This Black Sails review contains spoilers.
And the theme of this week’s episode is leadership.
There’s nothing more important to pirates than leadership. Without it, they’re a mass of angry, disorganized badasses, good for little more than petty thievery and roughing up people in bars. With leadership, real pirates have really controlled huge tracts of water… and land. The question is, is the leader strong enough?
It’s one of the things we always need to know in Black Sails.
As we pick up this week, Flint’s life has been spared, despite his murder of the quartermaster Gates. But Flint is still in the game, even if he’s doomed to be thrown out once and for all as soon as the Spanish Galleon his crew has captured makes port, probably in two days. And Flint’s got Silver on his side. Not because Silver likes him, or even likes being a pirate. It’s because Sliver sees opportunity in Flint.
Real pirate leadership provides its own opportunity.
Of course, we have the opening bit, too. That’s just Billy Bones coming back from the dead to be set upon some mysterious mission. To those of us who’ve read Treasure Island, this is no surprise. Billy Bones is still alive some twenty years later, holed up in England, the Benbow Inn to be exact, having nightmares of Flint and Silver and slowly drinking himself to death.
(Everybody ought to read Treasure Island.)
But we’re with Flint and Silver in 1715, and Flint’s about to be thrown off his ship. Or he would be, if he was a lesser man. Instead he’s plotting, telling the in-control but un-seamanlike Dufresne (now Captain Dufresne) that he regrets killing Gates, and wants to make it up to the crew. Of course, Flint knows that his advice won’t be taken. Dufresne sets out to do the exact opposite, to win his first prize as a pirate captain.
Cut to Eleanor Guthrie back on Nassau. She’s been a leader, and she’s good at bullying. But last episode she pissed off Ned Lowe, who’s the kind of pirate that makes people drag out words like “sociopath.” Love the scar and the dead eye, Ned.
In real life, guys like Ned were more a product of the later days of the Golden Age of Piracy, when revolutionary dreamers like Bellamy and Hornigold had their day. But this is TV, and just as the ships fly like speedboats between islands, time and pirate temperament get a little rushed. Low pushes back when Eleanor cut his money short. Now Meeks wants to talk to Eleanor, and after a few words, Eleanor is stupid enough to tell him she’ll meet him in the bar.
Black Sails takes a pass at strong female characters, but they don’t do it well. Eleanor has always been too shrill and bossy for my taste (and, I think, for believability). For my money, if a woman in a world like this punches a man, as Eleanor did to Vane last season, she’d better be ready for him to hit her back. Eleanor wasn’t then, and when Lowe starts cutting throats this season, she isn’t ready for that either. Sure, she’s got a couple of strong boys ready to play bouncer in the bar. But what about a pistol?
That’s right. One flintlock hauled out of that wealth of petticoats and discharged into Lowe’s chest would have solved the whole problem, while restoring Eleanor to the title of badass. But no, all she’s got for us is a pained look. And maybe a deal with Vane. Poor Charles, hung up on a hussy like this. He knows how to be a leader; he needs to provide for his men. Too bad he’ll probably be sucked into bailing Eleanor out. Maybe he’ll teach her a little leadership along the way.
Then there’s Max, flourishing in her role as Madame at Rackham’s whorehouse. Her outfits get more and more prosperous looking every week, and I like that. I also like how she’s always looking out for the main chance. I wouldn’t mind seeing Max in charge of business on the whole island.
Of course, one of the character’s other functions is to provide us with the semi-obligatory lesbian love scenes, this time with Anne Bonny, who’s apparently getting tired of Jack Rackham’s limp… uh… morale. I’ve thought that Anne has wanted to help Max out in the past because of there-but-for-the-grace-of-god-go-I. But the writers want us to think it’s been lust. I’d think Anne would have figured that out, one way or the other, by now. But what the hey.
Jack’s reaction to all this is much better than I had anticipated, and plays into the theme perfectly. He grows a backbone, demands to get all the “leads” about hot prizes from Max, announces that he’ll be recruiting for his own ship, thank you very much, and introduces the name “Captain Jack Rackham.” It’s about time.
Then he says the sweetest thing, worthy of the historical (and much tougher) Jack Rackham. “Anne, I have wanted only and always for you to be happy.”
It’s enough to inspire a lot of loyalty.
Flint, of course, if tougher than any of this, and a more pervasive schemer to boot. He might not “get” Silver’s method of endearing himself to the crew (gossiping about everyone else’s shortcomings and scandalous behavior) but he waits around until the ploy works (hint: if Silver suggests that you’ve molested the dairy goat, don’t confirm the rumor unless you want to be the laughingstock of the crew).
And Flint’s own plan? Well, first we get the man’s analysis of the finer points of sacking a merchant ship, and then we get to see how much of a pirate’s power is in branding. It’s still Flint’s version of the Black Flag, you see. And Dufresne doesn’t live up to that rep, and isn’t vicious enough to begin crafting his own.
So when the fight’s over, and Dufresne’s sitting I shock, asking Flint if all the blood, the wasted lives, the sinking of a ship with all hands, the attendant loss of property and all the suffering was just what Flint had planned all along, we don’t need to get a real answer.
We’ve always known that Flint was born to lead pirates.