Black Sails: XXVII review

Black Sails continues its excellent third season. There are plenty of surprises in the latest episode and plenty of spoilers in our review.

This Black Sails review contains spoilers.

Black Sails Season 3 Episode 9

Rackham is not only unusually well-spoken, as it turns out he’s a bit of a poet. Poetry, however, now makes me wonder if there is, in fact, anything material in the chest at all. Locking it and throwing away the key certainly leaves that issue open.

We segue to humor. Eleanor wants Charles Vane to sign a confession in order to be given a more dignified hanging. HA! Vane, ever tied by the bonds of love to a young woman who has pretty blonde hair and doesn’t deserve him, is already in too much pain. And Eleanor has never grasped the fact that her former love is a die-hard revolutionary.

She doesn’t really know what a revolutionary is. But Charles Vane is out to show her, one way or another.

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Vane’s immediate growth from Bad Boy to fully-realized person has been the best thing about Black Sails, and now he tells it like it is. Eleanor is yearning after a father who abused her. Vane knows it, and speaks forthrightly as he usually does. Eleanor has a hissy fit, as she usually does.

Eleanor’s support of Woodes Rogers pits her against the traditional bounds of her sex. The establishment that her new lover represents does not want to see her out of her place. Eleanor is comfortable with this, but the English establishment is even less forgiving than the pirates. Pirates are – or should be – a pragmatic lot. The English have proprieties.

And, of course, Rogers is now incapacitated by fever.

There’s always good detail in Black Sails, and this episode is no different. The bare stone cell where Vane sits, darkness shot through with beautiful with shafts of sunlight. And the room where Woodes Rogers lies ill is less light and dark, more evenly lit. Roger’s head lies on expensive, embroidered sheets.

And out at sea, the ship scenes, with anchors dragging along the bottom of the sea, is just so wonderful. It’s almost unbelievable that a TV show has effects like this. Beautifully put together, and a great addition to the storytelling. It almost makes up for a full episode of talking heads.

What I don’t like about Silver’s tactic is that it gives away the presence of the Maroons. How much better it would have been if Hornigold had indeed sent a force ashore, only to have it swallowed by the forest? And how easy would it then have been for this force to “return” to Hornigold’s ship, and capture it?

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But then, I’ve always been a better tactician than Flint. I think most people are.

Next comes a strange talk between Flint and Silver. Silver is, yes, responsible for the reprisal beating of his own man. He “sorted it” and didn’t bother to tell Flint. It is, by any measure, a reasonable response – a beating for a beating. The whole matter is neatly tied up, and now Flint has to natter on about “darkness” and how Silver is now flirting with it.

If John Silver is not acquainted with darkness after hanging out with pirates for two years, when, pray tell, was he supposed find it? If he did not know darkness after having his leg hacked off with an ax, after walking around on a rotting stump, when was he supposed to find it? And why would he not embrace it? He’s a pirate now, after all.

I still don’t understand why Max didn’t side with the pirates. Pirates are good for business when you run a whorehouse, and better when you run a tavern. Honest sailors don’t tip the waitress the 18th century equivalent of a hundred dollars for a drink, and they don’t generally pay to take the whores out to dinner. Historic pirates were know to do both these things, regularly.  

Furthermore, as a woman of color, Max is twice damned in the eyes of the establishment. But, a story needs conflict, and Max’s choices have drawn the lines in Nassau the way the show needed them drawn. However, by the end of this episode, it looks like she may be changing her mind.

Billy Bones went off with so much confidence, it’s really rather surprising to see things get out of hand. This is another place where the show is really fudging with reality. I have no idea how Rogers and company is supposed to have come up with an actual judge on short notice. Maybe, maybe, a judge could be called in from another colony. But judges aren’t elected, they’re appointed. Rogers’ – or shall I say Eleanor’s – court is in fact a lynching. It can be nothing else.

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I like the scene between Vane and he minister – right down to the downturned holier-than-thou expression on the minister’s face. The one thing that was lacking was a wig on the minister’s head. It was traditional, and would have been an appropriate signal of the authority of the Church and the solemnity of the occasion.

Vane’s reply seemed gentle to me. He’s reasoning with the minister. I suppose the purpose being to show how very much in sound mind he was. In fact, historical pirates were much harder on the established religion, citing it as one more method used by the establishment to keep down the common man.

Historically, the word for Vane’s attitude is “die hard.”  The trophy for this among real pirates goes to William Fly, who took the noose away from the hangman, retied it for him, and bitched him out for not knowing his business. Fly was then asked if he regretted anything, and informed the crowd that he regretted not doing more damage than he had done. He then damned everyone in the crowd and jumped to his death.

Vane’s end… God, I can’t believe I’m saying Vane’s end… is not as angry. An anti-climax. Horribly realistic.

I didn’t expect it. Pirates saved from the gallows at the last minute is such a standard in fiction that I didn’t see how things could end any other way. Even in history, hanging a pirate was a big deal, which was sometimes stopped by secret deals, bribery, or angry mobs. I just didn’t think it was going to happen.

God, help us. I hope Rackham steps up as he believes he will be able to. Otherwise, we’ve got Flint running the war.

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Well, at least there’s Blackbeard.


4 out of 5