Last year, I started watching a pirate show called Black Sails. It quickly became one of my favorite series, and this sunday it aired its final episode. Today I´d like to talk about the show in general and give my thoughts on the finale, as this is definitely a show worth checking out.
Always looking for new historical shows and with a slight fascination for pirates born out of growing up with the Pirates-franchise, I had my eye on Black Sails for a while. When it showed up on Netflix a friend made me watch the first episode to see the amazing opening sequence, and I was hooked.
What is ‘Black Sails’?
It’s a prequel to Treasure Island! Taking place about 20 years earlier, it features characters from the novel paired with original characters and historical pirates, like Jack Rackham (the guy who had *the* pirate flag) and the notorious female pirate Anne Bonny. The story starts with Captain Flint hunting a Spanish treasure gallion and John Silver stealing information about the gallion, bringing the two together on the mission. More and more characters get involved with the treasure hunt until we have a web of alliances, relationships and naval politics decorated with swordfights and exotic locations.
If I had to describe the show in a sentence, I’d probably call it pirate Game of Thrones; a story with multiple storylines, lots of intrigue and yes, a fair share of violence. But there are plenty of things to set it apart. For starters, BS is not a fantasy story and its characters all know and interact with each other because the story is centered around one town (Nassau in the Bahama’s). The violence and nudity are definitely there, but not always as extreme as GoT and usually not *that* gratuitous (although I’m sure this is a topic on which opinions can differ wildly). Also, while it’s not a happy show at all, I never found it as depressing as GoT, mainly because there are no children in mortal danger and because scenes are often shot on pretty tropical beaches instead of rooms with only one candle in them. It’s good to have an intense show that doesn’t go too dark in every other episode. Overall, BS is just really good television; it’s not lighthearted, it’s not perfect, it’s not for everyone, but I think it’s qualitatively one of the best shows out there. It’s not completely historically accurate, but as far as I’m concerned it doesn’t have to be; the themes and issues of the time are portrayed quite well. It doesn’t shy away from all the horrible stuff that went down in colonial times, but ‘historical accuracy’ doesn’t stand in the way of women or other marginalized groups becoming important to the story and wielding significant power. There’s also attention for the Enlightenment ideals of those days, with an important plot being the wish to pardon the pirates and allow them to build better lives for themselves.
But there’s more to say about this show. One of the things that I (and many fans with me) love, is how progressive Black Sails is. Many of its main characters are women and/or LGBT, and their struggles are, despite a setback here or there, portrayed with care. While violence and physical strength are important in the show, there’s attention for smart plotting and forging alliances as well; not everything is solved by being an ‘alpha male’, so to speak. The characters are diverse, get good arcs and motivations and have many layers to them. They are strong and vulnerable, selfish and altruistic at the same time and are portrayed by great actors. The only thing not everyone might like is that none of the main characters is truly a hero to root for; they’re all varying degrees of selfish and morally gray. This means that we are supposed to root for people that we know we’re not really supposed to root for, and sometimes it gets a bit awkward to see a violent pirate talk about how awful the English are. I mean, not that they’re perfect, but you just killed some poor soldier, buddy. At least Black Sails doesn’t necessarily glorify piracy either. Within these moral confines our pirates are usually loyal to their friends and not as bad as some other pirates, but they don’t go around saving the innocent. They go around finding money, glory, and everyone’s favorite abstract treasure: freedom. The freedom to sail a ship for the rest of your life? The freedom to be gay in the 18th century? The freedom to be a woman and run your own business? Take your pick, some character is probably going to fight for it and give a poetic monologue about the importance of their goals.
TLDR; if you like pirates, intrigue and intricate storylines, check this show out!
And now, for those who have already seen it: my (spoilery) thoughts on the finale.
And what a finale it was- I loved it! I was really, really happy with how they wrapped things up. There were so many characters I expected to die, and they all lived! For example, when the big battle happened on Rogers’ boat, I was scared we’d lose Jack Rackham, but he lived! But there was still half an episode left, so I feared again, but suddenly he turns up in Philadelphia and is united with Anne Bonny? I was overjoyed. And even though both Jack and Max didn’t hold up their end of the deal with mrs. Guthrie, everything worked out and Nassau has finally stabilized? Awesome. The only complaints I have is that Eleanor wasn’t there to see it and that Billy had to have his fall from grace to match with the book. Eleanor could have lived, and even though Billy had to end up like this, I thought his downward spiral should have started a bit earlier, as his development in season 4 did feel a bit abrupt. And it’s pretty sad that the guy destined to be a paranoid alcoholic started out as one of the sanest and best liked people on the show. It’s a pity that two of my favorite characters drew the short stick this season, but I’m genuinely happy with how the rest ended up and I’m happy Black Sails gave us a satisfactory ending when they could’ve given us something sad as well. This was definitely a worthy finale and I’m happy to have been here for the ride.
Closing remarks on the finale:
- They gave us Mary Read, oh my god. I was wondering if they’d ever introduce the *other* female pirate, and even if it was literally last minute, she was there and I fistpumped.
- Featherstone became governor, aww.
- Anne was kind of adorable in her blanket? It’s still amazing how one of the hardest characters was also one of the most vulnerable.
- Bringing back Thomas Hamilton was such a good move, A+ handling of storylines.
- The Jolly Roger flag finally made an appearance!
(Images via Starz)