Crossbones: The Man Who Killed Blackbeard review

A pirates life might be for me, but this week's Crossbones sure isn't. Check out our pirate expert's review.

God, that was a mess. I love pirates, but even love will only take you so far. Here we are with episode three of NBC’s Crossbones. We begin with Blackbeard thinking. He’s got a lot to think about.

Of course, it was a great move to stage his own attempted assassination in order to convince his “subjects” that they want to kill, in his name, the man he wants dead. It’s not a bad idea. This is the way a real pirate does things, through manipulation of allies, not with brute force. The elegant finesse speaks much more to the legend than mass murder.

But the business of the first child born to Blackbeard’s “people” is just preposterous. 

Blackbeard didn’t grow all the folks on this island from seeds. Real pirates acquired followers as they went along. And those people will have been mating, breeding and dying all this time. “Our first” makes for a great symbol, but it Blackbeard’s been hiding out for 15 years, how could this possibly be the first child? Sponges dipped in vinegar aren’t THAT reliable as birth control.

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Lowe and Kate did get together, I was hoping that it would spin out into a little more romantic tension. I can only hope that the triangle between Kate, Lowe, and James will provide a little drama.

Kate’s minor trading mission is a good way to show how vulnerable the island is, but I wonder why they bother to do it on such a tiny scale. An island this size doesn’t need fruit, or meat, or vegetables. It needs flour and gunpowder and iron. Wouldn’t it have made a lot more sense to have a big drama over an effort to trade for a year’s supply of gunpowder? But it doesn’t really matter, it’s just an excuse to get her captured.

If Jagger is looking so hard for pirates, and he’s so close, it’s also amazing that she hasn’t been caught before.

TV has the need for speed, and the way the story unfolds is not really in keeping with the times. Islands, even close islands, were days or weeks apart, and all travel was dependent on the wind. The whole pace of this episode feels frantic. Watching the Navy ship cut through the water like a speedboat was almost a metaphor for the way the show unfolds.

The logic of evacuating the whole island is dim, modern thinking, so out-of-keeping with either the truth or the legend of pirates. Why? What are the authorities going to accuse these people of? Trading with a former pirate? Because Blackbeard obviously hasn’t robbed anyone in a while.  How are they even going to prove Blackbeard is Blackbeard? The beard is gone. (In fact, some people say that’s why the real man grew a beard in the first place… So he could shave it off later and retire in peace.) We’ve seen no incriminating pirate ship. There’s simply no reason for these people to evacuate. And how are they going to do it? Where are the boats?

The idea that a newborn baby might give the hiding people away is possibly the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard, even on TV. My God, what are the redcoats going to think? “Hark! I hear a baby crying, it must be Blackbeard!”

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Or are they just going to kill everyone on the basis that they may have known the pirate? Think about that for a minute.

What they’ve got right is Blackbeard’s speech about money in the new world. “Money trumps everything, Money trumps God.” It’s true, and it was true. The historic Blackbeard retired on the strength of it, though the people (rich, important people) that he settled down with knew who he was.

Why, oh why is this happening? Money trumps all in the New World. Blackbeard is officially dead. Why is Jagger still chasing him? Jagger’s fortune rides on the fact that he’s the man who killed Blackbeard. He has nothing to gain and everything to lose. And why is anyone helping him? Somebody’s tax dollars have to pay for this, and there are plenty of live pirates still running around. Someone must notice this mad behavior.

The way that the pirates lure Jagger away is kind of okay, but once again,  in the details, it makes no sense. Why would a pirate fleeing for his life in a tiny little boat insist on flying a huge pirate flag? And this one is such a easy fix. Two lines of dialogue… “I can’t believe his ego is so swollen…” but no, they had to act like this was normal.

Kate’s rescue is okay. John Malkovich as action hero works pretty well. The story gives us a good reason to hate the so-called forces of law and order, and the addendum at the end even makes Blackbeard sympathetic. I just wish some tiny bit of the plot made sense.

Things they got right:

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– The moment of horror when Lowe says he’s never delivered a baby, but he’s read about it in a book.

– The character of the pirate woman Nenna. She’s a pirate, and she acts like a pirate. And if she’s been stealing from other pirates, she’s actually got a reason to bury some treasure.

– Rider’s bare back, with the old whip marks. Nice touch.

– Blackbeard’s clothes when he heads out to rescue Kate. The coat looks suitably serious, and in character, and the gold-trimmed lace at the throat is Malkovich’s style.

– The boats. Oh, not the Navy ship dashing along all contrary to the wind and carrying a hundred guns. Just for the record – and the Royal Navy makes it really easy to look this stuff up – there was only 1 British ship of 100 guns in this time period, and she was The Royal Sovereign an Admiral’s flagship.

But the little for-and-aft rigged vessel (the Reever I believe she is) that Blackbeard goes after Kate in is just a charming vessel, and very much a true pirate-type ship. Yes, folks, that’s what the real ones sailed. Small, fast, and maneuverable. Furthermore, boats on this scale don’t have to be CG’d. They’re authentic and pretty.

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But saying that this is what’s right about this episode is like saying that Red Lobster makes great cheese biscuits. You don’t go out to eat biscuits, and I don’t watch a pirate show to see a boat and a coat and some scars on a man’s back. I want vivid characters and colorful scenery and a plot that makes me wonder what will happen next, not shout “WTF?”

Part of the way a TV drama lure us to love it is by showing the characters in vulnerable situations. Walter White, standing in the middle of the road in his underwear, waving a gun comes to mind. I haven’t seen this here. Lowe is superman… he can do anything, even deliver a breech baby with no experience or appropriate medical instruments. Blackbeard is… Well, Blackbeard. Who do we cheer for? Who needs cheering for? I’ll watch the next one, but only to see what insanity materializes next.

Shall I give it 2 stars? Was it raised to the level of 2 stars by Malkovich’s coat? No, I think not.

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1.5 out of 5