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What’s It About?
Taboo’s first season centred around Hardy’s character James Keziah Delaney, a mysterious man with one foot in the spirit world and the other in the murky puddle of international arms dealing and espionage. James is a Byronic composite of 19th century literary characters – as dangerous as Magwitch, as exotic as Heathcliff, as clever as Sherlock Holmes… and as isolated, scarred, and set on revenge as Frankenstein’s creature. He’s a literal product of colonialism, as the son of an Indigenous Nootka tribeswoman stolen along with her people’s land by James’ British father Horace, agent of The Honourable East India Company (always a red flag, when an organisation feels the need to signal good intent in the name. In this instance, much like McDonalds branding itself ‘The Kind to Cows Company’). James’ mother was understandably driven mad by life in England, and tried to drown James as a baby before being committed to Bedlam asylum, where she died.
James grew up to enrol at the EIC, and went to sea where he was lost in a shipwreck. After a decade of being missing-presumed-dead, he returned to 1814 London for his father’s funeral. He’d come back with three goals: 1) to solve his father’s murder, 2) to expose Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce) of the EIC for the illegal transportation and deaths of hundreds of enslaved Africans, and 3) to rekindle his affair with his half-sister Zilpha (Oona Chaplin).
How Season One Ends
By the finale, James had managed all three and more, and was on a ship sailing for Portugal with a rag-tag crew of ‘Pilgrims’ and 70 barrels of gunpowder. He’d learned that his father had been poisoned, but in an act of mercy by loyal manservant Brace (David Hayman) who’d wanted to save the sinning man’s Christian soul. James had also not only exposed Stuart Strange’s crimes courtesy of lawyer Mr Chichester (Lucian Msamati), but also exploded Strange with a letter bomb. As for Zilpha, she’d killed herself by jumping into the Thames after murdering her abusive husband who tortured her after she had magic dream-sex with James (who’d learned all kinds of spirit-realm tricks during his ten years in Africa), so half a tick for that one.
Before the finale, we’d met American spies, French socialites, hapless mudlarks, a junkie chemist, a sharp-toothed assassin, and the best thing in the whole series – stage actor Lorna Bow (Jessie Buckley). Lorna was Horace Delaney’s secret third wife and therefore James’ step-mother, with whom James had an undeniable frisson, continuing the show’s incest theme. If you reached the end of the series with lingering questions, we attempt answers below…
The Sinking of The Influence/Cornwallis
A young James Delaney enlisted with the East India Company in 1798, and was soon selected by EIC chairman Stuart Strange to work on his illicit side-line. (Strange said he chose boys “who had the shadow of death on them” for the task as he thought they’d be less likely to return to England and reveal his secret). For personal profit and against company rules, Strange was using EIC sloop The Cornwallis to transport enslaved African people from Angola to his brother-in-law’s plantation in the West Indies. When The Cornwallis set sail, her identifying flags would be stowed and she would be sailed in disguise as US ship The Influence. In 1804, almost 300 enslaved men, women and children were in the cargo hold of The Cornwallis/Influence when she ran aground and sank. Delaney had followed Strange’s orders to nail the cargo hold shut in order to conceal his secret scheme, which resulted in all of their deaths by drowning.
James escaped the ship and was rescued by a man from Ghana who taught him the Twi language and tribal customs (including, apparently, witchcraft), all of which James used to bolster his reputation as a terrible, cannibalistic, tattooed enigma in a hat upon his return to London.
Source: Den of Geek