*Warning: This article contains spoilers for Episode 8 of Taboo.*
Now, we can breathe. James Delaney's grand plan of revenge has reached its end game in a finale that went out with a bang in more ways than one; Taboo has been a thrilling and meticulously-constructed ride from start to finish, with the highly-charged tactical battle for Nootka Sound between Delaney, the East India Company, the Crown and America spinning a tale of deceit, greed, death and destruction.
The eruption of full scale anarchy has been bubbling under the surface, with Delaney's completely-unhinged-yet-completely-in-control psyche the mental equivalent of chlorate — one neglected stir away from devastating explosion. There have been bursts of action, of course, but throughout the previous seven episodes, Taboo has been a slow romp of intricate and cunning double crossing with the occasional disembowelment thrown in for good measure.
The #Taboo finale sticks to a similar structure while adding a hit of adrenaline as if administered directly into the veins by womanizing chemist Cholmondeley. But, much like a vibrant and fantastical dream that is equally thrilling and confusing in the moment, the Taboo finale requires some careful reflection to make sense of it all.
The 'Taboo' Finale Explained
To use Sir Stuart Strange's metaphor, if Taboo was a game of chess, most of the pieces were in play at the beginning of the final episode. But for a show underpinned by mystery, the finale was deeply satisfying, tying up most loose ends in an action-packed hour. Aside from all the backstabbing and deception, the core of Delaney's plan unfolded as follows:
- Delaney reveals his use for Sir Stuart Strange: He threatens Strange with an impending charge of treason, revealing his own testimony and the testimony from Godfrey proves Strange's illegal involvement in the sinking of the EIC slave ship, the Cornwallis.
- Delaney sends details of his masterplan to each of the League of the Damned in the form of handwritten letters delivered by Robert.
- In exchange for removing the testimony, Strange agrees to provide Delaney with a ship full of explosives. He also releases Helga who is informed that the EIC killed her daughter, Winter.
- Without the witness statement from Helga, the case against Delaney falls apart and he is released from the Tower of London.
- The League of the Damned arrive at the docks, waiting for high tide.
- There is a battle between the Delaney's team and the army of soldiers sent to kill Delaney, on the order of Prince Regent.
- They depart from America. Or... do they?! At the last minute, Delaney reveals his changed plan to travel to Ponta Delgada in the Azores.
But what about the finer details? Below are some of the main questions (and convenient answers) from the episode.
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What Was The Link Between Dumbarton And Stuart Strange?
The script for Taboo was a masterpiece, depicting the strategic power struggle between the lone wolf Delaney, and the imperial powers that be. The episode opened with Delaney blackmailing Strange, revealing that with his testimony, along with Godfrey's witness statement of things discussed at the EIC under a raised hand, would be enough to get Strange personally arrested for treason.
In response, Strange gave Delaney a ship, and an escape route. During the execution of his orders, EIC employees Pettifer and Wilton were both ruthlessly murdered. Strange's attitude toward the absence of his two loyal henchmen suggests this was part of the deal he struck with Delaney to cover his tracks.
As Strange said, he always keeps an ace up his sleeve. His ace was Dumbarton, who used the disguise of being an American spy to work for the EIC. Assuming Delaney believed Dumbarton was an American spy, Strange arranged for the doctor to use leverage to finally get what he wanted all along — Nootka Sound. So, when Delaney arrives, Dumbarton, working on behalf of Strange, blackmails Delaney into transferring the deed of Nootka Sound to the EIC.
But there's a crack in the foundation of that plan. Delaney already knew Dumbarton was a reporting to the EIC, which is why he sent Lorna to another American secret agent, Countess Musgrove. Presumably the information of Dumbarton's betrayal was swapped for safe passage to the US, leaving Delaney free to hang Dumbarton out to dry.
