*Warning: This post contains spoilers for Taboo, Episode 6*
It speaks volumes for Taboo that the main talking point from an episode is whether or not protagonist James Delaney (Tom Hardy) murdered and disembowelled a child, and realizing that, no matter the answer, it probably won't stop you rooting for him. Which is disturbing. Very disturbing.
Like each episode of the highly-stylized supernatural period drama, every scene is riddled with intent, edging Delaney's big plan ever-so-slightly-forward. This week, there were big developments in all areas: The East India Company are upping their game in the battle for Nootka Sound; Zilpha murdered Thorne before running into the arms of Delaney; the Legion of the Damned successfully manufactured gunpowder ahead of schedule to supply American spy Dumbarton.
One of the biggest shocks, though, came at the end of the #Taboo Episode 6. Delaney turns to drink and stumbles to the London docks, before Winter (Ruby-May Martinwood) arrives with more alcohol. Delaney soon blacks out. He then wakes up with his face in mud, and turns around to find Winter's mutilated dead body — did Delaney kill her?
Is The Ending Of 'Taboo' Episode 6 A Step Too Far?
There are a number of reasons as to why this is the the most important question from Taboo Episode 6. Make no mistake, #TomHardy's Delaney is not a nice guy. In fact, his actions are deplorable, and in any other environment, he has all the hallmarks of a sadistic villain. But the severity of his actions are diluted by the opposition. Delaney is an underdog, fighting against all-powerful forces. In a similar manner to Breaking Bad, the support for such a character is testament to the quality of the script.
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But the murder of an innocent child, on top of all of Delaney's other questionable actions, is a serious test of the audience's resolve. Winter was an ally who supplied information to Delaney, in exchange for a place aboard Delaney's America-bound ship. And, despite Delaney's often barbaric deeds, he generally sticks to an (admittedly strange) moral code of conduct. Which leaves us with a few possibilities.
1. Delaney Killed Winter During A Psychotic Blackout Or Possession
Let's assume Delaney did kill Winter. After all, her corpse had all the hallmarks of Delaney's post-murder-organ-delve, in the same manner of the American assassin and the thumbless traitor from earlier in the episode. But each of the previous murders have been shown on screen, so why is this different?
When Winter approaches Delaney, he warns her that he's "not fit" to be near her. There's then a lingering closeup of her face, before a jarring intercut of the ghost of Delaney's mother and a shot of Delaney submerged under water, before he blacks out.
It's possible that the ghost possessed him, turning him into a violent killer, with the alcohol diminishing his ability to overrule her power. Alternatively, for those who are skeptical of the supernatural elements in Taboo, the alcohol could've caused a psychotic break in Delaney, resulting in the same grim act of violence.
2. Delaney Killed Winter Because She Was Going To Betray Him
Another possibility is that Delaney was in control, and he deliberately killed Winter because she was going to betray him — we saw how he treated Ibbertson for his betrayal in the same episode.
Winter would also have a motive; her mother, Helga, is running her brothel illegally out of Horace Delaney's property. Could it be that Helga poisoned Horace, and was also sending Winter to poison Delaney with the alcohol she gave him?
This doesn't explain the blackout, though — unless in some way Delaney's mother's ghost was revealing Winter's betrayal telepathically.
3. Delaney Is Being Framed By The East India Company
In the context of the Taboo, this seems like the most apt and plausible conclusion. As the company forewarned minutes before Delaney's ship exploded, the gloves are off. Considering the number of spies they have around London, the EIC could've followed Delaney, witnessed him pass out, and killed Winter. Delaney left the body of the traitor as a warning earlier in the episode, which could've served as a prototype.
But Delaney's death would hand Nootka Sound to the Americans. So, rather than have him tried, the EIC and its figurehead Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce) would likely follow the same process as they did with Lorna Bow, and attempt to blackmail Delaney, knowing the only alternative is death by hanging.
4. Delaney Is Being Framed By The Americans
This one is a lot more straightforward, as the Americans stand to gain Nootka Sound if Delaney dies, so seeing him hung for murder would play into their hands perfectly. The Americans, too, have spies around London, one of them being Dumbarton, who now has his hands on a valuable resource — gunpowder from Delaney. Did they stumble across the perfect opportunity to frame him?
Out of the above four options, which do you think is most likely?