Taboo Episode 3: Context, Questions, And Theories

(A look into FX’s new series, Taboo. For my in-depth looks into past episodes, read here for episode 1 & episode 2.)


James Delaney

Let’s take a look at James’ meaningful interactions this week:

Dr. Dumbarton

Under the care of American spy, Dr. Dumbarton, we learn quite a bit:

Another American spy had followed James that night and disposed of the body of the dead assassin.

That assassin (as expected was the silver-toothed man).

The knife of the assailant had Chinese or Malay text on it, also as expected.

James wishes to get a message to Thomas Jefferson in hopes he will pass it on to the President (James Madison).

Jefferson, who at the age of 71 in 1814, was retired from political life and was focused more so on academics. He would go on to become the founder of the University of Virginia 5 years later.

Colonay

Again we hear this name, as well as Ponta Delgado, but no more details emerged.

Carlsbad

Finally, a break through as Dr. Dumbarton slips up revealing that this mysterious figure is a “she.”

Also, James instructs to Dumbarton to tell Carlsbad “I want tea,” perhaps a coded messaged yet to be considered outdated.

Let’s Make a Deal

James attempts to obtain safety by editing his will to state that all of his land holdings will become property of the Americans upon his death. Virtually ensuring his safety from both the British Crown as well as the East India Company.

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Additionally, during this conversation with Dumbarton, James instructs the American that he would be willing to offer Nootka to whichever country will give him a monopoly on furs and tea from “Fort George to Canton.”

This seems like James’ attempt to cripple the East India Company by controlling the primary trade route and access to their prized asset, “all the tea in China.”

The Fort George in question could have two possible locations, the first being the British controlled Fort George located on Lake Ontario that was swapped hands between the British and Americans before being retaken by the British at the end of 1813.

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However, there was also a trading post called Fort George, which was controlled by the North West Company located on the Northern Saskatchewan River and was abandoned in 1800.

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I have absolutely no idea what is a feasible amount of land for a trading company to have a monopoly on. If I had to guess I would say that James is unable to take all of Canada, but I can’t be sure.

Next up is Canton, better known today as Guangzhou. This port city served as the primary access to the west as China purposely funneled all of its trade to this specific location. Therefore, a monopoly stretching to this port would be one of the most valuable things on the planet at this time.

James has Brace deliver a similar bargain to Crown, but with some significantly different terms.

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In his deal with the British, he offered the Nootka Trading Post, smoke house and tanning factory to be incorporated under the territory of the British Crown, while he would only want a monopoly on smoked sea otter pelts from the Vancouver Coast to Canton.

There is a very purposeful absence of tea in this request.

However, these two opposing deal has given the EIC and the Crown their common cause to ensure that Nootka does not fall into the hands of the Americans.

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Atticus

Atticus has returned with supplies for James, unfortunately including pork (because “we” don’t eat that, suggesting religious reasons) and 10 bore Richardson Man Stoppers, which I for sure thought would have been a gun that warranted a wiki page, but no dice.

All I know is what Atticus was kind enough to tell us, that is has the power of a musket, but you can hold one in each hand.

The Cellar

As James continues to look for the Nootka Treaty he makes his way into his father’s flooded basement where he stumbles across seemingly the same dress his mother is seen wearing in the visions.

This again seems fishy to me, as much as the contrary has been presented, a little piece of me thinks that his mother actually could’ve been actress (much like Lorna Bow) and the dress was a set costume.

Winter

Winter also makes an appearance in the cellar saying that she sleeps there sometimes, which is incredibly bizarre. But, the way she attempts to hand James the silver tooth and how he closes her hand seems to suggest that she is, in fact, a real person and not a ghost.

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In addition to that moment, she reveals that the bird on Delaney’s back is a “Sankofa,” which the Radio Times details very well in a recent article:

“Well, with a little research it turns out “Sankofa” is a word from the Twi language of Ghana (the same one spoken by James throughout the series) which roughly means “go back and get it” and also refers to an Adinkra symbol (markings used by the Ashanti people of Ghana to represent concepts and aphorisms) of a bird turning its head back towards its body to take an egg off its back.”

“Apparently, the symbol appears frequently in traditional art and has since been adopted by ex-pat African people around the world to represent the need to reflect on and consider the past in order to build a successful future. Not too far a stretch from James’ dark past, future plans and the themes of this series in general, no?”

(The author of the piece, Huw Fullerton, does a lot of great pieces on both TV and movies).

Another fascinating point brought forward by Winter is when she asks James about magic and how she’d like to be able to turn into a bird, like he turned into a wolf and bit into his attacker, ripping out his heart.

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Whoa, whoa, wait, what?

Do we have a werewolf situation on our hands here? Or was it just a child’s attempt to describe cannibalism? I am firmly choosing the latter.

The possibility of this being a representation of a wendigo was also floated out on Reddit, a creature stemming from Native American folklore that has cannibalism as one of its defining characteristics.

