**Spoilers and Speculation**
The brand new series 'Taboo' is a, delightfully murky, enigma shrouded in a mystery wrapped in uncertainties. It looks set to be another of the big budget, high quality television series that we've been spoiled with recently. There were a lot of hooded figures, shady characters and backstories made twice as mysterious by Hardy's finest cockney McConaughey impression. At times Hardy even surpassed his own record for mumbliest performance, without the aid of a face covering respirator. 'Taboo' encapsulates the darkness of a time that brought us Jack the Ripper and colonialism. In its content, its aesthetic and its storytelling it is over-brimming with shadowy recesses and top hats. So let us try to pull the proverbial rabbit from the hat, follow it down the rabbit hole and see what we learned from Episode One. Firstly, who are these people?
What Do We Know?
We first meet Delaney returning to England, (supposedly) to attend his father, Horace Delaney's funeral. His half sister, Zilpha Geary (shared father) is most surprised, as he was assumed dead in Africa. A lot of rumors and mystique surrounds our protagonist, at times even working out what you're watching him do is a matter of guesswork. But luckily for us Edmund Pettifer surprisingly smoothly managed to shed light on some expositional information.
'According to charter records he went to Kavinda aboard a ship called Cornwallis. Then boarded.. It was a slave ship, it sank off the Gold Coast and it was assumed Delaney was dead. Then the rumors began. There have been rumors about James Kazai Delaney these last ten years. But in the file I have put only the facts, Sir.'
Edmund Pettifer, Episode 1
Lets follow Pettifer's advice and stick first to the facts, and wild speculation, before we deal with the rumors. James has just inherited a piece of land off the coast of Canada, called Nootka. Interestingly Nootka is a real island and it was inhabited by the Nuu-chah-nulth tribe of Native Americans, who were drastically effected by the advent of colonialism. I think it is likely given the quality of the programme that the real culture and history of the Nootka people. Otherwise it has the potential to become a very different programme.
He is told that the land is dangerous, though this appears to have been a rouse to get him to abandon the island. The East India Company want this land from him (for trade routes supposedly) but James is not interested in money. He claims it is the island home of his mother 'Selish.' This is possible. But we know for sure that there is something of value on the island. Either something of a value that The East India, The Crown of England (Or at least Sir Stuart Strange) and James Delaney both know the national coffers can't match. Or The East India are straight forwardly corrupt (not unlikely considering) and the holds something more valuable than money to Delaney.
We know also that Delaney has an affinity with rabid dogs and not so much with parenting.
'You think your father's kid feeds himself. I heard you done a lot of evil over there. Now its time for you to do some good among your own. Me and my wife have looked after that boy for ten years without one penny from you, and nothing but threats from that mad old bastard you just put in the ground.'
These facts were delivered by Ibbotson, a character listed for only one episode on Imdb won't be making a return. A shame as Christopher Fairbank's performance was captivating. But this means that the son is likely not to feature. Delaney seems happy to pay away his troubles, absolving himself of 'past, present and future' commitment to this relative. And yet wants to see the child for security of the payment. Its not going to win father of the year but Delaney seems to at least want to avoid him, as Ibbotson so eloquently puts it, 'sucking cock in St Giles.'
The child is far younger than his two half siblings, and may fit more neatly with the timeline and the contemporary treatment of an incestuous baby. Perhaps also explaining James,' as far as we can discern from his emotional range as a character, gushing out-pour of love. And there may have been a fair few suggestions that the taboo promised in its one word title was incest.
'Africa couldn't cure my love for you.'
James Delaney, Episode 1
The episode ended with Delaney burning a letter from his sister, requesting he 'bury the secrets of the past, bury them in a deeper grave,' and a request to murder their child?
What Don't We Know?
Right, now for speculation based on suggestions of rumors. James said of himself that he 'knows things about the dead' and that he can confirm 'no-one is listening.' Then in a bizarre video scape we watched him resurrect a tortured slave on a slaveship. Before crashing back to the shallower murk of the narrative scenes where the bed in the morgue is uninhabited. We of course can gleam something is off with Delaney by the subtle things he does. The way he screams as he tears the sheets off of all the bodies in the morgue, the way his eyes dilate as he watches a mysterious woman in a black dress drowning horribly in his mind's eye. Combine this with his penchant for the theatrical, applying facepaint by his father's grave, we begin to suspect he may be involved in some ritualistic element.
There is more substantiation than swooshy camera shots and cracking composition for his spirituality however. When James first suggests he had heard his father across the ocean, we are rightfully speculative but his meeting with Brace seems to confirm that he somehow has been hearing his father. Skepticism says, he hasn't really been anywhere, he's just been hidden. Now the way this feels like its going I think maybe there is something spiritual going on. Though whether the racist inklings of Leuightenant Thorne Geary are strong enough to give much weight to his cannibalism claim is a different matter.
Now if you like me are thinking, come on lets get spurious, lets look at what we could gleam from omens. The first episode was enriched by a lot of cultural references that might give us some suggestion of what is really at play. Delaney is delivered by a ferryman, in scenes very reminiscant of the Isle of the dead over the river styxx, and then there's the business with the coins on the eyes. The payment for the ferryman in Greek tradition placed on the dead's eyes. James takes these from his father's eyes (an unusual neo-classicism) and donates them to the church as he enters his fathers funeral. It seemed as if James had made his own arrangements for payment. Taking cash and putting it on his card, or using some other more death specific currency. The final foreboding comment on James Delaney was when Zilpha Grey pricked her finger sewing, a suggestion that he is some sort of witch or devil?
