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Black Sails Enters the End Game

Bo

Bo

Bo relaxes after long days of staring at computers by staring at computers some more, and hopes some day to attract a woman as amazing as Kim Wexler.
Bo

It finally happened, everyone. After last week’s set up, Black Sails has moved all its pieces into position. I’m not ready. Whatever reservations this season has given me, Black Sails has delivered a wonderful final season so far and I’m not ready to watch such a spectacular show sail off into the sunset. At the same time, I’m glad to see Black Sails go out on top. Most shows don’t get the chance.

“XXXVI” delivered yet another tense, enthralling, and fantastic episode. Let’s take a look at what happened and what it all meant.

Spoilers for 4×08 “XXXVI” and Treasure Island below

Recap

Fittingly, Black Sails starts off this week in the black of night. Woodes Rogers rides to a house somewhere on Nassau and finds a secret basement. He takes a journal from a stack and returns to Nassau. After fake shooting Billy, Billy says the journals belonged to Henry Avery. The house belonged to Gates, and Billy laments what happened to Gates while suggesting what happened to him proves Flint and Silver will split.

They retrieved the journal in order to know the location of Skeleton Island. Rogers and Billy plan to lead Flint and Silver there for the Madi exchange.

Flint initiates a plan of his own, using Kofi and a few others to rescue Madi. He explains the plan to Silver, who questioned him and again questions him about what comes of their war. After taking Nassau before he saw only bad, but questions whether the pirates are capable of something better. Flint says that he has to believe in something better, and that Silver and Madi are the crucial aspect of something better.

Up in snowy Philadelphia, Max changes Anne’s dressings. She expresses optimism about her dealings with Grandma Guthrie and sees a bright future for them. Anne interrupts to dismiss this future. Whatever “us” once existed was broken and can’t be put together again. Idelle comes in and Anne asks for something from her.

Back in Nassau, Rogers shows up late to a suspended Council meeting. A lone adviser still waiting warns him that the Council is losing faith in him. He reveals his knowledge of the Madi deal. Rogers blows off his concerns and asserts the threat of the pirates. The adviser says fighting pirates is not his concern, rebuilding Nassau is. If Rogers keeps fighting pirates the others will rebel.

Meanwhile Mrs. Hudson packs away Eleanor’s belongings. She finds and begins reading a part of her journal, which talks about fearing for Rogers and a desire to protect him. Rogers interrupts her. He tells her to ready his things before he sails at dawn. The pirates find him aboard his ship the next day. He has Kofi and the others captured, and along with Madi brings them on deck.

After Rogers shoots Kofi, Flint gives an order to ready the cannons but Silver overrides him and orders the treasure brought on deck. The chest is opened and displayed before Rogers shoots Madi. The governor has her escorted below deck and readies to sail while Flint walks angrily away from Silver.

Mrs. Hudson has a plan of her own. She visits Mrs. Mapleton at the Nassau brothel to express fear of Rogers and tell an idea to get Mapleton back on the Nassau Council. Mrs. Hudson wants to turn states (sorry, give info) to help her do so. In exchange she wants to return to London as Eleanor promised. Mrs. Mapleton returns to her office where Jack and Featherstone wait, now able to tell them where Rogers and Flint sailed to.

Which we then see they are currently sailing to. De Groot explains their course to Ben Gunn. He confirms the Skeleton Island destination and delivers some creepy exposition about it. Down in the captain’s quarters, Silver and Flint argue about the exchange. Silver insists Madi is more important than the treasure, while Flint argues that Julius can now destroy their war. Silver reminds Flint of his unquestioning loyalty and asks for the same in return. Flint claims this loyalty.

He’s not the only pirate having a rough time of things. Anne tries to cut a slice of bread off a loaf but her hands remain too weak. Idelle walks in with a list of ships currently in port and taking on passengers that Anne requested. Anne plans to leave. Idelle talks about Anne’s murder of Charlotte in season 2 and how Max was the only reason Idelle did not hire someone to kill her in return. She tries to convince Anne to stay for Max.

Max is busy herself. She rides with Grandma Guthrie, but their expected plans have changed. They walk together at the docks, where Grandma Guthrie tests her with another anecdote, this one involving pirates nearby and the ways the colony benefits from them. Grandma Guthrie asks about Eleanor and laments never getting a chance to groom her. Grooming Max instead provides some comfort.

Later that night, she brings Max to a party. She describes an unremarkable nobleman she wishes Max to marry and the benefits of doing so. He would be the figurehead Max controls in Nassau. Any concerns about marriage obligations can be settled easily. If Max wants to run Nassau, she only has to agree to marry him, or someone like him.

