The Radio Times logo

11 burning questions we have after Taboo episode three

What was that bird symbol? What's James' plan? And who on Earth is Carlsbad?

Published: Friday, 4th August 2017 at 3:00 pm

With another episode of Taboo came more gore, more mysterious visions, more somewhat uncomfortable scenes of semi-incest….and a lot more mysteries.


Lucky for you, then, that we’ve delved into the heart of darkness and come out the other side with a few answers to your many burning questions.

Starting with…

1. Who is Carlsbad?

We learned this week that US spy Carlsbad, the contact of Dr Dumbarton (Michael Kelly, above) that hero James Delaney (Tom Hardy) was told to ask for to get a direct line to the US President, is actually a woman, much to Delaney’s surprise.

This leads us to wonder if she’s someone we’ve actually already met in disguise – sex worker Helga, who seems to know more than she lets on, springs to mind – but for now, her true identity remains a mystery.

Still, we may at least have an idea where she got her spy designation from – in real life Carlsbad refers to a well-off seaside resort town in California – so maybe she has some connection to there.

2. Does James actually just want to sell tea?

Finally showing his true British colours, James revealed (under pressure) to American spy Dr Dumbarton that the only reason he was causing so much trouble was for tea. Like most of us, he’d do a lot for a good cuppa.

Just kidding – James was actually asking for a complete monopoly on tea trading in certain areas from the US, which while somewhat anti-climactic would bring him in a lot of money and explain his actions.

However, things may not be all they seem. Later in the episode, the Prince Regent’s private secretary Coop (Jason Watkins) reveals that Delaney had told the Crown he wanted a monopoly on sea otter pelts, suggesting that neither offer was genuine and he was just playing both sides for fools.

So, perhaps James isn’t an American spy as we thought last week – but just what IS he up to?

3. What is James’ real plan?

First we thought he was looking for revenge on the East India company, then we thought he was a US spy, then we thought he actually wanted to make some money, and now we’ve cycled all the way back to revenge again – God, that James Delaney is a tricky one to get a hold on.

This week, in a letter he wrote to sister/lover Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) James seemed to suggest he planned to destroy his newfound company and leave with a ship on her, suggesting his latest enterprise is nothing but a tool in his wider plans – but what could those plans be? And just how far does he intend to take his war against the Crown and the East India Company?

4. What exactly DID happen between James and Zilpha?

Speaking of Zilpha, we seemed to get some rather unambiguous signs this week that their incestuous love affair was a physical one, suggesting that the mysterious child reportedly sired by their father Horace may have actually been hers. It might also explain why her husband Thorne Geary (Jefferson Hall) was so angry at her lack of pregnancy this week as well – he’s furious that the only child she’s been able to bear is not his own.

5. What was going on with the will?

After his near-fatal stabbing last week, James’ latest move – making a will where he leaves the valuable Nootka Sound land to the Americans in the case of his death – seems like a sound one, giving the villainous East India company (above) a reason to keep him alive.

Presumably, of course, the land could still also be claimed by James’ newfound mother-in-law Lorna (Jessie Buckley), but it’d still give the US a claim over the area that would cause more trouble for the company and the crown than they have already when it comes to negotiating the border with British territories.

6. Who was the woman in the water?

The subject of James’ visions this week wasn’t the mystery slave character, but was instead his mother Anna Delaney, originally from the Nootka tribe in North-West America where James’ land is situated.

Presumably we’ll be finding out more about her as the series continues, but this episode does reveal that in her later days Anna had scratched a mystery bird symbol into a fireplace, which is the same mark tattooed on James by previous captors. Leading us to wonder…

7. What is the bird symbol on James’ back?

This Ghanaian mark is called a Sankofa, and is actually a reasonably popular symbol in the real world used by many people of African descent to represent the importance of the past in building a successful tomorrow.

To find out more about the symbol, as well as how it relates to the world of Taboo, you can check out our full article here.

8. Is Winter real?

One person who does seem to know a bit about the bird symbol is young girl Winter, who crops up again in this week’s episode after leading James to the ship of his would-be assassin in last week’s episode.

However, we’re beginning to wonder if Winter (the daughter of sex worker Helga) is all that she seems, considering her strange actions, knack for disappearing off the face off the Earth and generally spooky demeanour.

If we hadn’t seen her interacting with some other kids early in the episode we’d be calling her as a Tyler Durden-style figment of James’ imagination, but as it is we’re just uncertain if she is exactly as she appears.

Then again, she might just be a weird kid. Everyone else in this series is quite strange, after all.

9. Who was the man James blackmailed?

OK, we totally called this – the clerk for the East India Company that James kept exchanging significant glances with in episode one DID have a larger purpose, with this week’s instalment revealing that Godfrey (Edward Hogg) is actually an old friend of James’ from the seminary.

Naturally, James used this influence to force Godfrey to help him keep tabs on the East India Company (while also blackmailing him over his transvestism), and we wouldn’t be surprised if the poor clerk is headed for a nasty end when caught by his ruthless bosses.

10. Who killed James’ father Horace Delaney?

In our weekly check-in to this important point, there was no new evidence as to who exactly poisoned the Delaney patriarch – though given their resources, it seems like prime suspect Geary might have to move aside in favour of the East India Company, the Crown and the Americans.

Speaking of which…

11. Who tried to trap Lorna?

Now, here in the office we were a little confused by this. Episode three ends with Lorna caught in a sort of honeytrap, taken off the streets to perform sexual acts for the Duke of Richmond with the understanding that she would obviously lash out violently, giving her enemies an excuse to close in on her under the guise of the law.

However, we’re not QUITE sure who exactly these plotting enemies were. James only refers to them as “they”, leaving us in the dark as to whether it’s the East India Company, the Crown or the Americans trying their hand at a bit of espionage.

Our instincts were originally for the East India – this could give them leverage over Lorna, who has a claim on Nootka to rival James’ – but equally it could be the Prince Regent's agents operating under the same principles. Meanwhile, the Americans arguably have even more reason to tarnish Lorna’s name, as she’s the only person standing between them and Nootka if they also eliminate James (seeing as he left them the land in his will, as discussed above).


So in short, there are a lot of people who could be behind the whole thing – and we wouldn’t be surprised to see even more of their evil machinations in next week’s episode. We can hardly wait.


Sponsored content