Crossbones: The Return review

The latest episode of Crossbones is full of solid performances and writing, and even a vision or two. Here's our review...

After the confusing ending of the previous episode, Crossbones starts with a confusing beginning – a flashback, I assume, of Jagger waterboarding Blackbeard’s mystery woman, whose name appears to be Antoinette.

And a flash forward of Lowe running from the British, carrying something.

But I’m more in charity with Crossbones this week. It gets underway with a lovely conversation in which Lowe tries to convince Blackbeard to let the physician drill a hole in his head. Lowe wants to go to Jamaica, and Blackbeard needs that like he needs…another hole in his head.

Lowe’s theory (assumed mostly to get him to Jamaica) that Blackbeard has pressure on his brain is in perfect keeping with the medicine of the time. As a student of the era, I have my own theory. Blackbeard’s symptoms are those of a person with late-stage syphilis. The medicine of the time could drive off the symptoms, but the disease still lay in the victim’s body, slowly working on the nervous system. The patient eventually had holes in his brain, leading to some mighty peculiar symptoms.

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It’s 1729 in Crossbones, which makes it 10 years since Blackbeard blockaded Charlestown in order to get the medicines used to treat syphilis. 10 years would be about right, don’t you think?

But that’s neither here nor there. This week, witty dialogue drives the show. Blackbeard confronts Selima. Rose the whore teases Nenna. Nenna confronts one more white man who underestimates her. And in a rousing great roar of passion, Lowe tells Kate how he feels about her.

They’re an eloquent bunch this week. The dialogue man must be sober.

We’ve got some lovely visual moments in this episode. Kate and her husband in bed. Blackbeard’s ship – the Petrel, with Lowe in her – heading alone to Jamaica. The sea, the sky. Blood spreading like a filmy cape through the water. This is a little more what I had hoped for in a show about pirates.

So what’s the conflict here? When Lowe tricks his way back to Jamaica and reports to Jagger, he needs to explain Blackbeard’s community of outlaws. Here the acting is prime. Richard Coyle shows how Lowe is feeling. The affection he has for Blackbeard and Blackbeard’s pirate island is evident in every line, every breath. And it’s also nice to see the show admit that there are a lot of contradictions in the pirate’s hidden island. Now it feels a little more like the vagrancies of human nature, and less like bad script writing.

Lowe’s character would even let us believe that he might actually sell out the pirates, which makes the following fistfight even more satisfying. Lowe’s stabbed again – he gets hurt a lot, though he never stays that way for more than one episode. But that’s just TV.

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Crossbones is a show of believable personal issues, a welcome change from all the insanity. Kate has to deal with the fact that she’s being unfaithful to her husband, and their evasive, issue-filled pillow talk makes a fitting coda to their beautiful love scene.

Selima’s conflict seems a little more contrived. I’ve never quite believed in her fear of leaving Blackbeard’s home; it felt manufactured. So now it’s something for her to overcome, while others in the show are having similar struggles. Her trip outside also provides a chance for a meaningful glance with Charlie Rider.

I wish Charlie had a chance to do more. I like his looks, I like his name, I like his pirate attitude I’ll keep my hopes up, though. If the show can turn around this fast, anything can happen.

As usual, the star earns his keep. Blackbeard’s belief in his own mortality ups the ante in an unusual way. Thanks to Lowe and Fletch’s discovery of the cave full of gunpowder, we know that Blackbeard can destroy the whole town if he sees fit. And he’s still a madman, even as he makes preparations for a possible change of leadership.

Of course, it can’t be perfect. It’s Crossbones, so there’s got to be one solid plot-hole. And this week’s winner is…Nenna’s treasure, which gets stolen by Rose (in a deliciously teasing persuasion-and-pressure scene that gives us our required dose of interracial lesbian sex.) We see the bag carried in and handed over (kind of a light bag, but I can forgive). We see Nenna leave to do Blackbeard’s bidding, which involves sailing to Jamaica.

And then Nenna has the treasure again, and she has somehow found a real estate agent (that was quick) in Jamaica and is buying a plantation. I like the historical accuracy of the agent’s casual remark, “You’ll need a white man to run it for you.” We need to remember how things were back in the day, so we can remember to make sure they never get like that again.

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But why does she then loses her temper over a perfectly reasonable offer to help her read the documents? After all, back in the day, even white men had only a 30% literacy rate. So it’s sloppy storytelling for this to inspire her (eloquent) attack and declaration of purpose.

It does work, though. I want to know what she’s going to do with the plantation.

We end, of course, with Malkovich. He’s harboring a hairy scholar in a cave, trying to persuade this fellow to make…something. The glass balls are old fishing-net floats, but I suppose a lot of people won’t recognize them. They do look a little menacing when Malkovich is swinging them around.

The closure comes with Blackbeard’s now-familiar visions.  This time we get them courtesy of opium – the mystery woman, looking well, with a baby in her arms. Blackbeard spews up an ocean. And then he wakes to the sound of a baby crying.

Maybe he’s figured it out.

Keep up with all our Crossbones coverage right here

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3 out of 5