Crossbones: Beggarman Review

NBC's Crossbones had another strong showing this week. Here's our review of the seventh episode...

At last we have the beginning of the Crossbones epic.

Seeing Blackbeard in prison, awaiting hanging, I imagined the demise of the historical pirate. It was one of the most famous battles of its day. Blackbeard — the living man — was truly a legend in his own time.

I envision the scene, a Navy sloop cutting off Blackbeard’s escape to the open sea, crashing into the pirates’ ship. The pirates fighting the navy men hand to hand. Blackbeard is stabbed, shot, and stabbed again. (The real man was wounded 27 times in his final battle.) But he is a force of nature, a giant holding out against the dozens of his enemies, unwilling to admit defeat even against horrible odds. Finally the brave Lieutenant Maynard beats the huge, black-haired pirate to his knees, and a legend gasps his last on the bloody deck.

In the real world, it was Lieutenant Maynard who brought Blackbeard’s career to a close, and in the real world, the navy men cut Blackbeard’s head off, and threw his body into the sea, where it swam 3 times around the navy ship before sinking into the depths. At least that’s what the eyewitnesses said. The head they needed, to collect a bounty offered – illegally –for Blackbeard’s death. Blackbeard died under suspicion of a great deal of mayhem, but the real man was never convicted of anything.

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Crossbones starts with some good old pirate-style melodrama, a flashback that explains the origins of this version of the story.

Though we don’t know yet how Blackbeard’s capture occurred, we get to see him locked up and awaiting trial. He’s a legend, silent and strong-willed. Jagger’s efforts to break his spirit go above and beyond… Jagger was clearly obsessed, even at this early juncture. I can’t imagine why else he would have gone entirely out of his jurisdiction to hunt down Blackbeard’s wife and tell her about her husband’s arrest.

But the resulting drama, even in flashback, is the kind of dark romanticism I associate with pirates and the sea. We see enough, and hear enough of Antoinette’s murder of her children to evoke a gothic madness. Did Blackbeard marry her as a madwoman? Did he drive her insane? Or did she snap from love, lonliness, or some hidden flaw?

We may yet see, and I’d love to know more. The character still lives, and there is yet more story. The timeline of this world says that Jagger is thought by all to have cut off Blackbeard’s head, but that it was a sham, an imposter with good facial hair who lost everything from the neck up. Will we get to see this?

Rose’s letter to the Commodore has surfaced, come to Lowe since Blackbeard lies unconscious and hallucinating, and now Lowe has a new enemy. Nenna, we are all sure, is a match for him.

I like Nenna, and the level of menace she brings with her. I like the fact that Blackbeard and Lowe take her seriously. In previous episodes, she has refused to be spoken down to, and she continues this admirable characteristic when she confronts Lowe and his friends in the street. “I said I don’t play chess, not that I can’t.”

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So when the confrontation turns into intrigue, Lowe needs to show us how clever he can be. His hiding of the letter is all we expect of him, and his plan for incriminating Nenna without giving away the position of the letter is inventive and in character.

But Nenna is his equal, in every way. When she in turn leaves a gristly bit of evidence to incriminate him, she’s only proving that she’s a match for his devious machinations. The pile of gold that she steals from Blackbeard himself will buy her the plantation she desires. But why does she want it so desperately?

I’m wondering if she wants the plantation so she can buy slaves… Family members, perhaps?

The loblolly boy Fletch is now Tim to his friends, and he’s more than the idiot that things have to be explained to. Now he is moving, trying desperately to save his master, to whom he feels a great devotion. Wonder why? That’s one more bit of backstory we may enjoy.

But James Balfour’s suddenly turning against Lowe means that Tim’s efforts look like they’ll be in vain. Of course, Jame blames Lowe for exposing his revolutionary activities, and Lowe has been romancing his wife. James loves Kate, in a weird kind of way, and it’s this kind of twisted relationship that makes for great viewing.

Crossbones is proving itself artful in what to show and what not. Confrontations, flashbacks, the spectator’s faces during Lowe’s lashing. And, very nicely, the scars on Charlie Rider’s own back as he administers the stripes. Lowe hos now, most literally, earned his stripes. He’s one of the pirate club now.

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This was all pretty complicated, but not in a needless way. It was cool. Way back before the show aired, John Malcovich said he took this part because he liked the way the characters interacted. Now we see what he was talking about.

I wonder what the rest of the show would have looked like if large sections hadn’t been cut from previous episodes? It took a while, but Crossbones has finally hit its stride. The characters are all in place, conflicts are many and varied, and the Big Bad is closing in. All there is left is the grand finale, a two-hour special.

I never thought I’d say this, but I can hardly wait!

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3.5 out of 5