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Black Sails Slows Down and Focuses On Characters

Sunday night’s epic Super Bowl comeback was not the only top-notch drama that night. That’s right, we have a new Black Sails to talk about! After last week’s explosive premiere, just about everyone was left to regroup. Factions split, plans changed, and allies pushed away allies while finding common ground with enemies. The field is wide open as we continue the fourth and final season. Let’s take a look at how our bisexual pirates and their British foes went about their business in “XXX”.

(P.S., I’m still celebrating. Go Pats!)

Thankfully, Black Sails opens this week where we left off last week: John Silver’s capturer drags him to the beached wreckage of a ship and shackles him to it, where another man is also being kept hostage. This kidnapper intends to collect a bounty on Silver’s head. He kills the other captive, one of Rogers’s soldiers, and tells Silver to a letter claiming responsibility. If they offer a certain bounty before the murder, he assume the bounty increases with confession of this murder.

Back in Nassau, Max joins Featherstone and Idelle as they watch a gallows being constructed. Turns out Featherstone did not betray Flint and Billy Bones; Max knew of Featherstone’s assistance to the rebel pirates since the beginning and intercepted the warning message. Of course she knew, Max knows everything happening in Nassau. She decided against telling Captain Berringer of his and Idelle’s betrayal for her own interests—the zealousness of the British soldiers would only encourage them to search for more betrayal within Max’s establishment, and maybe even with Max herself.

She thinks this situation will pass and leave them all be if they simply keep out of it. I doubt her ability to actually keep out of it. Last week Rogers gave a pretty good reason for Max to consider other options, and now it seems Berringer’s violence is doing the same.

Next we catch up with the Woodes and Eleanor, as Eleanor tells her husband how her grandfather became one of the richest men in the New World through hiring ships out to privateers in exchange for a portion of their takings. She hopes to approach her grandfather and convince him to lend his aid in defeating the pirates. She also says he can pay Woodes’s debts several times over.

However, as I pointed out last week, Eleanor is not sure he would actually support them. Richard Guthrie was an infamous man on the outs from the rest of the Guthries due to his support of pirates, and Eleanor has done nothing to improve their standing. She thinks she can succeed because of Woodes himself. The Guthries want a greater reputation in London beyond their current “backwater merchant” standing. Eleanor thinks Woodes’s inclusion in the family can change that.

They are interrupted by Berringer, who brings them to the beach. Teach is back, blockading Nassau, and has delivered his message in the form of men hanged from the rafters of a ship, which drifted ashore. 61 other soldiers remain captive with Teach, and he will kill them all if Woodes does not hand Eleanor over.

Of course Woodes won’t actually do it. Blackbeard doesn’t expect him to and can’t maintain the blockade for long anyway. Instead he has a plan to send a force in to capture Eleanor while all attention remains on the ship. Anne questions the method, and Jack comes up with a better one. The look Blackbeard gives Anne after her voiced protest is interesting. I’m not sure if he took offense to her questioning him, or has questions of his own about her commitment to his cause.

As we saw last week, Anne’s not exactly in this to get revenge for Charles Vane.

Our first appearance of the pirate resistance shows them preparing for the raid on Underhill’s plantation like Billy proposed in the previous episode. Flint’s exposition about the plan to Madi is followed by him questioning her supposed knowledge of the buried treasure’s whereabouts. Madi hardly reacts at all to his accusations. She more or less says, “Maybe I lied. So what?” She sees that Billy is the one the pirates look up to and admire. Flint’s jealousy could have fractured their forces and ruined their campaign before it truly began.

She’s right. Flint is not in this to help the pirates. He’s not in this to help the Maroons. He would not be content to only help take Nassau. He needs to be in charge. This is his personal mission to make England pay for Thomas and Miranda. So far he has seen his war taken from him by those fighting for more than themselves. Flint will not take that lying down. Eventually he will resist and possibly ruin the cause he fights for in the process.

We return to Woodes and Eleanor, where Woodes decides on a plan to set off on a ship to lure Teach away, giving Eleanor a chance to slip away to her grandfather. He thinks it’s their only chance. I think he underestimates Teach.

Another quick jump shows the trials continuing in Max’s inn, where Berringer says that none of those on trial have displayed any remorse. I’m not sure why he thought they would. Max says remorse should not be expected from these trials, and Berringer takes that as her objecting to them. She does not object to the trials or the hangings: she objects to the public spectacle of it since it only inflames the anger on both sides.

