‘Taboo’ Episode 7 Recap: Counting on the Lioness

It turns out, betrayal can work in your favor

Franka Potente as Helga.
Franka Potente as Helga. Screenshot via FX Networks

With just one week to go until Taboo’s finale, James Keziah Delaney has found himself in a tight spot: he’s been arrested by the Crown for high treason and is now stuck in a never-ending torture loop inside the Tower of London. But if there’s one thing we’ve come to know about our man Delaney—and there’s still plenty we don’t know—it’s that he always seems to have a plan, and unexpected complications tend to work in his favor. From the moment he stepped foot back in England, dug up a bag of (stolen) diamonds and sauntered unannounced into his father’s funeral he’s been winning the game. So let’s just assume that being incarcerated by the Crown is part of a grand scheme to take out Sir Stuart and the East India Company, stick it to the King, make some American friends and depart the gloomy shores of London forever, goodbye! Let’s just assume…

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History Lesson #1: Water Burials and Incorrupt Bodies Among the unexpected complications of Delaney’s revenge plot (or maybe we should say consequences, because at this point he’s left such a sizable trail of bodies in his wake what did he expect would happen?) is the death of poor Winter. Now, I will admit that it appears I was wrong about Winter not being a real person, but I’ll only admit that I was partially incorrect because it appears she was destined to become just another one of Delaney’s ghosts after all. Per Helga’s wishes, Winter’s remains won’t be buried in the ground, but rather swept off to sea by the current of “the river that she loved as if it were her father.” Many cultures have a tradition of burying the dead at sea, from the Norse to the peoples of the South Pacific, however Helga’s reasoning is because Winter died “uncorrupted,” a.k.a. a virgin. When it comes to the dead, the term “incorrupt” is most often associated with saints, whose bodies miraculously don’t decompose like the rest of us. Fun fact: today, you can find the bodies of saints (further preserved in wax) on display in churches across Europe. However, at the bottom of the Thames, Winter is not likely to stay intact for long.

“The lioness will fiercely protect her cubs even if it means her certain death.” — James Keziah Delaney

The circumstances surrounding Winter’s death remain mysterious. Everyone, including Delaney, suspects that he may have murdered the girl, but no one can be sure. Delaney, whose stoneface could rival the great Buster Keaton, is uncharacteristically shaken by Winter’s passing perhaps out of guilt or, as Lorna suspects, because he actually has a heart. And Lorna’s inclination that Delaney didn’t commit the crime turns out to be right, after she tracks down one of Winter’s scrappy friends and gets him to reveal that it was the East India who murdered Winter. But regardless of who fated the ghost girl to the sea, her death is a major catalyst for the final stages of Delaney’s plan, and he’s willing to risk the fallout from her murder to get what he wants. This also means accepting that a grieving Helga will inevitably betray him by telling the East India about his gunpowder operation and his deal with the Americans. With a veiled metaphor in the form of a colorful suggestion for Atticus’ future book—”The lioness will fiercely protect her cubs even if it means her certain death”—Delaney warns his partner in crime of the coming betrayal, and instructs him to go with the flow.

Lucien Masmati as Chichester.
Lucien Masmati as Chichester. FX Networks

As fate unfurls, Chickester comes knocking at Delaney’s door to discuss the sinking of the Influence. If we piece together the breadcrumb trail of Delaney’s haunting visions through this seasons, it’s no surprise when Chickester confirms that not only was Delaney a crew member aboard the ship, but that he was also responsible for nailing shut the cargo hold filled with human passengers. Delaney does nothing to dispute Chickester’s accusations, and he puts the man through a ringer of riddles. “I need to be clear that you’re not a spirit like the others,” Delaney says, before getting down to brass tacks. They banter back and forth about whether or not rational men believe in justice, and when Delaney confesses that not only did he drive the nails that condemned over 200 slaves to death, but he did it simply to take his mind off the rain and the sinking ship, Chickester responds as any rational man would: “Should I come back?” he asks. “I am always like this,” Delaney quips. (He’s totally trolling himself here.) Somewhere between Delaney’s incoherent mumblings, the two men find common ground in their desire to take down Sir Stuart Strange. Chickester wants Delaney to write an account naming Strange as the person responsible for the cover-up of the Influence, and in exchange Delaney will be pardoned for his part in the crime. And yet, Delaney has an alternative suggestion, and he won’t tell us what it is. Are we surprised?

I never thought I’d find an opportunity to give Hollander’s vapor-huffing chemist props for his game with women, but when Lorna greets him at the door and he answers “Ms. Bowwww,” biting his lip ever so slightly and taking off his hat to her, I laughed out loud at how uncomfortable his attempt at chivalry made me. Insert clapping emoji here.

After weeks of sexual tension, Delaney and Zilpha’s sibling lust rose to unbearable levels in Episode 6 and finally resulted in a brief hot and heavy session of coitus interruptus. So imagine my disappointment to find out that Delaney has no shame in treating his sister (his sister!) like every other one-night stand. He breaks up with her over tea and tears, and gives her a diamond for her “widowhood.” Are you kidding me? But while he has no problem shoving off any responsibility for destroying Zilpha’s life and marriage all for a single night of disappointing sex, he does seem like he’s warming to the idea of making up for lost Dad-time with their son Robert. Chomondley is given an opportunity to slyly call on Lorna by delivering the boy to the Delaney residence. (I never thought I’d find an opportunity to give Hollander’s vapor-huffing chemist props for his game with women, but when Lorna greets him at the door and he answers “Ms. Bowwww,” biting his lip ever so slightly and taking off his hat to her, I laughed out loud at how uncomfortable his attempt at chivalry made me. Insert clapping emoji here.) And so, little Robert is welcomed in, and quickly takes up the task of helping Lorna around the house as Brace becomes a recluse.

