This Black Sails review contains NO spoilers. You need to watch this one for yourself.
Black Sails Season 4 Episode 3
To avoid revealing spoilers here, instead of talking plot this week, let’s talk characters. Black Sails has created some fine ones (Silver, Max, Vane) and some not-so-fine ones (Flint, Eleanor) but most of what goes on in this pirate drama is solid stuff. Let’s take a look at this going into today’s episode.
First, Max. To those of us who have seen every episode, Max has been through a lot. From a slave to a prostitute to a victim of gang-rape to the madam of Nassau’s best whorehouse to a member of the Governor’s council.
Max’s dislike for the pirates has always troubled me. Historically prostitutes, and by extension madams, loved doing business with pirates. While Max herself has been poorly treated by the wild men of Nassau, I don’t think this is all that influences her. As a slave, Max has seen firsthand the strength of “society,” and has every reason to believe that the influence of England over Nassau is inevitable. And she would be right (historically, after all, the English won). But she’s still Max, still determined to raise her own status through a web of intrigue, obligations and blackmail.
Last week, when Silver tried to pull in some of his markers, Max did not cooperate. This week, she does not cooperate with the military forces of Nassau. Max is a lady with balls of stainless steel, and I would not like to play poker with her, either. Unfortunately, (like too many other people) she has a soft spot for Eleanor. I didn’t like seeing Max maneuvered in this latest episode, but I have a feeling her web of contacts will still be useful. Probably to both sides of the conflict.
Eleanor has one of her rare episodes of clarity and intelligence. Yes, she’s the one who preaches capitulation to Max, but she’s not up for being a drama queen this time. More the better. It’s odd to see Eleanor be the voice of reason. Maybe having a lover who’s not a pirate is good for her. Eleanor’s story is on hold this episode, but she sets herself up to be a strong player next week.
It’s interesting to see Silver take the lead this week, while Flint plays supporting character. Flint is usually so hell-bent on following whatever path is set into his brain that he can mess up anything, the way he just messed up his alliance with the empowered Billy Bones. But Silver, who is starting to really live the part of Pirate King envisioned for him by Billy, makes a great strategist and a fine figurehead.
Meanwhile, at sea, Jack and Anne continue to discuss their relationship. In the world of Black Sails, Jack Rackham is a second-rate pirate, a bit of a wuss, and no seaman (unlike the historic man, who took a ship from Charles Vane because the crew thought that Rackham was braver than Vane). We get a nice summary of where the relationship between Jack and Anne is coming from. Anne wants a relationship with Jack, and Jack wants to go down in history. Captain Sparrow isn’t the only pirate who cares a lot about public opinion. And he isn’t the only guy who’s drive for glory does not win him points with his girlfriend.
Jack has been weak before, but I don’t remember him being a fool. He makes up for that in this episode. I know it’s a TV show, and the average viewer might not be able to keep up with brilliant sailing strategy, but they can recognize pure idiocy when they see it. I’ll be charitable, and say that Jack was blinded by the stars he gets in his eyes when he’s standing on the quarterdeck next to Blackbeard.
The ending of this section of the episode is horrifying, and as horrible as anything I’ve seen in Black Sails. But I believe that it’s a metaphor for the pirates. A certain level of resistance, even against an oppressor with overwhelming superior force, can turn the tide.
In many of the episodes of Black Sails, the “bad guy” is not clear. Eleanor is sometimes the bad guy. Sometimes it’s Flint, or Flint’s madness, or Flint’s crew. Sometimes it’s England. We’ve had some spectacularly unlikeable English soldiers on the show. But Woodes Rogers has come as a mostly sympathetic opposition to the pirates.
He’s got his own scars, after all. His own troubles. He’s seemed quite reasonable when dealing with Max, and respectful of Eleanor’s abilities to make things happen. The historic Rogers was rather ineffectual. The character shows real potential for unseating the pirate power – partially through luck, partially by working with forces on the island, partially by not descending into madness, as so many of the characters do.
Well, this is the episode when he goes mad. Part of me wants to see this crazy go up against Flint’s brand of crazy. But I don’t want myself to ever be around when Rogers is this kind of crazy. And you won’t, either. Put down the popcorn. You won’t want snacks during the last third of the show.
What will happen next week? They’ve set us up for anything. The balance of power has swapped sides all the way around. I think that a lot depends on Rackham getting himself together. As you will see, he’ll have a strong motivation to do that.
We’ll be back to talk spoilers later in the week!