Going one step further, Delaney had the final laugh, destroying Strange's smugness by failing to deliver his promise, leaving behind his testimony for George Chichester to finally achieve justice for the Cornwallis. Oh, and to fully add salt into the wounds, Delaney sent a letter bomb — disguised as the title deed — that exploded in the face of Strange during what he perceived to be his moment of triumph. Fuck. As Strange would say.
Were The Supernatural Elements Of 'Taboo' Real?
From the opening episode, weird flashbacks, ghosts and voodoo sex all pinpointed bizarre supernatural events, and the ability for Delaney to somehow use these skills in his plan. It was pleasing that the Taboo finale didn't feel the need to fully prove or disprove the supernatural, leaving some of it up to the audience's imagination.
However, there were subtle references to suggest that the supernatural was more likely Delaney's fractured psyche, rather than genuine black magic. First, Zilpha's tragic suicide understandably shook Delaney to the core, but initially he didn't accept it, saying:
"If she were dead, I would know it. Because I would hear her. I would feel it as if there were a door open in this house. If she was in the river, she would sing to me."
As Lorna points out, the dead don't sing. Significantly, Delaney has a vision of Zilpha, but only after he finds out about her death — in a similar manner to the vision he has of his mother drowning him in the river, after Brace told him of the incident. Is it possible Delaney (and Zilpha) inherited some form of psychosis from their mother?
Also, at the beginning of the episode, Strange explicitly says "ghosts don't exist" — a reference to the fact Delaney is referred to as a ghost, on top of visions of ghosts throughout the series — and Delaney agrees. Plus, after Delaney's intricate plan comes together, we witness his grandiose speech to Solomon Coop, where Delaney claims he knows he will be a free man by the afternoon because of "the Ravens," refusing to reveal his true hand. Has Delaney been playing this game all along?
What Is Delaney's New Plan?
When arriving back to London after 12 years, Delaney had three big motives: Avenging his father's death, restoring his romance with half-sister Zilpha, and setting sail for America. But all of this changed. Brace killed his father and was shown mercy (it was heartbreaking to see Delaney deny him a space on the ship, but he still donated the property in London); Zilpha killed Thorne, Delaney rejected her and she then ended up committing suicide; and the ship is not sailing to America after all.
As mentioned above, it's likely Delaney has safe passage to the US. So why is he now diverting to Ponta Delgada in the Azores? He tells Atticus that he needs to speak to the mysterious agent Colonnade, and the crew are now American. Has Delaney made a deal with the Americans?
Out of all of the events from the Taboo finale, this is the most suspicious, and probably a question that'll be answered in a second season. On that subject...
What About 'Taboo' Season 2?
Taboo has a passionate fanbase, and critical acclaim has been positive. Although, viewing figures are not as high as the show arguably deserves (in the UK, it opened with 4.8 million viewers but dropped to 3.29 for the penultimate episode), those who have enjoyed the ride will want to know if there is a Taboo Season 2.
There have been mixed messages. Steven Knight, who worked alongside #TomHardy and his father, Chips Hardy, to help produce the wonderful, peculiar world of Delaney and madcap friends, said he envisions a three season run. However, the BBC, who co-financed the show alongside FX, are yet to commit to a second season, due to concerns for dwindling figures and the availability of stars Hardy, Tom Hollander and Stephen Graham.
Finances will probably be the biggest hurdle. Hardy revealed he lost $2.5 million in the production of his passion project, and the ambitious backdrop and star-studded cast won't be cheap. It'll almost certainly require co-financing with the BBC and an American network.
In terms of storyline, I feel that the miniseries was satisfyingly self-contained, and has left the want for more without leaving any plot holes that need to be answered. The show has been a joy from start to finish, it's one of the most richly characterized and intriguing shows the BBC have produced in a long time. But as much as more is a good thing, a second season, without the likes of Strange, Dumbarton or possibly Brace, may fail to live up to the uniqueness of the first.
That being said, could anyone really say no to more of James Delaney's warped adventures?
Add your thoughts on the finale below. Should there be a Taboo Season 2?