Black Sails: V review

Black Sails episode 5 gives us what we want from the Starz pirate show. Pirate ships on the open water! Here's TS Rhodes' review...

So good to see the pirates of Black Sails back at sea where they belong. Flint gives us a grand and basically true explanation about why some men are officers and some are just pirates, and I think it’s true. Flint also brings up a point that defines real-world pirates, the fact that they so often attacked ships that were bigger and better armed than they were.

The real world wouldn’t make good cinema, though. Even well-armed merchants usually lost their nerve when confronted with a band of screaming pirates. A surprising number of ships never fired a shot, just pulled over and begged for mercy.

The story of the Walrus attacking the Andromache is a fine tale indeed. The strategy, little details like checking the speed, and most of all the way that Dufresne, (Jannes Eiselen) the hapless quartermaster’s clerk, becomes the center of the attack for a while, bringing us into the horror, shock and immediacy of hand-to-hand combat. Bravo!

Of course, there are historical inaccuracies. The size of both ships is off the scale (the Walrus set is 200 feet long, nearly twice as long as the historic Scarborough, the ship that everyone’s so afraid of). The number of decks and the amount of headroom is pure Hollywood. I also find it very difficult to believe that Flint’s crew careened their ship, and had time for the fuck tent, but weren’t able to get the powder, shot and food loaded back on.

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But it does make for a fine sense of urgency.

Meantime, Rackham and Vane take over the brothel (Sorry, it’s not an inn, it’s a bawdy house). Rackham’s interaction with the madam is priceless. Why the crew would complain, at least before they sample the pleasures of the house, I don’t know. And it’s wonderful to see Anne Bonny finally doing something. Her statement that if a woman takes it, men will be happy to dish it out are true and totally in keeping with the historical woman that I love. Anne took no shit!

Vane continues to fascinate as the bad boy who puts love ahead of all. I don’t agree that Eleanor’s power is stronger than a pirate’s, but I’d love to know what’s going on in Vane’s head. His new sense of purpose is beautifully illustrated by his sudden wardrobe change… He’s finally wearing a coat, as properly befits a pirate captain. Might as well say it, I’m a girl, and actor Zach McGowan is just the kind of eye candy I like. Bad, battered and brooding. I don’t even mind that he finally put on a shirt.

Historical/sailing note: That boat Vane takes off in is far too large for him to row by himself. It’s too wide, requires at least two men, one on each side. A single guy in a boat like that can only paddle around in circles. But I’ll let it go. I’m betting Vane’s actions signify a noteworthy journey.

Eleanor’s story is also coming to a head. The mob has turned against her, and her father has deserted the pirates. We’re kind of required to like Eleanor because of her dedication to the pirate cause. But, like a lot of pretty female characters, she’s being dumb, putting emotions before logic. In my own personal experience men are far more likely to hold grudges and choose vengeance over reasoning.

“Pretty girl who acts tough but doesn’t act smart” is kind of a thing on TV, and I don’t much like it. Of course the schemer Silver will teach her how to run her life. But Eleanor’s got the smarts to see that she doesn’t need her father to run a black market trade empire. Why can’t she make up with her old boyfriend?

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If she needs to be taught a lesson, Hornigold is the man to do it. He was a teacher all his life, and an incredibly influential man. I do like the way that actor Patrick Lyster plays Hornigold. He’s a proper pirate captain in every way, from clothing to the authority with which he speaks.

There’s some really good acting in Eleanor’s council of war. What they’re planning will bring the mechanisms of this fictional pirate island much more into line with the way the historic island operated. Of course, no one ever had a monopoly in dealing with pirates. But once again I bow to the need for drama. So I can see this working out very well for Eleanor. We also know Eleanor’s going to start chasing Vane. She’s free to, now that he’s off on his new mission.

The last few scenes of the show are confusing, largely because the size of the Andromache is so out of scale. She’s also very close to empty, when she should be packed with cargo as tight as a college student trying start a new semester with only a Yugo to haul their stuff.

I don’t know how Captain Bryson is keeping Flint from stealing his cannons, and I have no idea why Bryson himself is killing slaves. What I do know is that this story ends with Flint covered in gore, and the last time we saw that, Flint became even more dangerous than he usually is.

My prediction for next time? Blood.

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

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3 out of 5