Black Sails: II review

Black Sails episode 2 is a seductive mix of sea, sand and silver.

Black Sails may seduce guys with the sight of two women kissing on a bed with snow-white sheets. I was seduced by the sets in the second episode of Black Sails. Great crumbling buildings, holes in the roofs and the walls growing moss and falling to bits. Sunlit streets, fire-lit beaches, thatch and crude wooden shacks. And more time on Flint’s ship, the Walrus, which is a gorgeous piece of work. Too bad no pirate since Henry Avery ever actually owned such a ship. A historical Flint would be more likely in a fore-and-aft rigged sloop, eighty feet long and a hundred men on her. But this is TV, and the ship is grand.

The plot’s moving, just like I’d hoped it would. Max and Silver (they’re a team after all) moves to sell The Page to Vane, through Rackham and Anne Bonny, and nobody’s being stupid. Silver keeps The Page and offers protection, while Max demands payment from Rackham and Bonny. Silver lives up to his Treasure Island reputation, persuading a cave full of dying men to help keep him anonymous as he delivers the goods. Only Vane’s suspicious. (Probably in a bad mood because of the way Eleanor put him down earlier… If I was a pirate and anyone talked to me like that, I’d gut them.)

Vane’s tendency to shoot people complicates Silver’s plan, and Gate’s smarts in finding out who’s selling The Page ends bring Flint and Billy in on the mix. It ends in a three-way chase through more great scenery, this time some natural rock formations around the South African set. Flint wins, of course, and Silver does the only thing he can do to save his neck.

But what it’s all really about is Flint’s dream, which he seems to share with Eleanor. Nation of thieves. A Nassau independent from all the countries of the world, with farmers, craftsmen. And, yes, pirates. That’s quite a dream, one that was shared by real-life pirates like Ben Hornigold and Henry Jennings.

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In real life, it almost came true. In real life, the pirates weren’t dependent on a single fence for their goods; merchants came from as far as New York to trade at Nassau. And several of the pirates retained family connections in trading families. Some New World governors were even involved. Any why not? The pirates were getting goods for free and selling them for as little as one tenth their value. All they wanted in return was rum, gunpowder and shot.

Of course, for TV it’s got to be simplified, because there’s no way you’d want to follow that many characters.

[related article: Black Sails History – Dastardly Merchant Captains]

The truth of how popular pirates were with the general population of the New World also wouldn’t make very dramatic viewing. When pirates came into port – any port, for they were welcome in many – they sold stuff cheap, then spent their profits generously. That makes people love you, at least as long as you keep coming back with more stolen goods. When the pirate Stede Bonnet was finally caught in 1718, his execution was delayed seven times, due to letter writing campaigns by more upstanding members of society.

The requirements of the medium of TV also explain Max’s situation on the show. In many ways I find her the most believable character. Prostitutes flocked to Nassau during the Golden Age of Piracy, for the simple reason that the men there spent gold for the same thing that men in England bought with copper.

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Like Max, these women weren’t stupid. Unlike regular sailors, pirates stayed in port for months to spend their money, and they wanted female company, not just to make the beast with two backs, but to hang out with, to dance and drink with. A clever woman in Nassau could spend a month or more in the company of a reasonably amiable man, drink his liquor, dance with him, share his accommodations, and then wave him a fond farewell while keeping much of his money. It wasn’t a bad gig.

Of course, Max has to “belong” to her brothel owner, an odd idea in a society that was so dedicated to personal freedom. A bullied, downtrodden whore elicits more sympathy than a woman who makes her own fortune. But Max’s spirit and smarts ring true.

I also found it amusing to watch Max, ready to leave the brothel, put a pair of Victorian era underwear into a Victorian ear carpet bag. (A little math for you….The Victorian era was longer AFTER the Pirate Republic than our current era is AFTER the Victorians.) It speaks to Max’s situation, a fictional character shoehorned into a moralistic situation not of her era.

By the way, the real Max wouldn’t have had a carpet bag. She’d have just wrapped her possessions up in a piece of cloth. But that’s okay. Women didn’t wear underwear then either. It was commando all the way.

The end of this week’s Black Sails shows us Flint riding off to the edge of the Nassau island (on a beautiful horse). And there we meet the reason why he seems so tied to this island, above all others. When a man’s been gone as long as Flint has, and is greeted only by “Take off your boots, I’ll boil some water,” one assumes a wife, which may or may not be true, but Flint’s obvious relief in getting back to her will certainly keep me guessing.

TS Rhodes is the author of The Pirate Empire series. She blogs about pirates at 

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3.5 out of 5