Berringer, of course, is too focused on vengeance to listen to her common sense. This is especially the case after finding the soldier killed at the beginning of the episode with a note promising reprisals if more pirates are hanged. The note apparently was signed by Long John Silver. We see yet again that Berringer wants to take this war to the extreme, and he accuses Max of not doing her part to help in the fight, suggesting she turn over her informants.

She shuts him down pretty convincingly, claiming that to betray the promise she made to them after the governor made promises to her betrays the civilization they fight for. Berringer again responds to her common sense with more threats. With Woodes leaving to draw Teach away, he will be left in charge of defending Nassau. Keep threatening Max, morons. See how long you control Nassau without her on your side.

Max immediately finds Eleanor to voice her disapproval of her and Woodes leaving Nassau. She does not want a man of extremes like Berringer left in charge at such a crucial point in the fight. Unfortunately, Eleanor seems to buy into the effectiveness of Berringer’s extremes. Is she simply supporting her husband’s current position? Maybe. Let’s not forget Eleanor is often a woman of extremes as well.

When we return to John Silver, he figures out from a Flint-story that his captor is Israel Hands, a former member of Blackbeard’s crew notorious for killing the wife and son of a former Nassau governor. Israel’s jealousy over Teach’s affection for Charles Vane eventually led to his expulsion from the crew, though not before a vicious beating and a gunshot that disfigured the man below his eye.

Silver plays on this hatred for Teach and for the first time, starts using the reputation Billy has created to try and convince Israel he’d be worth more ransomed elsewhere. This is a marked moment for Silver’s character. Just last episode we saw his reluctance towards the growing Long John Silver legend. He may only be using it to avoid death here, but the first time quickly leads to a second time. This might end up as the moment where Silver began to join those opposing Flint.

A quick scene sees Flint and company make quick work of Underhill’s forces. I loved seeing Underhill and his wife readying to fight. Something about her stone-cold expression while loading that pistol kicked ass. Underhill is shot, but Flint does not shoot his wife. When Madi approaches one of his slaves, though, she is told to leave.

Another short scene (this episode suffers a bit from how jumpy it is) sees Eleanor and Woodes saying their goodbyes before he departs for Port Royal to lure Blackbeard away. This is a good time to mention how much I love this couple. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in doubting Eleanor’s motivations last season. Growing close to Woodes Rogers easily could have been another attempt to grab power in Nassau. It was her main goal for the first two seasons, at the expense of everyone in her way.

Instead they’ve become a good couple who truly love each other. They genuinely want what is best for each other and will sacrifice their own best interests to help each other. Don’t be surprised if Woodes is captured and Eleanor is willing to turn herself over to set him free. Her tears at his departure spoke volumes.

Speaking of awesome couples, we return to the Queen Anne’s Revenge where Jack realizes Anne will not take a crew to capture Eleanor. When Jack tells her Teach might kill her, she says, “He can try.” What a badass.

Anne refuses because she doesn’t want to find Max, and she thinks finding Eleanor will have to involve finding her. She still holds a grudge over Max betraying her and trying to take Jack away from her. Whatever revenge she once sought, though, she doesn’t want it anymore. She also doesn’t want the guilt of hurting Max. And she doesn’t seem to want Nassau anymore, either. In fact, she hates it.

Anne has always been a lost soul who feels little direction or purpose besides sticking with those she feels loyal to. It’s why she still stays with Jack, it’s why she stayed with Max, and it’s how she ended up involved in the war for Nassau aboard Blackbeard’s ship. We have rarely (maybe never) seen her question herself like she does here. This level of soul-searching does not come easily to Anne. Max has always inspired Anne to consider herself more than anyone else in her life. This scene revealed just how much Max still means to her. Perhaps irreparable damage has been done to their relationship. That doesn’t mean Anne is willing to destroy everything Max fights for, and she especially doesn’t want to hurt Max herself.

Fighting for Nassau is not a mission she has any interest in. She appears to just want to escape it before she does something she hates herself for. I hope she does get away. I hope she and Jack run far away. Will they? It would be a pretty big surprise. Jack has ambitions squarely involving Nassau, and Anne’s made her loyalty to him clear. Jack does hesitate when asked why they returned, though. I’ll take what hope for these two I can get.

Man I love these three characters. I wish Jack, Anne, and Max could have found some way to live happily banging each other on their stolen gold.

The camera work here is also pretty great. The way Anne’s hat shadows one eye but not the other worked for me. Not sure I can explain why, I don’t have the film-making knowledge.

This is gorgeous, right?

Her ruminations are interrupted by a warning that a ship with the governor’s flag has set off. No way they’ll just fall for this, is there? Jack at least is much smarter than this.

