Crossbones: Antoinette review

The latest episode of Crossbones moves along briskly and boasts another fine John Malkovich performance. Here's our review.

My ire at Crossbones was somewhat mollified by a little research, which told me that the magnificently macabre wax corpse Blackbeard keeps in his “throne room” is a historical object. In an effort to teach anatomy to medical students using something besides a rotting cadaver, wax reproductions were created as an alternative. To do this, casts were taken of actual dissected human bodies, then the parts were reproduced in colored wax. I’ve seen photos of the old pieces, and Blackbeard’s example is typical.

Does the idea that the “body” is a wax replica of an actual dead person give you the creeps?

This week’s episode was considerably better than last week’s disaster. No gross insanity was perpetrated upon us, though this is still network television, with its usual holes and misconceptions. This week’s holes weren’t quite big enough to drive a truck through, and they were accompanied by a little swashbuckling, some character development, and some really striking dialogue.

The main plot involves an effort by Blackbeard’s emissaries, Lowe, Nenna, and Charlie, to copy a map held by the Spanish. I liked the sneaking around, the lavish Spanish set, the cloak and dagger (quite literally). And I like Nenna very much. She’s a woman, she’s black, and she’s a pirate. There’s no need for comment, that’s just the way it IS. This is one area where Crossbones really shines. It treats strong women like they’re just, y’know, people. And Nenna gets some good lines here: “If anyone sees you, cut them in two,” and “I don’t know if I can beat you, but if you kill (Lowe) we’ll have to find out.”

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She also seems to be the leader of this expedition, which I like. Blackbeard uses his pawns for what they’re worth. Details like color or gender don’t concern him. Of course, we don’t know how Blackbead knows where the map is, which was an example of a plot hole big enough to drive a lawn mower through, but not a whole car.

And worse, I don’t understand the motivation or the payoff. I get that Blackbeard thinks the English are coming in force, and that he thinks he needs an army. I kind of get that he wants to hire mercenaries. But are we expected to believe that this woman, whoever she is, is going to sail to India, recruit an army of Rajput warriors, and return in less than six weeks?

This is a case of the show not knowing what century it’s in. Are the characters going to need brilliant hand-to-hand fighting? Because that would seem to indicate that we’re in the 15th century, before – you know – guns.

Or are we able to sail to India and back in under 6 weeks? Then we must be in the future, because that round trip takes 52 days NOW, and we don’t know when it will ever become possible.

I watched this episode with a friend who’s not the history buff that I am. She loved all the very nice looking men, adored Lowe’s character (he’s a bit too perfect for me, but I’m getting over that), and liked the action and the characters. But even she was confused by Jagger’s plotline.

He grabs the pirate who’s selling the Chronometer to the English. (It’s a copy – but is it a working copy…? Good question that.) But how can he know Finnegan? And how does he know about the man’s family? Did he make a phone call? Because there’s no paper trail. People then had no social security numbers, no income tax records (no income tax) and no birth certificates. It’s a six-week sail across the Atlantic at this time. Once again, the show is rushing us.

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Jagger’s whole plotline is thin, thin, thin, like pirate Finnegan’s reason to go right along with him and be tortured to death, when he clearly has all the advantages going in.

But there were some brilliant lines in this show. Real pirate-speak. “The devil vomits Spaniards.” “I’ll skin you alive and eat your gizzard.” “Being a prisoner liberates you from being free.” Blackbeard gets most of them, of course. John Malkovich is brilliant. No grand gestures are made, no scenery is chewed. When this man says he’ll eat your gizzard, he does it with sincerity.

But the problem here, really, is that the episode feels cut up, something I’ve noticed before. Low’s assumption that Blackbeard plans to attack Jamaica is made on slim evidence. The raid on the Spanish is sketchy, segmented. No link is ever shown between the need for the map and Blackbeard selling a chronometer to the Spanish.

Blackbeard shows up at God-knows-where in Spanish territory, announces that he has a chronometer, that it works, and is handed a king’s ransom in gold. Just for giggles, I did the math. If each of those boxes is full of gold, I calculated a weight of about 8,400 pounds (pounds, folks) of gold. Four tons. The Spanish don’t question, they don’t test the thing (which could take months or years) They don’t ask any questions about who Blackbeard is. They just hand over 4 tons of gold. At today’s prices, that would be $161,280,000. If Blackbeard can pull off scams on this magnitude, why does he bother being a pirate?

I’d even let them get away with it, but it’s so rushed. There’s no trip to the place, no trouble finding the right Spanish official (in the New World mind you, not in Spain) or proving anything. We don’t even get the name of the person Blackbeard does the deal with. It’s as if 45 minutes of the program was just missing.

My friend was pretty confused. I wondered if we’d cut to teasers of next week’s show. Or if this was some kind of flashback. The close of the episode brought me back to real time, but I still wonder what studio decision created this bizarre cut.

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And about those chronometers…. What if they’re bombs?

Just sayin.’

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

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2.5 out of 5