It is a bittersweet homecoming for Black Sails at New York Comic Con this year. Just three cons ago, the show docked into the Javits Center, proudly waving its flag for an imminent premiere. Now, the fan favorite returns to the stage on the eve of its fourth and final season in January. However, all involved are excited about the planned ending, which came solely from reaching a natural creative conclusion. Executive producer Dan Shotz even calls the ending a perfect high point for the series.
Still, the series was initially presented as a prequel to the popular Robert Louis Stevenson novel, Treasure Island. And as a kind of preface, there is always the possibility of returning to this world of grim and gritty pirates down the road. I posed that question to Shotz himself during a roundtable interview, and he revealed the producers and Starz have discussed this very thing.
“Making Treasure Island, I think, is an interesting idea that we have definitely talked about,” Shotz said. “While [the show] is such a lead-up to it, it kind of lives outside of [the book] a little bit. Where we’re going to leave everybody, you can now read the book and you can look at it with a totally different lens, which I think was our goal. I don’t necessarily know if it would fit the children’s story that is Treasure Island, but maybe we could do our own version of a children’s story. The Black Sails version.
“We would totally—the hardest part of ending a series is you become a family. That’s the devastating part: you’re going to miss working with these people, the amazing crew, the cast. So yeah, maybe some version of ‘I miss you guys too much. Let’s figure out how to do this. Let’s get the band back together!’”
I then point out that there’s always Treasure Island.
“There’s always a way.”
Luke Arnold, meanwhile, plays John Silver, who will inevitably become the infamous Capt. Silver in Treasure Island, the most fearsome pirate who ever sailed the sea. And Arnold told me that he’d similarly be curious to revisit the character in such a way—as long as the proper amount of time has passed.
Says Arnold, “I think 10 years would maybe be the way to do it. I think there’s… like Treasure Island is nowhere near the kind of crazy action and philosophy that we’ve had in Black Sails. But doing our version of it would be great; I think it would definitely have to happen down the track though. I know it’s going to take me a while to get over this last season of the show, and I’m sure for the viewers, it’s the same thing. And coming back to it, you’re going to want to feel like a bit of time has passed for everyone involved, but hopefully we keep getting more fans, and the demand for that grows. It would be amazing to come back, see some of the gang again, and do some more in 10-years-time.”
Still, perhaps the reason that they’d have to do a “Black Sails version” of Treasure Island is that the story was initially chosen as a starting point for the series by creator Jonathan E. Steinberg due to its sanitation of the visage of pirates—turning it into a “children’s story.” In fact, when talking to our roundtable, Steinberg directly made the connection between the domestication of the pirate image with his interest in it.
“I think since Treasure Island, they have been children’s characters, and they clearly didn’t start that way,” Steinberg said. “I think when you place them in a historical context of people who left an incredibly oppressive labor system that wasn’t particularly good to them, you start to see them in an entirely different context; that these are people who are, whether they have the political tools to express it, they are rebelling against being oppressed. I wanted to tell that story.
“And I wanted to figure out how you get from there to Captain Hook… and how they become these things that are acceptable to children. And I think in a way, that’s what you do people in history that are scary; you have to figure out a way to turn them into characters in a story. That you can encapsulate them into something far less scary than what they stand for. In the 17th century, it was witches, and I think in the 18th century, it was pirates.”
When I ask if that perception directly resulted in specifically selecting Treasure Island as a focal point for the TV show—since you could suggest the whole culture of pirate fiction stems from that novel—Steinberg continued his thoughtful considerations of the novel.
“It is this weird thing where I feel historically these stories tend to recycle themselves, and the villains become the heroes, and the heroes become the villains. It never happened with pirates; they’ve been stuck in this position for a hundred and odd-some years, because that book is good, because it’s fun, and because you want to live in that world. And I think that everything that comes after it, from Errol Flynn to Johnny Depp, to all of it, is rooted substantially in that book. We wanted to break that and dig past it, and figure out what happened before it, and hopefully in some small way, flip the switch again and re-contextualize them to tell their story the way they wanted it told.”
Whether that leads to a full-fledged retelling of Treasure Island on Black Sails’ terms remains to be seen. Perhaps in 10 years, we’ll find out. However, Black Sails season 4 premieres on Jan. 29, 2017.