magical mystery powers no doubt). He said he couldn’t hear her – although later during his Dumbarton dye-job he had visions of her. Did he start to hear her sing in that scene? Or is it open enough that Zilpha could make a return? I believe she’s dead but that Oona Chaplin could come back to play a ghostly vision. At least you can’t punch a ghost.
-What is Delaney planning next? Is his trip to the Azores just a pit-stop to do business with Collonade before he continues on his way to America? Or should we expect an extended visit? Given that in 1814 the Battle of Fayal between the warring US and UK took place at the Azores, it will probably make an interesting setting for a potential Season 2.