This week’s episode of Taboo runs concurrent with this week’s episode of We Were Right™, in which we gloat over the prescience of last week’s recap and pour one out for the recently departed Thorne. Not that anyone should feel grief at his passing, of course; the man was a real sniveling bastard, the kind of villain whose demise you anticipate as eagerly as Christmas. At the same time, the series itself pays his death little mind, so someone has to. Should we pity this man in his final moments of wide-eyed shock, or would that just deny Zilpha her cathartic revenge against her vile husband? Maybe Thorne didn’t register his abuse as such. Maybe he genuinely believed that he did the right thing by ordering an exorcism for his wife.
And maybe if these things are true, he’s still an awful person—and we, Zilpha, and Taboo are better off without him, especially as the series’ ensemble has been at peak capacity since "Episode 2." Perhaps this is why Zilpha fulfilling the promise of last week’s final image feels like such a non-event: Steven Knight, Tom Hardy,and Papa Hardy realized at some point in production that they simply had too many characters serving too little purpose, and so determined to write a late-stage chapter in which several of their players are turned into corpses. It begins with Thorne, continues with Atticus and Delaney’s thumbless, treacherous associate, and the ends with poor Winter, the brave girl who dared tell the devil she didn’t fear him.
Winter’s fate feels like the most important development in "Episode 6," which is saying a lot given that its running time is chock full of developments one might reasonably deem "important." Cholmondeley and his crew complete their chlorate-infused gunpowder and deliver it to Dumbarton without incident (which means we have to eat crow about our prediction that this component of Delaney’s plan would go tits-up); Delaney learns that his mother, Salish, tried to drown him when he was a baby; Thorne, prior to being murdered by Zilpha, is given a posting as an assessor down in Australia; George Chichester makes Wilton and Pettifer look very silly, and gives Stuart Strange reason to be very, very worried for his future; the East India Company finally gets one up on Delaney by destroying his ship; and Delaney and Zilpha go for a roll in the hay in a scene that will turn you on and make you feel weird about it. (It’s a wild ride. Hold onto your funereal veils.)
But what happened to Winter, and who will pay the price for her brutal slaying? Delaney is on a bit of a rampage in "Episode 6," taking out not only the man who took the East India’s bribe but also Ibbotson, his own tenant farmer, who (wittingly or not) gave away the location of the hidden Delaney farm to an unassuming agent of the East India, a priest who reports Ibbotson’s Sunday morning confession back to his employers. Ibbotson, it seems, is perturbed by both the activities occurring at Delaney’s farm and by Delaney himself, because how could you not be perturbed by Delaney if you’ve spent more than a few minutes in his company? Taboo is going out of its way of late to underline the obvious: That Delaney is one scary motherfucker, a person best not trifled with. Everyone quakes in his presence, save for Brace, who by now only reads as heartbroken at Delaney’s state of mind.
So we can fully expect that whatever details arise over the shocking killing of Winter will lead Delaney to seek yet more revenge, tucking a revenge plot within a revenge plot as he seeks to get even with the East India for blowing up his boat while still seeking to get even with them for the death of his father. Strangely, we seem to be losing sight of that motivation, as Delaney becomes increasingly obsessed with Horace’s treatment of Salish, and with his half-sister, too; remember that Delaney returns to England for the purpose of avenging his dad, and now ponder how that purpose has grown muddled as Taboo’s progressed. It’s not that the series has recalibrated his impetus for tangling with the East India, but rather that it’s forgotten its own starting point, or at least deemphasized it.
Coupled with that are too many threads that don’t harmonize with the series’ overarching drive. Chichester’s late introduction in Taboo’s winding narrative is a big deal, but it’s a big deal that doesn’t seem like it’ll intersect at all with Delaney’s plot against the East India—or, if it does, their intersection won’t make much sense. (You almost wonder why Chichester isn’t the subject of his own miniseries, bringing legal retribution down upon Strange and his subordinates for their slaving ways.) On top of that, we’ve only got two installments left before Taboo draws to a close; figuring out how Delaney will see his goals achieved, and how Chichester’s arc will be satisfied in the series’ resolution, feels like a Herculean feat.
Still, Taboo delivers in its own way, continuously pushing itself toward the edge of the rails with its aesthetic and tonal influences and its performances; you get bits of Lewis Carroll and Mel Stuart in here, with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory feeling like the strongest accidental inspiration on the show’s look and texture. These are the creative pleasures that give Taboo weight as it slowly loses its grip on its intentions. It’s enough to make us wish for eight more episodes to give these plot elements space to breathe.
Boston-based critic Andy Crump has been writing about film online since 2009, and has been contributing to Paste Magazine since 2013. He writes additional words for Movie Mezzanine, The Playlist, and Birth. Movies. Death., and is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and the Boston Online Film Critics Association. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected writing at his personal blog. He is composed of roughly 65% craft beer.