Black Sails: XXI review

Things on Black Sails season 3 are starting to take on some more characteristics of the most famous pirate story of them all.

This Black Sails review contains spoilers.

Black Sails Season 3 Episode 3

The pirates are dealing with the real bad ‘uns. Not with robbers, but with merchants, those folk who will backstab and thieve, but under guise of law. Fortunately for Rackham and company these people also spill secrets. In the middle of insulting Max, the leader of these despicable rogues spills the beans about the approach of Rogers and company.

Max and Anne raise the alarm. The pirates scramble – the fort is as yet unfinished, and has only six guns. Vane is ruler of the fort, and needs to finish the work there. However, Flint was supposed to lead the pirates by sea, and he is (conveniently) becalmed in the Sargasso Sea. Flint being the only strategist among them…

Hold it? Flint is a strategist? Since when? Flint has lost more battles than he’s won. Flint’s been overthrown, and tricked his way back into power based only on the failed leadership of others. But, somehow, Flint is the pirates’ “only strategist.”

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To quote Vane, “What the fuck is the matter with you people?”

“The storm drove us east. We are becalmed.” This begins Flint’s story of existence without the driving wind. This situation mirrors Flint’s own lack of goal, now that his original plan has been taken over by another.

Now Flint is breaking every law of the sea, by dividing the crew into an “A” list and a “B” list, one to be fed, the other not. How, exactly, the food and water rations were “lost in the storm” is already and extremely sketchy. Why were they anyplace except stored in the middle hold, the safest place on the ship?

Flint by now is hallucinating in earnest, and the ghost of Miranda, blood smeared but dry, is talking to him. And in spite of her, he’s killing his men.

It’s up to John Silver to take control of the situation. Silver has grown quite a lot since the beginning of Black Sails. Once upon a time, he was the consummate rogue, willing to backstab or betray anyone in order to save his own skin. We’ve seen him grow into a true pirate, an officer who suffers with his crew and holds to their ideals of equality.

Among the pirates, Silver is still a man, even if he is missing part of his body.

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And he’s smarter than Flint. Robert Lewis Stevenson even said so in the book that inspired Black Sails. “The men feared Flint, and Flint feared Silver.” Silver looks at a rotting whale, sees the sharks under it, and knows that a shark is food.

Silver uses truth and smarts to win Flint’s respect, and the fates reward him with the wind that the pirates so desperately need. Not that we believed for a minute that the wind wouldn’t come, but the timing blesses Silver’s audacity.

Back on Nassau, the pirates plan to defend their island, without Flint but with Blackbeard.  Blackbeard, conveniently just come to the island, conveniently wants Vane as his protégé, badly enough that he will step in and rescue the rest of Nassau. Not that he plans to stay.

I don’t know if this determination of Blackbeard to take off into the uncharted sea and carry on war with the world is a way to kill him off, or an excuse to keep him from overpowering Flint later. One or the other, I’ll wager.  

Rackham shows off his stuff. He, too, has grown in this series. The listless, literally impotent quartermaster has put off his brothel-owner’s coat, put on some starched linen (fitting his newly grown backbone) and informs the gathered pirate captains that they WILL defend the island, and that their crews will do it because HE will persuade those crews. It’s Rackham’s will that this shall be done; that Nassau will be defended “Because Avery landed here and said “this is a place for free men,” that makes the defense possible.

A historical note here: The historical Hornigold taught the historical Blackbeard to be a pirate. Blackbeard taught Vane. Vane taught Rackham. Together they represent four generations in the same line of pirates.

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The series praises Flint, but Rackham seems to me to be the man with the greater vision.

We do at last discover Max’s back story. Yes, a slave, child of the slave owner, watching while his other daughter eats and reads and dances in the safety of the big house. Max wants that life, Anne Bonny wants freedom – a different goal with a much different path to reach it.

Back on Roger’s fleet, Rogers spills his beans to Eleanor. He’s raised his money for the enterprise by promising to subdue Nassau within two months. And he’s promised the Spanish to find and return the Urca gold. How exactly an Englishman ended up dealing with the Spanish, or promising them the return of the gold (which could be defined as legal salvage) after England’s long history of taking Spanish gold on the slightest of pretexts, remains unexplained. It’s clearly the excuse to bring in a Spanish war ship for a big fight later, but I don’t like it.

What I do like is Roger’s way to get around the newly-resolute pirates. Well, Eleanor’s. Yes, historically Benjamin Hornigold was one of the founders of Nassau. Yes, Hornigold supported the pirate’s taking of pardons. The fact that the real man did so from the other side of the barricades is not important here. The sides line up nicely, and the unexpected has happened once again. The pirates begin to lay down their arms.

Back at sea, a fresh wind drives Flint, Silver and company to an uncharted island. There are hostile natives, so I predict the pirate will build a fort. Possibly even a triangular fort, with a wall around it, and a flagpole from which to fly their banner. They will name one of the highest points on this island “Spyglass Hill” and they will chart the place, but will keep its location secret.

How do I know? Because this island is one of the most famous in all of literature. It’s called Treasure Island.

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3 out of 5