Episode 2 of Taboo increases its tempo in several interconnected ways, and is all the more absorbing for it. To quickly recap – as I kept the details of the first episode rather concealed, the first episode found James Delaney (Tom Hardy) returning from Africa – scarred and bedraggled – in order to attend the funeral of his father, Horace. James, who many believed to be dead, is bequeathed his father’s last and only asset – a piece of land named “Nootka Sound”. The year is 1814.
Through the closed-door boardroom discussions of a shadowy and powerful entity known as the East India Company, we learn that this land is in dispute between Great Britain and the United States, who are at war with one another. The East India Company – a group of wealthy and snarling old men – had an agreement to purchase this land from Zilpha Geary (Oona Chaplin), Delaney’s half-sister. With the arrival of James, and the desires of his father’s will, East India’s plans of acquisition are halted, and their attempts to negotiate the sale with James are scoffed at. Amidst their attempts to push the sale with Delaney, he points out that he knows the war is coming to an end, which will greatly increase the land’s value. In some potentially related news, James also learns that his father’s death was caused by arsenic poisoning.
The next chapter of this murky tale finds Delaney on a mission to claim his inheritance and moving on in swift, measured movements. Firstly, he purchases a ship at an auction, and then sets about assembling a crew. Representatives of the East India Company, also in attendance at the auction, loudly query how Delaney could acquire such a large sum of money (£800) for the ship’s purchase. Such an accusation serves to throw further focus and mistrust Delaney’s way. His continually dismissive attitude towards East India only serves to further their simmering hatred of and frustration with him.
At the reading of his father’s will, wherein James is to be formally handed the land rights, a rowdy and agitated crowd gather. We learn that they are all owed money by James’ late father. Also in attendance is Lorna Bow (Jessie Buckley), an actress from London who announces that she was married to Horace. Such a claim, alongside the seemingly legitimate documentation she has to support it, adds convolution to James’ entitlements, and it becomes abundantly clear that he has many parties out to ensure he never succeeds in claiming what is rightfully his.
As James attempts to navigate those who are openly and directly out to undermine him, East India Chairman Sir Stuart Strange (played with wondrous bloodlust by Jonathan Pryce), fed up with their more civil and subtle (and unsuccessful) attempts to manipulate Delaney, issues a clear directive: kill James Delaney, and kill him fast.
To delve further would be, once more, to spoil – however, as you have read, the walls are closing in on Delaney. In this episode, more trusted and familiar faces appear – most notably Mark Gatiss (Sherlock actor, writer and executive producer) as the amusingly corpulent Prince Regent.
Running alongside the star-studded cast is the continued poise with which the story’s pace and tension is increased – a true testament to its writing. This is a moody and dark show, and this episode adds an eerie and claustrophobic tone as James’ enemies continue to expand in numbers and increase in desperation. Crucially, we learn yet more of James’ inner demons and hints toward the experiences that caused them, and Hardy continues to drip-feed the morals and motivations that make his Delaney tick.
There’s more of everything this week, yet it remains delicately packaged within the same sombre and intriguing style.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10