13 burning questions we have after the first episode of Taboo

As well as a few soothing answers from the BBC period drama

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Tom Hardy, Ridley Scott and Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight’s atmospheric new drama Taboo has begun, and among all the period flair, brutal surgery and scenes of Hardy growling at all and sundry several mysteries were budded that will no doubt entrance viewers over the next eight weeks.

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And of course, said viewers include us here at RadioTimes.com, so we’ve put together our thoughts on the very biggest questions lurking around after the end of the first episode – as well as a few answers that we’ve managed to find out. Starting with…


1. What does James bury?

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Taboo starts as it means to go on, introducing a mystery within the very first moments of the opening episode as we see Tom Hardy’s James Keziah Delaney burying a small bag in the ground on the outskirts of London..

But what could he be hiding? Valuables? Secret documents? Or something else entirely, relating to a conversation he has with his sister later on (see below)?


2. Is the island everyone’s going on about a real place?

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Yes, the pivotal Nootka Sound inherited by James in the episode is a real place, and really was the subject of some border disputes throughout history, which you can read about here.


3. What happened to James during his time with the East India Trading Company?

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During the episode we learn that James spent some time as a cadet for the East India Company, and he hints that he did “evil” things under their instruction (specifically the instruction of Jonathan Pryce’s Sir Stuart Strange, above, who was in charge of his regiment).

But as of yet, exactly what happened to him remains a mystery. Did he engage in the Company’s infamous campaigns of murder and exploitation of indigenous peoples, or something even worse? Is that why he ran away to Africa? And does it relate to the mysterious man seen in his dreams?


4. Who WAS the mysterious man in James’ dreams?

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Oh yes, him. During an autopsy scene, James hallucinates a dead slave coming forth to judge him, but denies his culpability in the death. We’re guessing this means that the man was killed during James’ time under orders at the East India Company, and that we’ll eventually see what happened (which may have been what sent James off into the wilds).


5. Is the language Tom Hardy speaks a real one?

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Yes – apparently the mysterious words Hardy’s character uses throughout the episode are from the Twi language, spoken by of the native Ashanti people from Ghana, Africa. The programme was advised on the language by Naomi Fletcher, Anthnoy Dwomo and Akwasi Amponsah from The Cultural Group.


6. Was that Tom Hardy’s real dog?

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Tom Hardy is known both for his love of dogs and his propensity for getting his own pets into his projects, but in this case the dog accompanying James Delaney on his travels isn’t Hardy’s own.

As it turns out his dog Woody (full name Woodstock) WAS on set at all times, but after previously appearing in Kray Twins biopic Legend and Peaky Blinders, it was thought that he might be too recognisable to viewers (especially fans of Taboo creator Steven Knight and Tom Hardy’s work in Peaky Blinders).


7. Who’s this guy?

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This character, played by Misfits and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell actor Edward Hogg, is called Godfrey and appears to be nothing more than a clerk/note-taker for the men of the East India Company.

However, during the episode the camera lingers on his face a few times, and it looks like he and Tom Hardy’s James Delaney share a significant look at one point that belies his seeming insignificance.

It also seems like a fairly small role for Hogg considering his CV, so we wouldn’t be surprised to find that there’s more than meets the eye to Wilton over the coming weeks.


8. Who played Tom Hardy’s dead father Horace?

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It was actually veteran actor Edward Fox of the famed acting family (including brother James, children Emilia and Freddie and nephew Laurence) lying on the slab, and unless this series is seriously wasting his talents we’d imagine we might see Fox bringing Delaney Sr. to life in some flashback scenes down the line.


9. Who killed him?

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Speaking of James’ father, it’s revealed towards the end of this week’s episode that Horace Delaney was poisoned by some nefarious character, and it’s left up in the air exactly who was the culprit. Currently, the men of the East India company or James’ brother-in-law Thorne Geary (above), who stood to inherit the valuable Nootka Sound (through his wife Zilpha, Horace Delaney’s daughter) after Delaney Sr.’s death seem to be the most likely suspects.

Still, we wouldn’t be so quick to assume the obvious villains were behind this – with seven weeks of story to go, it could be that other characters (including ones we haven’t met yet) had a hand in his demise.


10. What are the rumours about James Delaney?

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Throughout the episode, various characters mention disturbing rumours about what James got up to in his time in Africa, all of which seem to horrify those who hear them.

However, as of yet we haven’t heard what James is supposed to have done. Does it have something to do with his interest in African culture (which some people seemed to think was witchcraft), terrible violent deeds (perhaps relating to the dead man visiting his dreams), or something else entirely?


11. What’s the deal with the young Delaney boy?

 
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When James is taken to meet his father’s illegitimate son (“You think your father’s kid feeds himself?”), our minds immediately ran to a different possibility – that the young boy (played by Andy Serkis’ son, fact fans) is actually the child of James (who expresses hopes he won’t turn out like him) and his sister Zilpha, who seems to share a creepy romantic relationship with her brother (see below).

However, even if that’s not true we’d be surprised if we never this young’un again. After all, if the East India Company discover Horace Delaney had another son who could inherit, he could become a crucial pawn in their campaign against James.


12. What happened between James and his sister Zilpha?

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Now this is a weird one. As noted above, during the episode it seems to be suggested that James and his sister Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) had some sort of romantic relationship in the past, with Hardy’s traveller telling her “one thing Africa did not cure was that I still love you.”

Considering all the Game of Thrones actors in the cast (including Chaplin herself) perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised to see a bit of incest making the rounds. However, Zilpha goes on to point out that James is only her half-sibling, raising all sorts of other questions.

Presumably she’s still Horace Delaney’s daughter, given that she was set to inherit his assets, so does she have a different mother to James’s Native American mum? Or was she adopted by Horace alone (there’s no mention of him remarrying and there’s not much of a family resemblance), making her relationship with James a LITTLE less icky?

Whatever the truth, it’s clear the pair are still somewhat close in the time of the drama – but then sharing a secret will do that for you…

UPDATE: It has been pointed out that during the episode Horace’s second wife is mentioned, so nope, it is just icky.


13. What IS the buried secret?

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At the end of the episode, Zilpha writes James a secret letter hidden from her husband, which concludes with the following words:

“Whatever happens with this business of inheritance, and no matter if it results in dispute, I hope I can trust you to keep the secrets of the past buried. Buried in a deeper grave.”

Now, we’re betting that it’s this secret that’ll come into play in a big way over the next few weeks. Could Zilpha be referring to the pair having a secret love child (above), as seems the obvious choice, or is there something more complicated going on? And does her use of the word “buried” suggest a connection with whatever James hid in the mud at the beginning of the episode?

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For now, we can only wait and see what happens as the drama unfolds. Luckily, we think we’re Hardy enough to stand the suspense.