Taboo wastes no time picking up where the drama of the last episode left us. Lorna (Buckley) overlooks the river as James (Hardy) and Thorne (Hall) row to their duel site. There, Thoyt (Woodeson) and an overseer proctor the duel. Lorna shows up to observe as James’ second. The overseer believes the fight to blood, but Thorne wants it to the death. They take position…
“And, at the time of your choosing, there will be a ‘polite’ exchange of bullets…” –The Overseer
But the duel does not go as planned. Thorne fires first and strikes James in the chest. But there is no wound nor ball— just a splash of soot. James approaches and puts his gun to Thorne’s face. Complimenting him on the shot, he suggests that Thorne’s gun was never loaded. And that his second is an agent of the East India Company.
As the second runs, James expends his shot into the back of his head. The doctor rushes to the dead man’s aid, but the duel concludes.
Thorne, despondent, returns home to the relief of Zilpha (Chaplin). Taking to the bottle to steel his nerves, he taunts her but ultimately admits the duel was void. He imparts no details. When she asks if she would learn through gossip, he counters that rumor was how he learns about his wife.
At the manor, James and Lorna avoid Brace’s (Hayman) questions about the party, the duel going unmentioned. Brace however has an interesting story about the soldiers seeking those who robbed the company docks. Rumors go that it was Frenchmen. James states that he and Lorna will take their breakfast on the shore. And that when the troops come, Brace is to permit them entry.
Lorna asks James how he will not hang. He demands the trunk with his father’s belonging. When further pressed, James admits that the stolen saltpeter had been sold to the navy, and thus the crown. But, because the East India Company had failed to deliver the saltpeter, they were liable. Because the crown can punish the company and not James, the Prince-Regent would again be open to a deal.
“The company can cause me a lot of difficulties, but only the king can have me hanged…” –James Delaney
James tells Lorna to get the trunk, then departs. Lorna frustratingly throws her breakfast, but Winter (Martinwood) appears. In their introduction, Winter admits that James promised to take her to America. Lorna has doubts he’ll survive.
Soldiers in blue storm James’ holdings in their search. The manor, the Felice Adventurero and his offices are ransacked, but their search is futile. And as James rides out to his distant farm, he is tailed. After threatening the spy, James injures him and sends him back.
At the farm, James checks in on Cholmondeley (Hollander) who toils on the product. The chemist admits interest in Lorna from the party, and asks James’ permission to call upon her. James ignores the question, wanting to see the cargo.
Back at the manor, Lorna unloads a trunk, supposedly the one James requested. Brace is grumpier than usual, which worries Lorna. When asked, he admits that he recognizes that container and wishes it gone. Burned even, to make sure it could not return.
Inspecting the saltpeter, James asks about the storage facilities. Cholmondeley admits that it is a superior product. Returning the conversation to Lorna, the chemist shares blunt truths about his desires for her. Asking permission to pursue her, James denies him, but admits no interest in her.
Stepping out, James visits the boy Robert (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) and farmer Ibbotson (Christopher Fairbank) whose facilities they are using for storage. James provides Ibbotson with coin to purchase a sail to cover his cargo. Ibbotson orders the boy to leave, but James wants him to stay. The farmer explains that the boy knows nothing. James tells the boy how the saltpeter is stolen, and under threat of the law, he is one of them. Robert is given to Cholmondeley as an apprentice.
In the taverns, James renders payment to Atticus (Graham) and his boys for a good night’s work. Before leaving however, James says he knows that one of Atticus’ men was thinking of betraying them. He claims to know who it is… and takes the man’s thumb.
Visiting Helga (Potente) and her girls, James provides recompense for the soldier’s violent search. He insists that the girls maintain their silence should any company men come about. He offers them either a diamond or the severed digit. Their choice.
Back at the East India Company headquarters, Sir Strange (Pryce) is dissatisfied. Caught between Delaney and the crown, he demands ideas from his board. Godfrey (Hogg) listens in. This soon bears fruit, as Helga’s girl Pearl (Haddon) is held up for info while servicing a john. With word from Winter, French Bill (Pip) pries him away. The company man is soon feeding the crabs. Atticus admires a note Winter leaves on his body.