Tom Hollander as Cholmondeley, putting on the smarmy charm.
Tom Hollander as Cholmondeley, putting on the smarmy charm. Screenshot via FX Networks

And now behold my victory dance because I was so, so right about Brace. Of course he killed old man Delaney. This week, the guilt finally gets to him, and he delivers a tearful confession to Delaney, excusing the murder of his longtime boss and friend as “a kindness,” and he’s creepily holding onto the dead man’s coat buttons because he feels so bad. “You came back too late—for both of us!” he yells at Delaney, who both accepts and brushes off the confession by telling Brace to go back to doing his job as usual. “You are wanted urgently downstairs. Mrs. Delaney is destroying the kitchen, she’s about to ruin a duck.”

Ed Hogg as Godfrey.
Ed Hogg as Godfrey. FX Networks

Now that we’re done with domestic affairs, back to the game. As Delaney predicted, Helga and one of the girls in her employ do sell him out to the East India. With their confession, the company now has more than enough cause to put treason—make that high treason—on Delaney’s head: he gave gunpowder to an enemy of the state with intent to kill the King on British soil. Strange savors the moment with a toast, assured that nailing Delaney will make-up for the potentially career-ruining investigation that’s simultaneously going on over the Influence, and he wastes no time bringing his “rather good news for British patriots everywhere” to Coop and the Prince Regent. (Once again, I am deprived of adequate Mark Gatiss time this week.)

Aware that the Crown is hot on his trail, Delaney takes Godfrey to meet Chickester at the molly house, where he encourages him to confess Strange’s off the record comments about the Influence. But Godfrey isn’t thrilled about throwing his longtime employer under the bus, and it takes soothing words from Delaney and the promise of ride to the New World aboard his ship before he agrees to play along. Godfrey, it turns out, will be of great use to Delaney, and he may also be his final play in the hopes of bringing down Strange.

Tom Hardy as James Keziah Delaney.
Tom Hardy as James Keziah Delaney. FX Networks

History Lesson #2: The Tower of London As he warned us, the Crown finally catches up with our hero, and drags him off to where only the worst of the worst end up: the Tower. I’ve only visited the legendary prison once, and even as a tourist trap it’s terrifying; there are horrifying wax figures being stretched on the rack, the lighting was dim, it smelled like mold and even being in proximity to the spot where Anne Boleyn lost her head gave me the creeps. But while kitschy mannequins and literary references will have you believe that the Tower was a lively dungeon constantly echoing with the screams of traitors, there were only ever 22 executions there and it was primarily used as a detention center for political prisoners, not common thieves and serial killers, according to the Tower’s website. But for the purposes of our story, it’s a playpen for leather-masked executioners with a knack for extracting information through pain in under two hours. Oh, and there’s a sensory deprivation tank. (Last I checked that was not a form of torture, so no wonder Delaney doesn’t crack after being force-fed psychotropics and left to float around for hours dreaming about his parents.) Coop gets nowhere trying to get Delaney to spill the names of his American associates, and so he indulges Delaney’s only request for a one-on-one with Strange. Alone together at last, Delaney tells him what he tells pretty much everyone on this show: “I have a use for you.”

I have a lot of questions before the finale…

— For all the build up the writers gave the incest plot line, was it the ultimate “taboo” McGuffin? In retrospect, almost none of Delaney’s motivations have been driven by romance and he’s gone out of his way to avoid conflict with Zilpha’s household. So what gives? Does anyone really care if siblings screw their siblings? Probably not.

— Who wants to see Delaney be an awesome Dad? (Raising my hand.)

— Something tells me (just like the spidey sense that allowed me to see into the future and tell you that Brace was a murderer at the end of Episode 1) that Delaney is not done dispelling justice for his father’s murder. There’s no way Brace is getting off easy.

— Please, please let Godfrey be OK!

— Will Winter’s ghost whisperings lead Delaney to freedom from the Tower?

— We’re heading into the last episode, and we still have little backstory on what terrible things Delaney did or didn’t do in Africa. While it’s not always necessary to explore the past, the show has done more than enough teasing about cannibalism and ritual magic that it would be cruel to not give viewers at least one genuine flashback for explanation.

— What is the real deal with Lorna? Her family connection is sketchy at best. (I’m fairly certain forging and Irish marriage certificate in the age where most documents are handwritten is something almost anyone with good calligraphy skills can do.) Now that she’s settled in as Delaney’s roommate, is she subtly still trying to edge him out for rights to Nootka Sound? Does she still want to sleep with him? Or are they just going to continue co-parenting Robert and driving Brace to live with rats out of guilt and frustration in his room for eternity?

—This is a big one: Is Thorne really dead? I just have this feeling…

For more 19th century history and recaps of Taboo, click

‘Taboo’ Episode 7 Recap: Counting on the Lioness