If anything, episode two of BBC period drama Taboo was even more confusing than the first, with Tom Hardy’s mysterious adventurer James Delaney offering hints about his past, uncovering secret relatives and searching for assassins through the shadowy streets of 19th-century London.
Accordingly, then, the whole thing left us asking a few questions…
1. Why did the theme song change?
Eagled-eared viewers (yes, eagles have good ears, why shouldn’t they?) may have noticed that Taboo’s theme song was different this week, with the plink-plonk style of episode 1 replaced by a strings arrangement.
Well, that was no accident – according to production insiders the original arrangement (made using an instrument called a celeste, fact fans) was always intended to be replaced by the new version.
It’s not clear exactly why the stylistic change was made, but never fear – the original theme will be back for the series finale.
2. Where did James get the diamonds from?
As some of you may recall, last week we pondered what James had buried on the outskirts of London in the first episode, and now we have our answer – a bag of uncut diamonds, now dug up and in use for his various mysterious plans.
How he got the diamonds, however, is a bit of a mystery. He could have found them, or earned them in some way – or they could be payment for a devious job yet to be completed. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
3. Why did he send one to his sister?
James exchanged some testy words with his half-sister (and possible former lover) Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) in episode two, but he also apparently sent her a nest-egg – one of his diamonds, which she promptly stowed away.
Was this just to offer some security to his sister after inheriting their father’s estate entirely, or a hint that she might need financial independence soon – perhaps if her husband’s war of words against James turned into something more violent?
Or, you know, just a lovely gift. James is such a thoughtful brother, after all.
4. Is James a spy for the Americans?
Now this is a bit of a twist – in episode one we’d assumed that James’s campaign against the East India Company was entirely based on revenge for the terrible actions they forced him to do while in their employ, and when Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce) brought up the prospect of him being a US spy in episode two (based on his erratic actions and knowledge of British-American negotiations) it just seemed like the suspicions of a reactionary old man.
However, as the episode went on it began to seem like James might have actually had some ties to the US, meeting with one of their agents (Michael Kelly’s Dr Dumbarton, pictured above), using codewords to communicate with him and saying he was sent by an American agent (called Colonnade, if we’re spelling that right). However, he doesn’t seem to have direct contact with the Yanks (he wants Dr Dumbarton to give him a mode of communication) and some of his codes were apparently incorrect, leading the doctor to throw him out of his offices.
Our conclusions? Well, clearly James isn’t acting alone, and may have some ties to the Americans. But it also seems clear that he’s also acting in his own interests, and may have broken from the US plans for his own ends, so perhaps the truth is slightly more complicated than first appears.
5. Is Jessie Buckley really Horace Delaney’s wife?
In a surprise plot turn, I’d Do Anything star Jessie Buckley (last seen in BBC drama War & Peace) was revealed to be playing an actress called Lorna Bow, the secret wife of James’ father Horace.
Of course this puts a bit of a dent in James’s plans for Nootka Sound trading post, which she might be able to claim co-ownership of, so we immediately suspected she was an imposter. However, as the episode continued it seemed like her claim was legitimate, so we can only wait and see exactly what it is that she’s up to.
6. Who killed James’s father, and how?
We still don’t know who poisoned James’s father (though it seems likely to be James’s nasty brother-in-law Thorne Geary, who previously tried and failed to have Horace killed, or his mysterious new wife Lorna), but we probably now know how – by poisoning the honey beer that was pretty much all he consumed for sustenance at the end of his life.
However, servant David said that the man selling the beer had since died, leaving a bit of a dead end – unless he was bribed, and the people paying him left evidence somewhere. Hmm…
7. On the ship, why did James strip naked and scratch around on the floor?
Yeah, this was a weird moment, but hey – it is Taboo. It seems like James didn’t actually buy the captured Spanish ship at random to antagonise the East India, as first appeared, but actually had some connection to it from his past.
To demonstrate this, James stripped naked, scratched a bird design into the floor and looked for beads, in a slightly confusing sequence that seemed to imply James had once been chained up there himself (was he captured as a slave at one point?) or more likely knew someone who had been, perhaps the dead man repeatedly glimpsed in his visions.
Anyway, presumably we’ll learn more about what happened to James in his travels as the weeks go on – in increasingly weird ways, no doubt.
8. Was that REALLY Mark Gatiss?
Yep, the Sherlock co-creator and star was in fine over-the-top form as Britain’s Prince Regent, donning a fat suit and some rather ostentatious makeup to portray the historical royal.
Still, it’s not Gatiss’s first fatsuit experience – in last year’s Victorian Sherlock special, an alternate version of his character Mycroft had packed on the pounds a little too…
9. What’s the deal with that Winter girl?
During the episode a young girl calling herself Winter appeared, telling James that a man who sought to kill him was hiding out on a ship (though not the same ship as the one James had just bought – we thought for a moment that James might have burned his own ship down). But who was she? And why did she help him?
Well, as we learned later in the episode, it seems Winter is secretly the daughter of sex worker Helga, though why exactly she wanted to help James (or how she knew where to find him, or why she disappeared after he burned the ship) remain mysteries. Oh well, it gives us something to put in this article next week.
10. Who hired the man to kill James?
The episode revealed that someone had been looking to kill James, though it was slightly unclear which of his many enemies made the final order. Was it the men of the East India Company, blackmailed into bumping him off? His brother-in-law Thorne Geary (pictured), desperate to gain an inheritance? Sex worker Helga, wanting her rooms back? Or even newly-discovered stepmother Lorna, who could be keen to steal his portion of the Delaney estate?
Like James, we’re still looking for answers on this one.
11. And finally…is James dead?
The end of the episode saw James kill the assassin who attacked him in the street (tearing his throat out in a lovely Saturday night treat), but not without receiving a pretty grave injury himself – a knife to the stomach that left him slumped and bleeding in the street.
In real life, we’d say he’d be done for – but given that Taboo still has six episodes to run, and we can’t see even this experimental series killing off its marquee star so early on, we imagine he’ll pull through.
With that said, it could be that the injury weakens James for a time, giving his enemies the chance to move against him. Oo-er.