Picking up where the episode left off earlier, Billy joins Madi and Flint to tell them they’ve gathered supplies likely meant for Nassau. When they arrive at the slave quarters, though, they found the doors locked from inside. Turns out that after Madi acquired weapons to fight the British, it led the slave owners to take precautions preventing revolt. Families were separated and sent to different plantations so that any revolt on one would mean their families are punished at the others.

And so the slaves lock themselves in their quarters, refusing to help.

Yeah, Madi blames herself for this as much as you expect she would. Oh Madi, you’re such a Martell.

Billy takes very badly to the proposed retreat to protect the slaves. Taking the plantation was more than acquiring manpower, it also promised food and shelter for his men. When Flint orders the retreat anyway, he refuses and orders Flint to be restrained. Madi has her men come to Flint’s aid. Billy orders his men to fire, and a fight breaks out. This leads to a rushed retreat and a lot of dead people before they make their escape.

This caught me very much by surprise. Billy made it clear last week and earlier in this episode that he is done listening to Flint, but this still seems too extreme for him. Whatever his opinion about Flint, he’s smart. He should understand how the plantation raid went south and the resulting need to retreat. That’s the only way he could keep his resistance chugging along all this time. It’s not a huge immersion breaker, but I am kind of struggling to understand Billy’s desperation here. I suppose this was his anger and distrust of Flint boiling over.

Meanwhile, Jack tells Teach about Rogers preparing to flee. He says will get Anne to lead a vanguard to capture Eleanor if Teach wants it, but also that he has come around to agreeing with her about the stupidity of trying to impress a dead man. He realized that lack of sentimentality applied very much to the man they fight to avenge.

Teach responds by talking about the similarities which led him to think he and Vane were destined to matter to each other. He talks about finding a giant white bird that he thought served as an omen, and how people would disagree about what that omen meant. To which he asked Vane what he thought it meant and was told, “Dinner.” They both question whether Vane would want their revenge on Eleanor or not.

When the time comes to decide, they choose to pursue Rogers rather than send anyone after his wife.

Anne definitely looks grateful about this.

As Nassau watches this all transpire, Max receives a note and leaves the others, though not unnoticed by Berringer. She takes a carriage out to where Israel Hands waits with John Silver. He keeps with the Long John Silver persona in attempt to threaten Max into helping him and the pirates, but she instantly refuses. Repeating her earlier sentiments to Berringer, she rejects the cycle of violence the pirates and British perpetuate and just wants it to end.

She tries to take Silver and Hands as prisoners, intending to keep them safely locked away until she can find someplace far away to release them alive. Israel murders the men who try to arrest him, and Max is instead forced to flee. The episode ends with Max looking back fearfully while Silver stares angrily after her carriage.

I just want all my friends to get along. Why can’t they get along?

John Silver has become a vicious character

To Sum Up

This week necessarily slowed down as everyone recovered from the premiere’s battle. Which isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, and was not a bad thing here. Black Sails is great because of its characters, and this episode was all about them. There were some great moments here: Anne’s monologue about Max, John Silver embracing the “Long John” persona, Max’s continued struggles to move Nassau past the war, the tension between Billy and Flint finally erupting.

For a slow episode there were still many game-changing moments.

If I do have a major complaint, it’s that the episode did jump a bit too much. Some scenes just kind of happened in seconds and moved on too quickly to another. The episode didn’t feel like it had room to breathe. I know that is a weird complaint for a slow episode, but it’s still true. Every show with a large and geographically spread cast faces this problem from time to time.

And I have to reiterate my earlier complaint about Billy Bones. His decision to fire on Flint and the Maroons felt like too much of a character jump for the moment. It would be one thing if he reacted this way after a major fuck-up by Flint, but Flint spoke only common sense, with considerable back up for his point. Why would Billy risk throwing away his entire chance at success like this? Black Sails uncharacteristically rushed a plot point here, I think.

These negatives were entirely overshadowed by the incredible positives, though. Last week Black Sails refused the easy definition of sides in the fight for Nassau, and continued the trend this week as characters began distancing themselves. Anne and Jack began distancing from Teach. Max looks like she’ll work against both Rogers and the pirates. Obviously Billy made a violent stand against Flint and the Maroons.

At this point it’s hard to imagine Nassau escaping a destructive fate. Too many forces pursue the a brutal war with too much eagerness. And that war is going to put a lot of characters I love in danger. It will be hurt sometimes, I know. Thing is, that’s the sign of a great show most evident in episodes like this one. The characters of Black Sails will make you care, even in the slower episodes like this.


Images Courtesy of Starz

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  • Bo

    Bo relaxes after long days of staring at computers by staring at computers some more, and feels slightly guilty over his love for Villanelle.

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