Taboo Episode 5: Context, Questions, And Theories

A look into FX’s hit series “Taboo”  – to read insights on previous episodes, click here

We’re starting to cook (both literally and figuratively) as we have reached the midseason mark and the expectations for the back end are sky high. Let’s dive in to all that transpired on the latest offering.

James Delaney

James’ most disturbing moment this episode was when he recklessly fired an entire soft boiled egg into his mouth in one swift motion, but he did his best to rival that act as the episode transpired.

I was shocked to see the duel open the show, I thought for sure we’d be robbed of that moment and oh, would ya look at that, it was all a tease.


Not at all what I expected, with them rowing out to some gypsy’s island and having so many rules and bystanders. Probably the most sophisticated event that ends with someone in theory having a round metal ball go through them.

Governed by the Irish Code of 1777 or Irish Code Duello, but in reality moving towards the use of guns and away from swords lead to many duels either being anti-climatic or unintentionally fatal due to the poor accuracy of firearms.

But, when all was said and done it wasn’t Thorne (to my dismay) who was killed, but a saboteur from the Company, who purposely failed to load Geary’s gun properly. And James proved the historical fact regarding gun accuracy I just gave does not apply to him.

James sparred Thorne’s life and body, but he would show less mercy for anyone else the remainder of the episode.

He does classic James Delaney things like sneaking up on a tail and putting him in a submission hold before carving him up with what looks like brass knuckles fused with a blade.

Lucky for him however James was in a mood to intimidate instead of kill.


The remainder of the episode involved heavy wheeling and dealing out of James as he had to get his various allies in order and ready for the trials and tribulations that would soon follow.

The Location of the Saltpeter

Last week I was pretty certain that they were making the gunpowder on the farm of the gentleman who was tasked with caring for who I assumed was James’ son and both those theories proved to be true (or so it seems).

James went to speak with the man and ended up enlisting his son as the chemist’s apprentice moving forward and officially brought him into the fold.

Additionally, Dr. Dumbarton would describe the farm as 3 miles on Hendon Road with mentions of a pond called “The Source,” Hatchett’s Ground” and the infamous “water wheel” from recent episodes.


Hendon is in Northwest London, which makes sense geographically for the setting of the farm. You couldn’t even get me to take the tube from Camden (NW1) out of NW9, so I cannot image how shitty that horseback ride from Central London all the way out there might be.

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In addition to this fact, it becomes reiterated that the timetable to make gunpowder is 4 weeks, which is impressive after being cut down from the original year+ estimate.

But, of course that wasn’t a big enough win as the American spy, Dr. Dumbarton informs James that the Americans will need gunpowder in a mere 8 days.

The haste involved in this request is in regards to the situation transpiring at the blockade at Sligo:

Full disclosure, though at this point it probably shouldn’t be necessary, but I’m far from an educated historian and in my searches I haven’t found any connection to Sligo and the War of 1812.

However, in this alternate timeline it is a very pressing matter and forces the hands of our protagonist to pursue the French Experiment.

Mauritius, the supposed location where this experiment went wrong, has no mention in its history of falling victim to a gunpowder explosion.

Regardless of accuracies, Delaney has instructed his chemist that they go ahead with this “experiment,” which involves the addition of chlorate to their mixture and requires constant and perfect stirring to avoid any unwanted explosions.


Honorable East India v. The Crown

The whole bit with the saltpeter theft has lead to an additional wedge between our two antagonists.

The saltpeter that was stolen had already been sold to the Royal Navy and as it is war time this type of negligence could be punishable by hanging.

However, as Coop deviously points out, this would lead to the death of meager work hands while a different route to impact Sir Stuart Strange more directly.

Enter Sir George Chichester, from the Sons of Africa.


While George may not be based on anyone, the Sons of Africa was certainly real. This group, much like George, advocated on behalf of the end of slavery and against the injustices committed by those involved.

This leads to his explanation about the fate of The Influence (see previous posts for more details about the ship and its trip).

  • The ship had its name changed and papers altered in Cabinda.
  • 280 slaves on board died from drowning, 120 men, 84 women, 76 children.
  • The ship sunk on July 10th and Sir George has been writing to the King for 9 years.
  • He believes the sinking was deliberate to hide illegal slave trade conducted by men in London – namely high ranking officials in the East India Company.


George out here just dropping the hammer on London’s elite. And Sir Stuart’s terrified reaction to this news proves what we had known all along, that the EIC had a hand in this ship’s ill-fate.

