(Spoiler alert: Please do not read on if you’ve not watched the fourth episode of the FX limited series “Taboo”)
After the fourth episode, I’m now fully on board with “Taboo.” I wrote last week that I’d gone from disinterest to enthrallment once the plot really started to kick in at the end of Episode 2, but I realized this week that wasn’t the main reason.
No, my newfound attachment to “Taboo” can be laid at the feet of a specific character who made a late entry: Lorna Bow.
Lorna (Jessie Buckley) first appeared in theatrical fashion at the reading of James Delaney’s father’s will, declaring that she actually married the recently-deceased Delaney patriarch in Ireland a few years earlier. She claimed half of Delaney’s estate — which is just the house and the strip of land at Nootka Sound in Canada.
Lorna is great because she’s not like everything else in “Taboo.” She’s just a regular person who happens to have the bad fortune to have wandered into an endless sequence of dangerous machinations. She doesn’t really know what’s going on — certainly she doesn’t know anything about James’ battle with the East India Company over Nootka Sound — and she functions as the audience surrogate in that way even though she didn’t pop for nearly two hours of show.
Despite having unwittingly gotten herself into this bizarre situation, Lorna is not clueless, and she’s definitely not comic relief. She may not fully understand
Lorna Bow works as a counter to the dark stylings of the other characters, and in particular next to the thorough bizarreness of James Delaney. He’s your standard hypermasculine noir protagonist, and Lorna feels like she’s from a completely different planet. It’s a perfect pairing.
The inscrutable grimness of “Taboo” was a barrier for me, and Lorna is an open window. It’s a show full of people who have been ruined by the world in one way or another, Delaney especially. I suspect Lorna will join those ranks by the end of the eight-episode series, judging by how she was treated by the Crown this week and how one of the big tropes of this sort of story breaking down any variety of innocence it can find, but for now her sort of naive curiosity about this seedy underbelly of London she accidentally wandered into makes her, perhaps, the most recognizably human character on the show.
Buckley infuses Lorna with an adventurous enthusiasm for the whole thing. You can see this effusive look on her face as she processes everything going on around her, particularly after her ordeal with the king’s torturer/rapist. After she’s freed, you can tell she initially is ready to bail on this whole thing. But when Brace meets her at the door and tells her that James had ordered him to make sure she got home safely — referring to his father’s house, intentionally or no, as her home — it’s like a light turned on behind her eyes.
Part of it may be some kind of infatuation with James — recall her encounter with Zilpha (Oona Chaplin) later on — but I like to think that it’s a greater infatuation with the situation. You see that as she and James make their way through the crowd at the ball, and Lorna excitedly keeps asking who this person and that person are. When, later on, James and the Countess Musgrove participate in a magic trick, Lorna looks on in awe — clearly understanding that James is making some kind of move there. She seemed to take his warning that business she didn’t need to know about would be taking place at the party as a journalistic challenge.
But what keeps Lorna as a standout is that she exists in such profound contrast to the miserable souls around her. Even when events descend into that standard “Taboo” grimdarkness, which seems to happen every ten minutes at the most, Lorna casts just enough light to keep it watchable.
“Taboo” airs Tuesday’s at 10 p.m. on FX.