'By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes.'
Second Witch, Macbeth (Act 4, Scene 1)
Zilpha Geary is James' sister and (possibly) lover and (slightly less but still quite possibly) the mother of his child. Her BBC cast character bio reads
Zilpha is Horace Delaney's child by his second marriage and James Delaney's younger half-sister. Married to Thorne Geary. A devout Christian.
She does not share a mother then with James and as such likely has less of a tie to the island. Indeed it seemed she was allowing her husband to sell it, for the right price. She has little love for her father, and little regard for his legacy. She may be a suspect in the murdering of her father who she claims grew cold and cruel. Although I think it is more likely she is simply so disinterested as to not perform the post-mortem properly. We don't yet know where Zilpha's loyalties lie really. She is simultaneously compelled and disgusted (or reluctant to) her brothers re-entry. She seems to have a strained relationship with her husband, Leuightenant Thorne Greary who seemed at first rather uninteresting until he claimed he would kill James unless he leaves England. He is clearly threatened and scared by Delaney's return, or at least it suits him to keep his wife away from him.
Horace's most defining moment seems to be the purchase of Nootka (number of years) apparently with 'beads and gunpowder.' If James is to be believed it was there that Horace met his mother, a native woman 'Selish.' As we already know he was married twice. Horace would have been able to marry a native American women. This is confirmed by the shock that Brace shows when James seems aware of his own lineage. And so the other wife is still a mystery. We know also thanks to, the very untrustworthy Delaney family lawyer, Robert Thoyte that James' dad is dead. And that he went mad in the years before his death, apparently talking to his son across the ocean (remember we're pre-skype) though we suspect that may be less madness and more mystical. We can also be certain, again from imdb cast lists, that he isn't coming back in the rest of the series. So he likely is dead, though with the quality of Edward Fox and the shows love of resurrection, I'll wager a guinea he's a season two starter.
Horace's relationship to the islanders and his mistress is a mystery. In full consideration of the post-mortem and the effects of arsenic on the mind, it is impossible to avoid the fact that he would have been mad at time of death. He could of course be mad and mystical. But more likely James, who has been dabbling in some unusual practices could hear his father, rather than his father could speak to him.
Brace is Balderick if Blackadder had gone a very different path. Brace is the only man James trusts, and a servant before to Horace. Another brilliant Shakesperean performance, by David Hayman and writing to match make the prospect that it is his voice that might reveal many secrets. It is in the first conversation we see with him that James reveals he has 'sworn to do very foolish things.' The deep respect and the hint of honest friendship make me think that Brace is a possible leverage against the inscrutable Delaney. And I think he will prove to be more keen to the ways of their world than any of their enemies have expected. A surely loyal servant unlike his lawyer...
The East India Company
The East India company is formed by a thankfully, not interchangeable cast of nasty to thoroughly nasty men. Even the far from peaceful Delaney rebukes the 'evils that you do' reflecting the shows unflinching truthful portrayal of the brutality of colonialism. They are headed by Sir Stuart Strange, a clearly incredibly powerful man with links to the crown. Sir Strange has met James Delaney before, though he claims brandy and old age have shifted his memories, It seems suspicious that he would forget such a presence. Especiallly considering his disciplinary record that looked somewhere between a psychiatrists report and a winning argument in a my dad's better than your dad argument. I think why-ever Nootka is important to James Delaney, Strange is likely aware of it too. Either he remembers or their geographical closeness matters. Perhaps they both discovered the same thing unbeknownst to the other on the island. Something above monetary value.
There is also Godders, who might as well be called Gold mine, because he records the minutes and bares witness to the unminuted raised hand (underhand) business orders. He is a piggybank that may well be raided. Then there's Wilton, an ambitious clerk with a seemingly ruthless dedication. Pettifer seems to be the most unsavory and is my prime suspect for Delaney's murder. It is interesting to note also that he is from the African desk. This suggests that James' trips on that continent may be as important as the goings-on in North America. And given Pettifer's involvement in the discussions so far outside his remit I think the two are likely linked. Robert Thoyt is also on the companies books and seems to be reasonably well informed, also fortuitously he was the late Dealney's lawyer as well. He has been trying to extract the island for the East India Company for some time.
Helga Von Hinten
Helga is an entirely seperate element, or at least right now it is hard to discern any link between her narrative and the wider story. We aren't entirely sure why James wants his father's offices back open, but we can be certain it won't be an easy ask. Helga quickly drops the facade that she's a chancing pimp and clearly has recourse to greater strength in the criminal underworld. She is clearly capable of going to great lengths for her business. It is also very possible that James wants the premises for illicit purposes of his own and that the mysticism surrounding him is simply colonial prejudices being played upon by the protagonist for his own benefits.
Is Delaney really supernatural?
Taboo is drenched in style, like soggy velvet on a smoky London's night. The folds appear to hold many mysteries, but if you know something that we don't know please let us know in the comments. And if you just can't stop trying to worm your way closer to those secrets, here's the teaser for next week. Featuring Atticus, played by the awesome guy from everything; Stephen Graham (Gangs of New York, This is England, Snatch). I don't know what involvement he has but he seems thoroughly dodgy and I for one am just excited Grahams involved.