Crossbones: The Covenant Review

After a shaky start, Crossbones finds its sea legs a little in episode number two. Here's our review.

Crossbones comes on strong with its second episode. A flash of a ship, pirate politics, a damn good fight, and not quite so much sneaking around. It’s a little more pirate-like (still not enough.)  But seeing the reason behind some of these goings-on gives me a much better handle on the show’s characters.

We open with a short summary, followed by a brief flash of hooded men on a ship.

Cut to Blackbeard and Selima. It seems that this woman – the mathematician, the one who nearly let Blackbeard die in the previous episode, is the object of Blackbeard’s affection. He pursues her. She gives him advice.

If the chronometer was a little unbelievable before, though, we now have a submarine. A submarine with a blindfolded Spanish passenger. This Spaniard showed up last time to give Lowe an excuse to save Blackbeard’s life. Now it seems that this mysterious figure will be a season-long mystery. I’m willing to accept this, but please lay off the submarine.

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The fellow in the hood is Sam Valentine, another pirate captain. Valentine says he used to “love” Blackbeard, calls him Eddie (Edward Teach) and feels free to tell stories about him. But it’s not logical. If Valentine was Eddie’s old friend, he turns on him far to fast.  These two ought to be plotting together, discussing, talking of old times, and drinking much rum. Instead we get a simple statement of Blackbeard’s plan (Not too stupid. Not really based in the real world, either, but not entirely stupid) and Valentine just gives a flat “no” with no further discussion, and no negotiation.

Now, it’s clear that there is a little envy here. Valentine says of Blackbeard’s kingdom “I thought it would be bigger.” He hands out some shit about how Blackbeard just decided to call himself “Commodore” and later tells some stories about his host’s previous behavior.

The story he’s improvising from has been written so often that people watching may already know it. In the original tale, Blackbeard accidently shoots his faithful second-in-command, Israel Hands, and when Hands complains, says something along the lines of “If I don’t shoot one of you now and again, you’ll forget who I am.” Except in Valentine’s version Blackbeard was already in the process of killing another member of his crew in cold blood when he wounds Hands, and upon hearing Hands’ complaint, Blackbeard shoots him in the head before uttering the famous line.

In short, Valentine’s rage that his old friend has made himself a king is palpable. Once again, though, it’s done without any warmth. If these two were such good friends once, why did Valentine change? For, though the story is supposed to show the rage that Valentine has for his friend Eddie’s high-handed behavior, it also shows that Blackbeard was always like this. So what’s the big deal all of a sudden?

Plotline two involves Lowe and the former Jacobite James Balfour (Peter Stebbings). Yes, there was a Jacobite uprising (neatly summed up by Lowe as “You thought the wrong king was on the throne.) And backing the wrong king explains why, when the “right” king won, people like Balfour were jailed and tortured. And it makes sense that his wife Kate (Claire Foy) would do anything to get him out… But Kate, you didn’t “Give up everything, even (your) country” for your husband. He pretty much took care of that himself when he backed the wrong side in the fight between kings.

It’s good to have this explanation, though, and good to watch Kate, the sensualist, beg Lowe, whom she has the hots for, to help her husband, literally, get back on his feet. That’s unlikely to happen (though this is fiction, and I wouldn’t rule it out.) No, Lowe gives James a pep talk, and he invalid man doesn’t show a huge change in attitude, when his wife gives him enough encouragement, he does return her affection.

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I like the fight between Blackbeard and his three would-be assassins. The organization of it worked for me, and using the heavy brass bell as a weapon was appropriate and innovative. I also liked the small bit of throwing the bones, as the only things available. If only this had been a movie, or Malkovich was a better combat actor. In spite of the emphatic sound effects, some of the punches were too obviously pulled. With more filming time, they might have gotten it better.

I like the outcome of the fight even better, though it’s a shame the writers felt the need to get Lowe involved. Still, I understand it. If they had only put Valentine on the scaffold, the audience wouldn’t have been nearly so emotionally involved.

Yes, Blackbeard is a real bastard, slippery as a snake, and willing to do anything to get his way. Robbery, murder, torture, killing an old friend, it’s all just part of the day’s work. This is in the best fictional tradition of Blackbeard. Not true, of course, but in the tradition, which I respect. So I’m enjoying this a little more, and looking forward to the next one.

Bonus Feature:

This is really historically accurate, right?

Well, a little. Obviously, by 1729 Blackbeard was long dead. And people were a long, long way from inventing the submarine. But some other things have been nagging me, and I’d like to share.

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First, when I heard the name “Sam” I was really hoping it was Blackbeard’s historically accurate friend, Sam Bellamy. Bellamy died in 1717, but that never stopped a writer yet. I wonder if the writers originally wanted it to be Bellamy, and changed their minds. “Black Sam” was a real fanatic on the subject of democracy. He even cut the tall quarterdeck off his ship, so he would not stand higher than the men he captained.

But such a historical figure would have to put up more of a fight than our man Valentine.

Next: If you don’t break your neck when you’re hanged, it does not take “days” to strangle. Twenty minutes is about average. I can’t quite imagine why they wrote Valentine hanging there, alive, except to give Lowe an excuse to shoot him. I hope they make something out of it.

But the means of hanging, the low scaffold, with a stool under the feet that gets kicked out, is pretty accurate. Bravo for that.

Some excuse is given for why the chronometer will end piracy, and that’s a good thing. If sailors now exactly where they are, it’s said, they won’t follow the trade routes, and pirates won’t know where to find them. But trade routes weren’t only used because navigation was so far from exact. Sailing ships were dependent on wind and water, and trade routes followed the places where currents and winds made the ship go in the direction the crew wanted her to. We still have trade routes today, for the same reason. So that’s for the effort, but no, that’s not true.

And lastly “Commodore” is a ridiculous title for Blackbeard to have chosen for himself. A commodore is the man in charge of a flotilla of ships. Most good pirate captains were commodores of at least a small flotilla at one time or another, as they captured ships and held them for a while. But it’s a temporary rank, and it’s no big deal. “Prince” “commander,” even “president” would have been more sensible.

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And last, while not historically wrong, a pretty good piece of the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack shows up during the brothel scene. Wonder what they paid Disney for that?

Or did they just pirate it?

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3 out of 5