Salish (James’ Mother)

Bedlam

James visits Bedlam aka Bethlem Royal Hospital and was the first to specialize in treating the mentally ill.

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We know based on her headstone that James’ mother passed in March 1795, implying that if she visited the hospital it was during some of its worth times financially.

“a crazy carcass with no wall still vertical – a veritable Hogarthian auto-satire”. – Roy porter

Aside from being structurally unsound and well underfunded, Bedlam has a history of being an abusive setting during a time when treatment of the “mad” was primarily physical constraints.

The Bedroom

It took James quite an unreasonable amount of time to find his mother’s old room based on how hard he was looking for the Nootka Treaty, seemingly tearing the house apart, but now here he is.

The most interesting discovery (or vision) was of the aforementioned Sankofa located in the fire place. Brace doesn’t seem to see it when he looks, but unless you knew what you were looking for it’d be hard to make out the shape.

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This opens up a big time can of worms considering James says that he received the marking on his back from his African captors, which had to have occurred after his mother had already died.

So, is there some sort of communication from beyond the grave between his mother and those who took him prisoner? Or is James actually going mad and simply seeing what his mind wants him to see?

Another point to consider is that Salish is from the Nootka Tribe and as mentioned before this symbol is rooted in African culture, from Ghana specifically.

The Scribe aka Godfrey aka Godders

Godders, you little minx.

I knew I should’ve trusted my gut when it seemed he and James had some unspoken connection during the meetings at the EIC. But, little did I know that he would be a crossdressing prostitute (?) and former compatriot of James.

It seems like he could’ve been at a Molly-house, which was a kind of male only club where men would dress like women and drink and participate in other activities at that time considered, wait for it, taboo.

We got bombs dropped left and right from our scribe during this scene, not only does he crossdress he also was in love with James when they were each serving.

At the end of this extremely telling exchange, it seems he has been enlisted to become James’ spy on the inside of the Company.

Lorna Bow

Lorna Bow returned for what is rightfully 1/2 of her property (one Reddit user said that actual law during this time would’ve granted her 1/3 and given James the option to purchase her share, but I digress) and triggers one of the more physical visions from James.

She offers her 1/2 of Nootka in exchange for James 1/2 of the house, which is a surprise since she knows quite a bit about the implications of that land and must understand the relative value is far from even. There very well could be suspect motives at play.

We also learned that Horace Delaney’s widow is not to be trifled with as she took a blade to the very creepy (but, not very, given the show’s high standards for creepiness) Duke of Richmond.

The actual Duke of Richmond during this time, Charles Lennox, is probably rolling in his grave right now, as he seemed like a relatively normal guy and dynamite cricket player.

Historical facts aside it seems this was a setup either by the Crown or EIC to coerce Lorna into a crime to help with their acquisition of Nootka.

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East India Company and the Crown

The shady groups were at work per usual and in the process found their aforementioned common cause.

In addition the EIC confirmed, as expected, that they were the ones who ordered the hit on James Delaney.

An interesting conversation occurred between the King (who makes Trump somehow look like a healthy leader) and Solomon Coop. Coop brings rumors of Delaney’s “madness, savagery, theft and worse,” in which the King replies:

“Then he is a man that you will be able to do business with.”

Suggesting Coop himself has a dodgy past.

Additionally, it appears that Sir Stuart Strange had direct contact with a young James Delaney and has inspired the revenge James seeks.

Brace

Brace is a vault of secrets, which you think after James displaying his ability to know seemingly well-kept secrets that Brace would just spill.

But, nope instead he just acts like he is having a heart attack each time James brings one of these secrets into the light. Leaning against the nearest fireplace or just looking frozen with every mention of Salish.

Something is not quite right here.

Thorne and Zilpha Geary

My least favorite TV couple in a minute, it’s honestly hard to decide which one of them is creepier.

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Thorne with his very disturbing and sexual conversation with James vs. Zilpha’s inability to put the incest of her past behind her for good. Quite the matchup in terms of cringeworthy scenes

Additionally, if we believe that kid from Episode 1 is the product of Zilpha and James’ intimacy (come on, it definitely is) then it seems ol’ Thorne is firing blanks.

Through their interactions, we also learned that James has registered the Delaney Trading Company with Lloyd’s of London and has had his ship insured by “Cope.”

Lloyd’s has been in business for almost 330 years, so yes definitely around and operating during this time period.

Cope or COPE on the other hand is a common acronym when it comes to insurance and stands for construction, occupancy, protection and exposure. Perhaps they couldn’t come up with a name so they went with this, or maybe it was just by chance.

Other

Martinez

We got briefly introduced to Atticus’ brother-in-law, who happens to be a cannibal.

Unknown Man

He was seen lurking around the ship during preparation, most likely one of the Crown’s 202 spies in London or one of the EIC’s 104 or an American. Really James ought to just keep his head on a swivel from here on out.

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PS this is low key my favorite Taboo Reddit thread and I hope it becomes the most popular one of the site because I literally wonder this every time.