At dusk, James blows ash from his fingers and communes with the spirits. He sees a vision of himself in the water, but is drawn away by the sound of an explosion. Returning to the farm, James finds Robert and Cholmondeley quietly at work. The chemist denies any accidents. He also mentions the reward, but James tells them to work faster.
Returning to the manor, James eyes the trunk. He examines several letters and drawings inside before burning them in the fire. Lorna, coming down, is shocked by this. James confesses he is seeking the treaty, and also tells the horrid truth of his father. That Horace Delaney bought the land for beads, gunpowder and lies. And got a wife as part of the bargain as well.
But James’ mother went mad. When she refused to play a good wife, Horace sent her to Bedlam Insane Asylum. A tearful Lorna reveals the treaty hidden in the trunk as she goes back to her room.
“Have you never bought a soul for beads?” –Lorna Bow
In the palace, the Prince-Regent (Gatiss) shows Coop (Watkins) his plans to prosecute the East India Company. Coop likes what he sees, but has a better idea, fearing that Strange would wiggle out of blame. Instead, he offers some papers hidden among the docks during the night of the robbery. Letters that mention a “George Chichester” of the Sons of Africa.
James visits the Dumbarton (Kelly) despite the risk of the cholera outbreak. Or so the doctor claims— rather it was a rumor to dissuade the authorities. Dumbarton wants the gunpowder James is producing for the American blockade. He knows, because the spy James injured was their man. However the doctor needs the powder faster than it can be produced. When James denies it can be done, he is told to ask the chemist about “the French experiment.”
Cholmondeley, however, is less enthused. He tells James a history tale where Mauritius was under attack by the East India. In desperation, the French tried to hasten powder production using chlorate. Although the process succeeded, it required non-stop attention and the risk of explosion was much, much greater. The city of Mauritius paid a heavy price.
(Note: Digging about, there doesn’t seem to be any real world historical comparisons. Though interesting, this tale is either entirely fictional or very obscure.)
James decides to risk it. Cholmondeley draws the line. But if the Americans fold, James’ allies will sell them out, and they will all hang for treason. The chemist warns James that he’s risking the life of his son with the chlorate, having figured Robert’s identity. James however, points out that the Americans have Cholmondeley’s name too. Though he claims not to know how. Cholmondeley is to get the chlorate while James gets the manpower.
As Zilpha sleeps, Thorne pays her a visit and overhears her mumbling James’ name. Thorne turns violent, and Zilpha fights back before being knocked cold. He insists that she needs a priest.
The next morning, a George Chichester (Lucian Msamati) pays visit to Coop. Chichester has apparently been writing to Coop’s office every July 10th for nine years. This date is anniversary of the sinking of the Influence, a falsely-named ship that cost 280 lives, mostly slaves. Coop suspects it is a racial matter, but Chichester insists he is a humanitarian.
Chichester believes the sinking was deliberate to hide the slaving operations. Possibly within the East India Company. Coop promises good news as he hands Chichester a letter from the Prince-Regent.
At the company headquarter, Wilton (Bill) gets a heated whisper from Strange. The crown is onto the sinking of the Influence and has launched a commission. Wilton is charged with informing Chichester that they will cooperate, and then tasked with burning evidence.
Per her invitation, James meets with Countess Musgrove (Hands) at her estate. She reacts a touch confused by James’ news that the gunpowder will be ready in eight days. But she confirms that the Americans have agreed to James’ monopoly deal. The catch however, is that he must furbish the Nootka treaty to the Americans before he leaves. He requests patience.
At the manor, James asks Brace about a book; a gift to Lorna from Cholmondeley. Brace states that Lorna asked many questions that he didn’t answer. She appears and asks about the parcel, but James states that Cholmondeley is not a suitable man for her.
At the Geary’s, Zilpha steps out of her room with a massive bruise, a gift from Thorne. Her husband stops her to introduce a priest, who will be performing an exorcism. She does not react well to the news and resists. Thorne restrains her and the exorcism is prepared immediately. Although the priest’s touch is unwelcome, he is otherwise gentle in prayer.
She is left restrained until later that night when Thorne releases her. She promises to go to bed shortly. However, it’s clear that the exorcism has broken something in Zilpha, who plays with a needle or long pin…