Black Sails gets off to a bang-up start, heavy on the history. I can’t say how happy I am that Blackbeard looks like he’ll be a major role, not the walk-on that the black-bearded logwood cuter from season one was, and hopefully not the mini-role that Lowe was in season one.
History: Teach went by a number of names, and Drummond was one of them. Teach did retire, and did subsequently return to piracy. Was he married? The jury is still out on that one; there’s no proof one way or the other. Rumors, however, continue to persist that he did.
And Blackbeard was buddies with Charles Vane. Yes, indeed he was. During Blackbeard’s “retirement” Vane showed up at his hideout on Oracoke Island, and the two pirate crews partied together. Vane wanted a revolution, a rebellion of the have-nots (led by the pirates) against the privileged people of the world. Stories persist that, having lived among the privileged during his retirement, Blackbeard came to the same way of thinking.
(One note, however. It’s damned uncomfortable to sit around with three or four loaded flintlocks strapped to your chest. Don’t ask me how I know this.)
The smart writing carries on with Flint. The man’s gone just a bloody crazy as we thought he would. He’s now taking his revenge against anyone who executes pirates. The scene of Flint’s attack on the magistrate. The man thinks that he’ll be a special case, that Flint will treat him differently because he’s an honest man.
But, as the authorities treat Billy Bones, Vane and Flint the same, despite their vastly different reasons for resorting to piracy, so Flint now treats the honest magistrate the same as the dishonest. Flint’s long look at the dead wife may betray something – the image of her body echoes that of Miranda when she falls. But Flint remains unmoved. He’s choosing his madness.
There’s another theme that I don’t like quite so much. Apparently, inspired by the theme of “Blackbeard” the male actors in this show have all decided to grow out their facial hair. Flint’s beard stands out next to his nearly bald head. Silver is sporting a dashing set of whiskers fit for a Victorian villain. Even Vane is looking fuzzy. Given the heat in the Caribbean and the fact that beards were unfashionable at the time, I don’t like it. (Okay I like Silver a little. Soft spot for Victorian villains and all that.)
But the smart writing and generally appropriate use of historic fact continues. I really enjoyed the little scene of the play in Max’s new tavern. It reminds us what has been going on with Eleanor while at the same time showing us that the pirates loved to put on plays, and to watch them. Similarly, Vane’s history is nicely alluded to. I love it when the show can keep viewers up to speed without blatantly saying, “AS YOU REMEMBER…”
I really hope we see some of Jack Rackham’s past. This historic man’s life is a mystery, like so many pirates. We keep getting glimpses of this Jack’s past. His language is always decidedly a cut above, and his inability to do the kind of dirty fighting the pirate excel at certainly hints that he didn’t grow up in a rough neighborhood. And what other pirate would think to hire a cello player to serenade him while he sits on the can? (Has anyone else noticed a minor sub-theme of Jack Rackham reading a newspaper while taking care of his morning business?)
This is where the time frame gets a little vague. It’s supposedly been two weeks since the Urca gold arrived at Nassau. That’s really not enough time for Flint to have carried out his several raids, or for Silver’s amputated leg to have healed sufficiently that he can even pretend to walk on a wooden prosthesis. But, like a lot of shows that involve sailing, it seems that some flexibility is necessary.
But however long it’s been since last we saw our band of heroes, one thing is certain and that is that the fort (Fort Nassau stood from 1697 to 1897, and is now the site of a Hilton hotel) got blasted to kingdom come last season, and it need to be repaired.
Historically, the fort was originally repaired by Hornigold, who simply gathered builders by offering all the free beer and rum his laborers could drink. Everyone who had run through their last cruise’s plunder signed on, and the pirates had a merry, if somewhat tipsy, building party, that set the fort up for several years.
Jack, who has flooded the market with gold, has different problems. Everyone knows he’s rich, and with no common enemy in sight, these pirates only want to party. A truly brilliant leader might have inspired them to rebuild the fort in case the Spanish come looking to take the gold, but Jack isn’t that guy.
Instead, he’s hatched a plan to bring in slaves (courtesy of Vane) to do the work. In fact, finding out who was carrying slaves and where the ship would be would be damn near impossible. Many ships of the period carried a few slaves, say, five or six, as part of a mixed cargo. That wouldn’t be remarked on, so it would be hard to single such a ship out, even if you had near-perfect intelligence. But the new purpose-built slave ships, ships that carried scores of slaves, would be coming to the Caribbean direct from Africa. With no stops between, and the Bahamas the first landfall after a trans-Atlantic voyage, no one could know when a slave ship was going to appear.
But, just as sometimes in modern thrillers the cell phones need to not work, there’s got to be a few “gimme-s” in a pirate story, and I’m willing to play along with this one, because it puts Vane (former slave) in cahoots with Rackham (former slave owner?) to bring this labor into Nassau.
This, in turn, set up one of the problems the pirates had. Would pirates deal in slaves? Some wouldn’t and set captured slaves free. Others treated captured slaves like any other property. It was a sticky a problem for the pirates as it was for America’s Founding Fathers. And the pirates had the additional problem that slavery wasn’t quite a racial thing yet. White people were also sold as slaves. Will we see any of them?
Max, as usual, is the voice of reason. She’s the one to say out loud how delicate the situation is. If the pirates won’t repair the fort, will they defend it? Is the money really a benefit, or is it the most dangerous liability ever? Max, as a woman, and especially as a woman of color, with no family or connections, always has the most to lose. With Anne Bonny, she can speak to the pirate’s greatest fears.
Flint’s final confrontation with Hornigold also explains the situation. The English government is so afraid of the pirates (they really were) that they are willing to pardon them all. Flint makes his case very well. Men willing to pardon pirates are living in fear. Will we surrender to men who fear us?
And then he heads into the storm.