Meanwhile, her partners (Jack and Featherstone) discuss an old man who can lead them to Skeleton Island.  Featherstone suggests letting Rogers take care of Flint. Jack refuses because both his concerns, as well as his treasure, are on the island. Back on the Walrus, Hands tries to convince Silver to kill Flint. Silver refuses and believes Flint will stay loyal. He warns Hands that he will answer for any harm that comes to Flint.

We catch up one last time with Max, who sits outside in the snow. Anne joins her and finds out about Grandma Guthrie’s support. Max tells Anne she turned down the marriage offer. Anne responds badly to the marriage offer, but not so much when told it would be superficial. Max explains the denial as a lesson from Eleanor. She spent years trying to learn from Eleanor’s mistakes, and believes the deal to give up Nassau was one last lesson.

Max risked Nassau because she does not want to risk losing Anne, and thinks she’s more important. Anne offers a hand and Max takes it.

Okay, time for the finale.

As the Walrus approaches Skeleton Island, a flashback shows Flint tell a scary story to Dooley about Avery finding it and a ship already there. The truth of the story is irrelevant. The point is about the fame and fear of the story. He convinces Dooley to be his new partner. They attack the treasure’s guard and prepare to move it. Hands stops the guard from shooting Flint but lets them take the chest. He wants Silver to see the truth of Flint.

The next day, Hands and Silver watch Flint come ashore with the treasure. Silver goes to Rogers and tells him what happened. He also tells him that he sent six men, who we see, after Flint to bring back the treasure, and also tells Rogers they were ordered to kill Flint.

Why do I have to wait another week?!

Review

No, seriously, how am I supposed to wait another week for this?

Since the moment James Flint stepped on screen with a plan to rob a Spanish galleon of its gold, anyone who has read Treasure Island knew this was coming. He would end up with a single chest of treasure, take it to Skeleton Island, and bury it there. The 6 men sent to retrieve the treasure will fail, whether they kill Flint or not. Of those 6 men, only Hands is (probably) guaranteed to survive.

All that’s left is the how. I cannot wait to see the how.

For the first time, however, I think Black Sails suffered from having to tie back in to Treasure Island. Not much—the rationalization for how and why things ended up this way worked well. What I do think happened is that the characters made decisions based on what that book says they will do, rather than what made perfect sense for their characters. I can imagine many seeing watching this episode and questioning why Rogers, Flint, and Israel Hands made the decisions they did.

Those questions were handled skillfully, though.

Flint and Silver may have grown close, but season 3 foreshadowed their eventual split and the past few episodes have done a great deal to fracture their partnership. The Madi issue was the final, logical straw separating them for good. John Silver has always been a selfish man. He has never cared for piracy or Flint’s war. The decision between them and Madi was never any decision at all.

Flint is an equally selfish man, uncaring for anything besides his own personal revenge against England in the name of Thomas Hamilton. His position may seem more selfless and noble, but he has always been focused solely on his own goals at the expense of everyone around him. If you stand in his way, he will turn on you. He has done so time and again. And he did so here.

Flint and Silver are two charismatic, willful, and selfish men who managed to somehow keep their goals aligned for nearly 4 seasons. Both had perfectly understandable reasons to split now. I can easily defend both of them. This split was always going to occur, though, and it was always going to be depressing to watch these two men take opposing sides of this final conflict. Both Toby Stephens and Luke Arnold sold the rift remarkably well.

With two episodes left, all that’s left to question is how exactly this conflict matches up with the known end result. How does Flint hide this treasure where no one can find it? Does he die here or manage to escape? A popular theory immediately spreading among the fans is the idea that Silver did not order Flint’s death, or at least told Hands not to kill him. Perhaps Silver will leave Flint stranded instead.

Or maybe Flint somehow escapes all of this in order to leave the clues Silver later follows back to the treasure in Treasure Island.

We may know the ultimate end result here, but even now it’s hard to know how Black Sails will reach that result. And we still don’t know what will happen with everything else happening on this sprawling show. Namely, what will happen with everyone else on Skeleton Island not actively hunting Flint.

For anyone who worried the politically heavy focus of the past two seasons meant Black Sails couldn’t give audiences a good old-fashioned pirate adventure, “XXXVI” proved they still had the touch. This episode reminded me specifically of a season 1 episode. Flint and company chasing a foe at sea, the focus on treasure, the spooky island, it was a wonderful callback to Black Sails’s origins. I know some fans missed episodes like this among all the politics of the revolution against Woodes Rogers.

