Taboo is a show that requires full commitment and attention, with a multitude of intricate, counter-crossed plot points, dozens of scheming characters and conversations littered with subtle clues. Every act or interaction in Tom Hardy's new FX show is decidedly purposeful, each unravelling another layer of James Delaney's overall "big plan."
There are also constant twists and turns, and Episode 5 of Taboo is no different. For want of a better phrase, shit is kicking off big time; following the Legion of the Damned's heist on the East India Company, American spy Dumbarton revealed that he knows Delaney was responsible, using his knowledge to blackmail him into giving him gunpowder in a borderline impossible timeframe.
In order to fulfil the demand — and escape a gruesome hanging — Delaney will require the eccentric chemist, Cholmondeley, to add a dangerous chemical, chlorate, to the mix he is already concocting, with a high chance of devastating results. But, in true #Taboo style, Cholmondeley's explanation of the risks may have also confirmed one of the biggest secrets of the show to date: The identity of the mysterious boy, Robert.
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The Identity Of The Boy In 'Taboo'
Introduced in the first episode as the son of Horace Delaney, it has been clear from the beginning that there was more to the child's background than meets the eye. James Delaney treats the child with apparent disregard, and although he made the gesture of paying for the boys past, present and future, he also told his guardian, Ibbotson, that he doesn't want anything to do with him as he shouldn't be around children. Ever.
Factor in the elephant in the room (if said elephant wore a fluorescent tutu while performing the tango) of incest between Delaney and his half-sister, Zilpha, and the bigger picture begins to form. Again, the pair's past relationship has been alluded to from the beginning, with Delaney declaring his love for her at their father's funeral. However, Episode 4's bizarre voodoo sex scene confirmed the sexual side to their bond, as well as their astral connection. The question is, did they conceive a child?
Zilpha appears extra anxious to preserve their "secret," and although we're initially led to believe that secret is the relationship, she could also be referring to Robert. The timing of the events certainly match up: Delaney left for his defining travels to Africa in 1802 — around the time Delaney was born — suggesting Robert's incestuous birth may've been the motivation for his departure.
Taboo Episode 5 appears to have confirmed this is the case (emphasis on appears, this show will clearly take some twists and turns over the final three episodes). While discussing the risk of producing gunpowder with chlorate, Cholmondeley approaches James, and says:
"You risk the life of your son for chlorate? He is [your son], isn't he."
In response, Delaney stays responds with his usual wordless, thousand-yard-stare, before skipping over the question and responding that the Americans are aware of his identity — shorthand for: "You'll be dead if you don't try."
Cholmondeley makes a good point; Delaney's behavior is nothing sort of callous, picking Robert as an assistant to the gunpowder process and placing the boy in grave danger only weeks after declaring he wanted nothing to do with him. It is possible this is linked to the boy witnessing Delaney disembowel the American hitman, as a way for Delaney to ensure his silence.
If Robert Is James Delaney's Son, What Are The Repercussions?
If either the Americans of the East India Company find out, they could use it as leverage. Dumbarton has already revealed he is aware of Delaney's feelings for Zilpha, but by adding another life into the mix, that changes things drastically and opens the door to further blackmail. Although James doesn't seem to care too much, the stakes are higher for Zilpha — evidence of the pair's relationship would destroy her reputation.
But this is Taboo, and away from the politics over Nootka Sound, there's a strong supernatural element that has been slowly building. Another possibility is that Robert is key in the rising voodoo elements. James and Zilpha already have a strong supernatural connection; in Episode 3, Zilpha even says "I used to think we were the same person," before James replies: "We are."
By the end of Episode 5, and following Zilpha's "exorcism," she appeals to James to help guide her. Could it be that the pair both share the gene that allows them to see beyond the normal realm? If so, could Robert be a kind of super-powered offspring, who has inherited the ability to perform the same witchery as Delaney? Something along these lines could be playing on James's mind, when he asks Robert "what do you see?"
Admittedly, it is a stretch, but #TomHardy has promised that there will be a big twist by the end of Taboo's debut season. Although any of the intriguing ensemble could be the cause of a surprise ending, Robert could become a key part of the final reveal.
Is Robert James Delaney's son? Or is there another twist coming?