Black Sails: III review

Pirates were never like this, but Black Sails on Starz continues the fun with "III," so we're going to keep watching it...

Black Sails continues with its latest mystery couple. Whoever Miranda Barlow (Louise Barnes) is, Flint lets her dress his wounds, and she complains about him dripping blood on her floor. But even as Flint shuts the door behind them at the end of Black Sail’s third episode, we still don’t know what their real relationship is.

Miranda seems to be a representative of the “good people” of New Providence. Historically, once the English military abandoned the island, many of the original settlers fled after them. But a few stayed. As the island was progressively invaded by the Spanish, the French and the pirates, these original settlers hid in the forests and survived for years on fruit, fish and the occasional wild pig. Mistress Barlow seems to have avoided all this unpleasantness.

Silver is gradually winning Flint’s respect with his cleverness in staying alive, but nobody else likes the thief. As I had hoped, Silver begins to show the kind of charm and universal friendliness, even while double dealing and backstabbing, that mark his later incarnation in Treasure Island.  Those honest blue eyes just shine with sincerity.  Now he’s planning on overthrowing Flint from the inside, gathering up members of the crew one by one.

And let me just say, I love Randal (Lawrence Joffe). Pirates did take care of their own, and Randall in Black Sails takes the place of the King’s Fool, telling the truth when no one else can. He also gives a great demented scream.

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But most of the episode is tied up with the tangle of Vane, Flint, Max, and Rackham. If only Rackham didn’t look so much like a sleazy Vegas lounge singer. There’s not much pirate in this guy, and the sunglasses are not just anachronisms, they’re stupid. (see the end of this review for a correction, courtesy of Black Sails costume designer, Tim Aslam!)

Max has tried to sell The Page to Vane and Rackham, but now Silver needs to sell it to Flint to save his own skin. He’s too smart to turn over all the information to Flint at once, and fast talks his way onto the Walrus as it heads out after the Spanish treasure ship.

In the meantime, Max has paid the price for the boggled sale of The Page. This is interesting. Rackham telling Vane, the obvious bad boy, to “take care of our problem.” But Vane, it seems, has a soft heart. He wants to simply send Max away, while the Lounge Lizard, Rackham wants her dead. Glad to see some twists in Vane’s character, and glad to see Rackham showing some ruthlessness, in spite of the idiotic sun glasses.

But then all logic leaves the show, except for Story Requirements. The Walrus, it seems needs a consort ship to help her take the huge Spanish galleon. Maneuvering takes place, and Vane, Rackham and their ship the Ranger are the choice. Looks like the boys will have to work together.

Except that, in reality, pirates worked together all the time. Different ships hung out together, partied together and captured ships together. In Black Sails there are, maybe, fifty pirate ships in harbor. Why Vane? Except that the movement of the story requires it.

But news of Flint’s intentions has been getting around. What’s to stop every other ship in port from simply following him out to sea?  Should Flint be angry that he suddenly has a dozen or more ships accompanying him? If all the pirate ships gang up on the treasure galleon and scare it into a quick surrender, will Flint tell them they can’t share in the plunder?

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Well, maybe he will. In this incarnation, Flint wants cash to buy ships and cannons so he can create a Pirate Kingdom. Yup, you need guns and ships to fight a war.

Weird concept… He’s a pirate. Why doesn’t he just steal them?

Seriously. The pirate revolutionary Sam Bellamy kept upgrading his ships as he went along until he had a 300 ton fully rigged galley with 24 cannons on deck and an extra 30 stowed in the hold.  It didn’t even take him that long. And here’s Flint setting out to buy ships. Right.

I’m equally skeptical of Max’s story here. Yes, Vane and company would be pretty pissed that Max took their pearls and didn’t deliver The Page. And I can see the Ranger’s crew being pissed that Rackham lost their pearls without getting them a shot at the treasure. But I like Rackham’s solution – vote him out of his job.  Why the crew would take out their rage by gang raping some women Rackham just happens to be with escapes me. 

And if Rackham somehow organized this to get Max out of the way, it just feels too much like The Joker tying Batman to a giant playing card. But maybe Rackham does have a wild card up his sleeve. Maybe Anne Bonny has finally done something besides lurk in shadows. If these two are up to something, the pirates had better look out. Rackham is the brains of the ship, and Bonny’s the brawn (or at least the blades)

Now if only Rackham would ditch those damn sunglasses. 

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I’m still giving it 3 stars, because while it’s illogical as hell, it’s still loads of fun.

CORRECTION NOTICE: I’m thrilled to be proven wrong about Rackham’s sunglasses, and to learn something entirely new about eyewear in the 18th century. My thanks to Black Sails‘ costume designer Tim Aslam for setting me straight! 

“The sunglasses used on Rackham are actually period correct, and we visited Farleys, a prop hire company in London and took samples plus reference of 18th century glasses and sunglasses of the period. Coloured glass was in use since very early times and ‘side bars’ were invented around the first part of the 18th century, along with the four lens glass sides to spectacles. The frames up to the 18th century were of a heavier variety but steel began to be used around the start of the century. Obviously frames such as these would have been rare and highly prized-perfect pirate booty!” 

He also wanted to include this information from the Eyeglasses Warehouse

“The four lens frame was designed and patented by a doctor Richardson of London. Originally, this frame served a medical purpose. The first four lens frames featured oval lenses. “D” shaped lenses followed in the early 1800s. Many of the “D” shaped four lens frames were used like safety glasses. Stage coaches and early railroad passengers used such frames to keep coal cinders and dust out of the eye. Remember, early railroad cars were not enclosed.”

The real Jack Rackham – sans lounge lizard mustache, and sunglasses:

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

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3 out of 5