The Americans

Some of what James and Mr. Dumbarton went through has already been discussed, but I thought one thing worth touching on was the miasmatic theory.

Dumbarton mentions how he doesn’t believe in this theory as it becomes apparent the cholera outbreak was a fabrication to ensure privacy. This theory states that diseases like cholera were caused by “bad air” or “night air.”

Chlamydia is also listed in this theory, so now you know a guy came up with this when his wife flipped out on him.

This nonsensical theory would be discontinued in 1880, so it appears are doctor/spy/cloth worker is well ahead of the curve here.

Then on to Lady Carlsbad, so quite suspiciously knew very little about the gunpowder needed by the Americans. It seemed a bit fishy how her attention went right back to Nootka and the tea trade when there’s a blockade on the verge of running out of ammunition.


Additionally, her tone and the way she informed him he must sign the agreement prior to leaving the New World seems extremely suspect.

Atticus & Co. and the Prostitutes


James made his position well known to Atticus and his band of misfits when he knew a man amongst them who had flirted with the idea of collecting a £10 reward for information about the heist.

All things considered James was pretty forgiving this episode as this transgression only lead to the removal of a single thumb (a level of pain I cannot even begin to fathom).

That thumb and a diamond was then flipped over to the prostitutes to offer them solace that they will be protected and tended to for their silence.

These renewed arrangements were consummated when a man attempted to extract information mid-coitus (yikes) and French Bill and the boys extracted him first from the bedroom and then from the Earth.

Winter added a very nice touch to send a message to others attempting the same move:


Side note: I am so sick of Winter lurking around all the time.

Lorna Bow Delaney

I’ve already run through the duel scenes, but the sass Lorna delivers when asked why she wanted to watch the duel was fantastic. Her ability to use humor is a good yin to Delaney’s yang (which is to only grunt).

But finally, finally, Lorna produces the trunk we’ve been waiting for. After she dodged the question yet again early in the episode I was beginning to believe it may never be produced.

Yet, there it was, in the middle of the living room with a teary-eyed James (someone soaking wet as always) tossing mementos into the fire searching for the Nootka Treaty.

This is the first time we see true anger from James towards his father as he runs through what he did to his mother. How he tried to force her to suppress her heritage and have her play the role of someone else and when she refused she was hidden away.


Lorna storms out of the room, but not before very cooly hitting the trunk to expose a secret compartment that was housing perhaps one of the most valuable documents on the planet.

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Thorne and Zilpha

Booooooooooooooooooooooooooo, once again this storyline continues to be nauseating.

If there’s one thing I always say it’s if your wife sleeps with her half brother a marriage just cannot flourish.

There was some serious animosity following the duel between this two that only heightened when Thorne walked in on Zilpha seemingly once again participating in telepathic intercourse.


All this lead to a beating that I’m glad we were spared from seeing because the audio alone was bone chilling.

Their scenes peaked with the introduction of a priest to perform some of exorcism. Which all in all was extremely odd, not so much the act of it, but how they handled the aftermath.

Thorne just completely cool with untying her and then asking her to come to bed? What? You just had your wife tied up with ropes on the floor while some “Man of God” groped her and yelled Latin at her and now it’s just time to go to bed?

19th century London aristocrats were so screwed up…

And then Zilpha exhausted on the floor is just like yup, see ya soon. However, she does seem to try and speak to James “teach me, guide me,” as she wields a very long needle (?) with the idea of putting an end to her marriage surely on her mind.

The sooner we are relieved of these characters the better.


There were a few words mentioned throughout the episode that I wasn’t completely sure of, so I thought it’d be helpful to run through a few of them.

Blackamoor - an offensive term for a person from Africa or a slave/servant during this time period.

Insurrectionist - someone who has a role in an uprising against civil authority.

Barbason - the name of the demon Shakespeare mentioned alongside Lucifer and Amaimon in The Merry Wives of Windsor.


We get a brief flashback(?) to James wading in the water covered in body paint, but it wouldn’t shock me if had actual done that in real time and we were just shown before and after images.


Aside from that, visions or premonitions played a major role for both the male Delaneys.

James arrives in the middle of the night to the farm curious about an explosion he had thought he heard, which hadn’t happen but would become a major concern once they decided to later at chlorate into the equation.

Then another telling moment was James inquiring about what his son was seeing as he stared blankly ahead. The chemist claims it was just a look of fear, but it appears the young Delaney has a bigger role to play over the second half the season.

Buckle up. The last 4 are going to be wild.



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