Zilpha Geary’s suicide scene pissed off a lot of “Taboo” fans. We witnessed her grow over six episodes, cheered when she pushed a needle through Thorne’s heart and gasped when James finally rejected her love. And then the show’s writers threw her off a bridge.
Oona Chaplin didn’t have a close-up to explore the pain on Zilpha’s face before she leapt. No flashback surfaced to illustrate better times between James and Zilpha. The woman we thought would be key to James Keziah Delaney’s heart wound up being a footnote in the show’s history.
But what if we were wrong? What if Zilpha Geary is Taboo’s most important character?
Think about it: Who else shows us so much turmoil on screen? Who else can crush James or elate him? Who else kills with such glee and transforms with a taste of blood? And who else has fans hungry for more?
Zilpha isn’t gone, not by a long shot. She could have faked her death. She could have been abducted. She could have attempted to leave a secret message in her suicide note. Or, even if Zilpha is dead, she could delightfully spook us forever as a ghost in James’ head.
Why would Taboo waste time on Zilpha Geary?
Taboo’s first season weaved mystery, horror, action and romance in just eight short episodes. That left no time for filler episodes or self-indulgence. Every minute had to be important, and Zilpha devoured a lot of those minutes.
In those minutes, Taboo invited fans to explore every minute detail of Zilpha. Her words were clearly delivered; her eyes were allowed to haunt scenes. When she straddled James in church, when she stood out at Countess Musgrove’s ball, when she waited with soot-stained fingers for Thorne to return from the duel: at all times, Zilpha was given the time to display the small touches only acceptable for big characters.
Zilpha developed more than anyone else
James Keziah Delaney rumbled into “Taboo” Episode 1 as a grunting, violent, resourceful man with some mental health issues and hints of supernatural power.
By the time we reached Episode 8, James had grown into a grunting, violent, resourceful man with some mental health issues and hints of supernatural power. And he wasn’t alone.
Most “Taboo” characters crawled along a flat trajectory. Sir Stewart Strange began and ended as the violent leader of the EIC. Brace remained the anguished servant. Dr. Dumbarton, even with the Taboo’s big reveal, pretty much was the same guy from episode 1 to 8.
But Zilpha was different. Zilpha overcame her guilt. Zilpha struck back against her abuser. Zilpha went from keeping up appearances to tearing down London’s social order, embracing her half-brother’s romance and running free through the rain like a raven Godiva.
No professional writing team would go through such pains to ordain a single character “the evolving one” without giving her some future or, at least, a much grander death.
James needs Zilpha Geary as a muse or foil
You said it. I said it. We all said it at the end of “Taboo” Season 1: Can’t anyone hurt James Delaney? Can he just predict everything? What’s a hero without a weakness?
First, James isn’t a hero. Just … he isn’t.
Second, ZILPHA can hurt James (and did). ZILPHA is unpredictable. ZILPHA is James Delaney’s weakness. Whether in his head, in his heart or in his bed, James’ half-sister holds the most sway over Taboo’s protagonist. No one else comes close.
“I used to think we were the same person,” ZIlpha says to James.
This notion emerges too many times in “Taboo” to just be a romantic musing or twisted outlook. The show suffers a great imbalance without a Zilpha to challenge and accompany James.
We want to see Zilpha’s dark side
Zilpha clings to religion in the opening episodes of “Taboo.” Clearly, she’s committed acts so heinous that she believes severe penance is in order. It’s evident in the abuse she accepts from Thorne and her resistance to James’ initial advances.
But when she kills Thorne, Zilpha’s suppressed darkness shines through. Fans were expecting Thorne’s murder would unleash a whirlwind of sex, killing and other dark delights from Mrs. Geary.
“I killed him, just like you said,” says Zilpha, not realizing James had nothing to do with the little voice that told her to kill.
A bridge-jumper’s death robs Zilpha of the delicious wickedness she could conjure. Honestly, the next season of “Taboo” could just be about her deviance and malevolence.
What do you think? Is ZIlpha Geary dead? And is she the most important character in “Taboo”? Or is it someone I haven’t considered? Let me know!