Our second roam around Taboo's labyrinth of darkened alleyways, quick blades and hushed conversations felt simultaneously less mysterious and more intriguing. Plus, there was the answer to the series' first question, sparkled in the darkness and possibly illuminated the shows shadowy narrative:
What Did Delaney Bury? Diamonds
In Episode 2, we saw Delaney dig up his leather pouch, and inside it: diamonds. He gave one to his sister — a rough, uncut diamond. This is more than a frivolous gift; it gives Zilpha financial independence. However, the worth of those diamonds may also explain those trips to Africa and the Nootka Sands dispute.
A fascinating article in The Atlantic exposes the diamond trade as a cartel with a fairly incredible history. Diamonds in 1814 England (when Taboo is set) were a rare and precious gem, found only in India and Brazil in small deposits. However, in 1870, colonial industrialists discovered huge diamond mines in South Africa. The abundance and size of these diamonds was a problem, as diamond's scarcity were the grounds for their value. This led to the formation of DeBeers Mining Company.
The owners of all the diamond mines came together to form a single entity that would control the production rate of diamonds and essentially secure their value. The demand was later increased by some inspired marketing that linked diamonds to affluence and marriage. However, the diamond industry continued to be involved in highly-questionable practices, as their success was dependent on the complete monopoly of production. The acquisition of newly discovered mines were accompanied by violence, plotting and intrigue.
Further to this, it has been noted how reprehensible the continued fabrication of scarcity in the light of the human suffering caused by the market for blood diamonds. Bullying, human abuse and suffering, shady characters and colonial abuse — that sounds a lot like Taboo to me.
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We are, of course, 56 years early. However, it's very likely that Delaney's diamonds came from Africa, where he has supposedly been for years. The timeline is less dissuasive when you consider The East India Company's historical involvement with the Diamond trade stretching back even into the 18th century. It also helps to explain the importance of Nootka Sounds.
Nootka is the gateway from America to China, which is why it's important to the British and the newly independent United States. This is equally why it has importance to The E.I.C.: It is a vital trade route. Given the easy passage between South Africa and China at the time, it also creates a direct line from Africa to America without having to go through European ports. It has become clear The E.I.C. is dwarfing the British Crown in size and influence.
"Now it is God almighty. The Prince Regent fears it. No governor in the world dare stand up to it. It owns the land, the ocean, the sky above our fucking head. It has more men, and ships than all the christian nations combined. You think all that submit are evil. No. We are submitting to the way the world has become. All the good men who fight them in London are washed up in Tilbury." — Robert Thoyt
The Question Is: What Are They Transporting? Why Do They Wish To Avoid British Ports?
It became clear in Episode 2 that the E.I.C are involved in the slave trade, forbidden by British law under the 1807 slave trade act. This makes Nootka vital to their business interests.
Delaney, however, is a little more interesting. He despises the slave trade. Unlike the cruel colonialists, he seems disgusted. He is fully empathetic towards cruel treatment of human beings. It seems to have been what has darkened his soul. He has become a man much used to human suffering and yet, we feel much more sinned against than sinning. In fact, the diamonds Delaney brought to England might be the answer to why he would be so interested in ownership of Nootka Sounds.
If Delaney held Nootka Sounds, he would hold the distribution routes for huge amounts of diamonds. Simultaneously, he would be hampering (even possibly destroying) the slave trade. If this is his aim, he may be stymied by the man he's so eager to meet: American president and slave-owner, James Madison.
In fact, it is very possible Madison is in league with the not-quite-so patriotic East India Company. Delaney wouldn't be able to hold the land without protection. Diamonds may be the currency he plans to offer America as compensation. This delicious double blow of finding fortunes and rectifying great evil seems perfectly fitting for Hardy's portrayal, and it would answer another burning question concerning the series.
The elements of mysticism and the darkness of foreign magic often feels in danger of becoming exoticism, generally lining up nicely with racist beliefs and generalizations of colonial characters. #Taboo seems too clever for that, and too faithful in its depiction of brutal, stomach-turning colonialism and human trafficking. I think the makers are up to something else here. All of the rumors about Delaney are just that — rumors. They are often spouted from the mouths of racist colonials, like Lieutenant Thorne Geary.
At the end of the episode, we saw Delaney bite a chunk out of his assailant, immediately after stonewalling his sister, who asks if he was a cannibal. He doesn't, however, eat the meat. There is nothing ritualistic or strange about this alley kill-or-be-killed dog fight. Delaney may well have earned an African spiritual or religious belief, but this does not suggest cannibalism without racist overtones. This perspective might also make us reconsider some of Taboo's stranger passages. Peel back the swooshy editing and what you're left with is a man having nightmarish visions of an all-too-real past. What James did is no more horrific than the many things he has seen, and he'd like to see come to an end. Is it possible that he is playing into his enemies prejudices and fears to redress the unfair balance of power between them?
A New Delaney: A Pigeon Among Cats?
The other big development in this episode was the arrival of Lorna Bow, the supposed late, secret wife of Horace. Lorna is an actress, and had already been brought to Delaney's attention. Her name was circled on a programme, most likely a tip from one of James's growing roster of associates. Her BBC bio says she plays "by nobody's rules but her own."
The East India Company want to twist things to their benefit, but were not behind the mysterious arrival. The Dublin marriage has been confirmed. However, the reason for Horace's visit to Ireland is still unknown - assuming he went to Ireland at all. Everything we know about him suggests he spent the later years of his life losing his mind in England.
It may be that Lorna is powerful enough to forge marriage documentation. Is it also possible that Lorna represents a broader Irish interest, an unhappily colonized nation. Nootka Sounds could be important to agitators in Ireland that were threatening uprisings. If this is the case, it is likely that she could become an ally for Delaney as they both share a common enemy, the British government. Ireland's involvement was also confirmed earlier in the episode when we were told the American's were attempting to blockade Ireland. The importance of Nootka Sounds to the Irish also shouldn't be underestimated, as it would give them a supply route from America. A supply route that could facilitate a revolution.
Episode 2 suggested that rather than the aesthetic darkness of a Grimm fairytale, Taboo is offering is a deep content-driven darkness. The narrative will not be fantastical, but historical.
Did we miss something? Let us know in the comments below!