This Black Sails review contains spoilers.
Black Sails Season 3 Episode 4
It all changes, just like that.
In the last episode, the pirates were lined up against Woods Rodgers, ready for the fight of the decade. Then Hornigold came in and read out the offer of pardon, and it was over just like that. The fourth episode of Black Sails season 3, “XXII,” starts with pirates knocking on the door of the fort, ready to turn Charles Vane in for the ransom put on his head.
Last week, Flint, Silver, and company were dying of hunger and thirst. Now they’re on an island, eating and drinking and suddenly captured by a colony of escaped slaves, giving them a whole new set of problems.
Just like that.
Actually, I’d like to say, yet again, what a beautiful show this is. Sailing ships, the sea, the island, every bit of cinematography just glows. The CG is utterly convincing, too. After last episode’s storm, we are treated to beautiful sailing ships that can’t possibly be real. This has got to be one of the most beautiful shows on TV.
I’m very, very pleased to see that Jack Rackham found his balls. He’s acting like a real pirate at last. It’s also good to see (and some damn fine writing and acting) the relationship between Jack and Vane. After all, these two ran a pirate ship together as captain and quartermaster. No they aren’t the same person (“Godspeed, Charles.” “Fuck you, Jack.”) But they have been a team. They still are. When Vane needed help, I half expected the sword that rescues him to belong to Jack.
Well, maybe a little less than half. And, to tell the truth, I’d still rather have Blackbeard on my side in a dirty fight than Jack Rackham.
One of the other things that Black Sails does very well is draw attention to its pertinent character points without beating us over the head. It’s entirely natural for Vane to have a moment when he learns that it was Eleanor who put the price on his head, and its entirely natural for him to think out loud that Eleanor showed herself to him.
Likewise, we see Vane show himself to Eleanor. His guidance of the fire ship takes it in a veering path into another of Roger’s fleet sends a clear message. This is what passes for flirting among the bloody-minded pirates of the world (and Eleanor IS a pirate, though I still don’t like her most.) So take note folks.
It’s a lovely mix of history and imagination, as so much of Black Sails is. The historical Vane fought Roger’s takeover of Nassau with fire ships.
Back on Treasure Island (and I still believe it’s Treasure Island, due in no small part to the fact that we’ve now established that its location is a Big Secret) we get another mix of fantasy and reality.
The Maroons were real people. Not quite as African as shown here. Maroons were an alliance between Caribbean natives and escaped African slaves. And the majority of the slaves who successfully escaped were Africans captured in inter-tribal wars. Essentially the Europeans bought a bunch of soldiers and sold them in a group to plantation owners. These people, who came with their own military experience, were at an advantage when it came to breaking free.
Later, slave dealers learned to buy mixed lots of slaves, people from different tribes who often did not speak the same languages and could not band together.
This group of Maroons seems to be entirely or almost entirely African. Their village is a large one, but we do find out that it has been growing because of more than childbirth. The most famous group of real Maroons, on Jamaica, was ruled by a woman named Nanny. She’s the only registered hero in Jamaican history who was female.
So the background that Flint and Silver find themselves in is historic. But one of the new characters is fantasy. Ben Gunn is the man left marooned (no pun intended) on Treasure Island after Flint buries his treasure.
It was great to hear Ben’s Irish accent. The Irish built a lot of history in the Caribbean, often being sold into slavery there by the English, and they served on a lot of pirate ships. (Trivia: listen carefully to the accent of Jamaica. Does it sound like a mix of Irish and African voices? Maybe that’s because it is.)
Like most of Black Sails, this episode is driving at a point. Is it better to take what freedom you are offered, or to put your heart’s blood on the line to get the freedom you want? The pirates are facing this issue on Nassau, and Jack Rackham is kind enough to spell it out for us while he and Anne sit in a cave, plotting their next move. Jack wants history. There’s no doubt where his heart lies.
The Maroons are fighting out this same issue, in a slightly different way. Do they hide, or do they seek vengeance and fight? But the Maroons, a mirror of the pirates, are being forced into a decision due to the loss of their outside supplier and protector.
The Maroon queen loses her husband, the Maroon princess her father. Even if Mr. Scott does not die, his effectiveness is over. Among other things, the autonomy that a black man had on an island of pirates is much greater than that of a black man born a slave, who is dealing with the “good people of the world.” The powers that be see him as less than human.
Flint, ever tortured and still talking to the dead Miranda (who’s much more sensible than he is) can ask out loud the problem on everyone’s mind. Is it wrong to fight against the pardons? Isn’t this what he fought for when he was McGraw?
The point here, which Flint will probably take too long to see, is that when a person’s point of view changes, they change as a person. Silver has learned to think of others besides himself. Flint needs to find out who he’s going to become.
At one point, the Maroon Queen asks, “Would you take the word of a pirate?” Well, seeing what else the world has to offer, I for one probably would.