Taboo Episode 2: Recap and Analysis
January 30, 2017
“What was the smallest thing you saw?”
Taboo continues with its slow enigma, breeding mystery, and creating more questions than answers. The previous episode was about James’ return, and the contention over Nootka Sound between the British and the Americans, with James Delaney in the middle. Many people were introduced, figures of James’ past that are not reaffirmed in this episode. The trouble of James’ past is reemphasized, with more dark delusions and memories. Delaney, however, holds a straightforward goal: to keep Nootka Sound. Several elements of British historical customs are demonstrated, and the concept of espionage plays a role.
Stuart Strange, the head of the East India Company, says that only Delaney’s death would guarantee the seizure of Nootka Sound, as Delaney was staunch in his refusal. Delaney returns to where he had dug a small bag (in the beginning of the first episode) and retrieves a small bag of diamonds, which he used to buy a new, expensive Spanish ship in an auction. Delaney plans to use the ship to start the Delaney Nootka Trading Company. The new purchase bewilders the East India Company, seeing the path of Delaney’s plan to restart his father’s shipping business. Delaney visits a man named Atticus, who stole Delaney’s horse. Atticus has a distinctive, tattooed head. He asks Delaney about the smallest and largest things he saw in Africa, but Delaney wants Atticus to be his eyes and ears, a spy. At night, when Delaney walks by himself, he meets a young girl named Winter. She lives with Helga and the prostitutes, and she warns Delaney that Helga had sent a man to kill him. Together, they row a boat to the man’s ship, and Delaney searches for the killer, to no avail. Thus, he sets fire to the ship, and swims back to his rowboat, with Winter gone. Rowing back to shore, Delaney confronts Helga, and asks her about Winter. She denies knowing her, but Delaney believes that Winter was her daughter, seeing a resemblance between the two. In his new ship, Delaney sees chains and flashes back to his time in the slave ship. Naked, he chains himself up, carves symbols into his ship floor, and has nervous breakdowns from his hallucinations. Delaney visits the doctor who autopsied his father, and demands to see the president, Thomas Jefferson. The doctor refuses to deliver Delaney’s message, pointing a gun at Delaney. Delaney goes to his lawyer, Thoyt, admitting that he knows that Thoyt works for the East India Company. Later, at his father’s official will reading, Delaney is officially given total inheritance of his father’s assets, leaving Zilpha and Thorne with nothing. Delaney does not inherit his father’s debts, but he still leaves a large pile of gold in the exact amount demanded by the men who had loaned Horace money. However, a woman, Lorna Bow, claims that Delaney could not repay her, because she was Horace’s widow. She is an actress in the local theater, who claims to have married Horace two years before in Ireland. At a concert, Delaney encounters Zilpha, and again asks her to run away with him, but she refuses. On the way home in the dark, Delaney is attacked by an assailant, but is able to kill the attacker. However, he is stabbed and injured, and the episode ends with a suffering, and possibly dying, James Delaney.
In episode 2, Delaney was stabbed by an attacker, likely hired by the East India Company in order to gain control of Nootka Sound, or possibly the killer hired by Helga. This sudden action concluding the episode leaves viewers in another cliffhanger, as they are desperate to know what happens to him. He probably survives, as he is the star of the show, but fans don’t know what to expect. Another surprise was the introduction of Lorna Bow, a possible conflict in the dispute for Nootka Sound. She oozes the image of a strong, confident woman, possibly the first feminist character of the show. She is stubborn and holds her head high. While she was not part of the will, she may have legal rights to have half of Horace’s assets, and thus cause problems for Delaney’s plans. Delaney, originally, had full legal control over Nootka. If Lorna Bow decides to have half of Nootka and sell it to the East India Company, Delaney’s plot may be thwarted. Part of his plan depends on the Americans, and it seems that he genuinely wants to help them. Still, the doctor is skeptical, knowing Delaney’s bizarre background and his British heritage. Hopefully, he will be accepted and able to advance the cause of the Americans. The East India Company was irked by Delaney’s purchase of the ship and his vast knowledge of confidential information about the War of 1812. They blame the Americans, although Delaney still did not have a connection with them. Not many questions from the past episode were answered, but at least some information was learned. First, the nature of Delaney’s relationship with Zilpha is probably not sibling-love, but romantic love. The killer of Horace Delaney is not exactly known, but viewers can deduce that it was Thorne, who asked Atticus to kill him. Delaney’s hallucinations still cannot be interpreted, but they probably have to do with his time in the slave ship, as he seemed to have been chained up and tortured as done in the historic “Middle Passage” with the slaves. Still, fans still don’t know who the young boy is and what happened to James in Africa. In addition, several more questions arise after this episode. Where did Delaney get all of his wealth? What is his position on slavery? How does he know Atticus? Who really is the doctor? What does Delaney want to tell Jefferson? Who is Winter? Is Lorna Bow a good character? Who attacked James Delaney? Is he dead?
Taboo episode 2 had introduced many different old British customs and historical ideas. For example, when Delaney had purchased the Spanish ship in the auction, the historic precedent of the modern auction was demonstrated. In the “candle auction”, a tall candle is lit, and the person who offers the largest sum of money offered during the time that elapses for the candle to melt one inch wins the auctioned item. Next, the introduction of American spies, including the doctor, displays the historical American espionage during of past wars. The doctor was the head of a society of American spies in London, which allegedly occurred during the War of 1812. Finally, Taboo’s historical context was shown with the presence of slave ships. Clearly, like in the past, the attitudes of the white elite in London towards slaves was of contempt and superiority. Delaney breaks from this historical parallel, understanding at least the suffering of being on the slave ship and feeling the pain of the memories.
While the second episode continued its unhurried speed, action and adventure escalated quickly with the sudden attack on Delaney at the end of the episode. Fans await the next episode of Taboo, which will hopefully answer questions and provide more action and entertainment.