This Black Sails piece contains spoilers for Season 3 Episode 9.
Eeulegy for Charlea Vane
Pirate captain Charles Vane is the last person we wanted to see leave Black Sails, and we certainly didn’t want to see it happen at the end of a rope. But Charles Vane is dead. He was hanged by the British, after a midnight trial, observed by no one.
He died of his own free will. The rescue of a pirate at the last possible moment is a trope in and of itself. But he met the eyes of his rescuers and asked them to hold off.
Why did he have to go?
Vane has given us more action than any other character. While Flint has spent hours dithering, Silver has avoided conflict, and Rackham has hidden out in a whore house, Vane was always there, fists clenched, sword in hand, ready to throw down and provide us with several minutes of intense and satisfying violence.
Vane was part of our initial hook. All he had to say was, “I’m Charles Vane. Of the Ranger,” and people backed down. All except for one. Eleanor was free to punch him in the face. Oh, she was punched back, of course. No one got away with hitting Vane, at least not in public.
Now he’s gone. What does that mean for the show?
I believe that it means that his job is done.
Vane was here not only to keep us entertained with beatings and sword fights, but he also showed us the mindset of the common pirates. Flint, Silver and company schemed, and planned, and yes, occasionally fought. But Vane was the in-the-trenches revolutionary. He had been treated as a slave, and he refused to descend into that life again. Death was preferable.
This was the belief of many real-life pirates. In many ways, for all of his cigar-smoking, leather-pants-wearing and shirt-ditching, Vane was the most realistic of Black Sails’ pirates.
But real-life doesn’t move story forward. And now, with the sides drawn up and a real fight lurking barely over the horizon, Charles Vane has served his purpose. He could die now. In fact, the death of a character often marks an intensifying of dram in a work of fiction.
In British naval fiction (yes, in Great Britain there is a whole genre devoted to stories of men at sea) the character who is usually killed off is the captain’s coxswain. This character, the person in charge of steering the ship’s small boats when they go out, and training/managing their crew. In a way he is a captain in his own right. Killing him is a substitute for killing the captain, who is usually the hero of the story.
Likewise, in Black Sails, someone had to fulfill the offers that many of main characters have made to die for their cause. Rackham has been speaking of his own death as he contemplates his legacy. Flint has been courting death for some time, and has even flirted with the other world, in the form of his hallucinations of Miranda. Even Silver flirts with death, as he refuses to submit to the infection in his stump.
And with Eleanor so firmly in love with another man, a man of her own class, Vane has no reason to live and every reason to die. He had hoped that they would get back together – his effort to steer the fire-ship away from her made his intentions clear.
Vane, who is free from the kind of internal angst that is the very fiber of Eleanor’s very existence, may even have believed that killing his true love’s father was a service to her, and that she would see this in time. But instead it was the final blow to the complex stew that has been their relationship.
Without Eleanor, it’s easier for Vane to decide on martyrdom for his cause, the only thing he loves better than the blonde-haired girl who snared him years ago. If there had still been a chance, he might have let himself be rescued. I’m sure his death will be raised as a standard to all the erstwhile pirates of Nassau. But don’t be fooled about Vane’s sacrifice. It was Beauty that killed the Beast.