And Skeleton Island more than delivered. In an episode full of highs, I’m not sure I enjoyed anything more than the build-up and eventual reveal of the island where Flint buries his treasure. In particular, his story to draw Dooley to his side perfectly established the island as a source of madness and violence. Toby Stephens had a fantastic episode here; his hope while defending his plan, his hurt when the chest is revealed, and the despair in his later argument with Silver were fantastic.

Nothing topped the silver tongue he displayed while telling the “history” of Skeleton Island. If anyone needed a reminder of James Flint’s charisma, look no further. It was one last, defiant act of guile from a brilliant main character, and one establishing just why the pirates and Rogers will likely end up exchanging blows one last time on this “cursed” island. Jack needs Flint and Rogers gone. Rogers needs the pirates gone. The pirates will be influenced by the tales of Skeleton Island. It’s a recipe for violence.

(I really want to feel more confident about Jack’s odds here. I want to believe he will arrive when the battle is underway and that Flint will already be dealt with, leaving only Rogers to deal with. At best I feel about the same. Maybe knowing his chances of survival didn’t decrease is enough.)

Everyone is in place and ready for their final fates, both on and off Skeleton Island.

I was very grateful for the focus Black Sails gave Max and Anne this week. With both far removed from the conflict on Skeleton Island, I worried we might not see much of them in these final episodes. I’m still slightly worried, because this episode felt almost like closure for them both. Max has chosen Anne over Nassau. Anne has accepted this choice. I’m all full of warm, fuzzy feelings and my cheeks are redder than Anne’s hair.

The last two episodes still have plenty to cover with these two, though. And it will probably rip my happy feelings to shreds. How will Grandma Guthrie respond to Max’s choice? Her feelings of Max replacing a lost chance to tutor Eleanor will not simply disappear, and she will not be willing to simply let Max walk anymore. Is Jack now trying to kill Flint for nothing? Will Max and Anne now have to run to escape imprisonment for piracy? No, these two are far from done.

In fact, this episode lent credence to the theory of Max “filling in” as the Mary Read of this story. If Grandma Guthrie decides to imprison Anne as a pirate and Max sticks by her, perhaps things play out that way.

I also have my reservations about Max’s willingness to cast aside Nassau for Anne. I don’t doubt her feelings, but I’m not sure her choice here fits her decisions and character to this point. Especially when she claims the choice was a lesson learned from Eleanor. Eleanor Guthrie died after choosing love. Are we supposed to assume the same will happen to Max? And what exactly happened to revenge for Eleanor’s death? I suppose as tempers calm she can think again with a clearer head, but Eleanor’s death is still so fresh.

Speaking of, Black Sails managed yet again to straddle a thin line between justifying Eleanor’s death and making it feel worse. Max replacing Eleanor in her grandmother’s eyes is certainly a fascinating idea I’ve enjoyed watching, but I still think it preferable to see Eleanor doing this with Max’s help. Having Eleanor here would also make Max’s decision to choose Anne over Nassau a little more understandable. I’m not sure how much longer Black Sails can manage this balance. Maybe they keep it up all the way through.

Whatever happens, Anne will most certainly stick with Max to the end, be it bitter or sweet. Their reconciliation was an absolutely gorgeous scene, even if I still fear every second for their eventual fate. In the end, I just want them to be happy. I hope they get to be happy. And I want Jack to be there with them.

Not just emotionally, this scene was visually beautiful.

Hey, I doubt Black Sails will provide much in the way of happy endings for its characters. I’ll take whatever I can get. Miserable or not, though, Black Sails continues to navigate excellently towards its final moments.


Images Courtesy of Starz
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  • Sterenn

    Nice review, as usual 🙂

    Though I’m curious about your opinion on one thing that has really been bothering me in season 4: the inconsistent timeline.
    HOW is it possible for Jack to sail all the way to Philly and back in the space of what looked to me like 3 days (4 tops)? I’ve watched episodes 7-8 a couple of times each to make sure, and no matter how hard I tried to make sense of the timeline, it only burned a giant hole into my suspension of disbelief, reminding me painfully of Varys Marx and Batfinger’s teleportation feats (yeah, I’m a fervent reader of Julie’s).

    No, but seriously: Jack himself says in one of those eps (408, I think) that their sloop “can barely sail”. According to my modest research, Philadelphia is about 960 nautical miles away from Nassau, a voyage that would take 4 days with a speed of 10 knots, which is apparently the speed a 18th century sloop in good shape could reach with favorable conditions all around. And even then, that’s the ship top speed, not the one she would be able to maintain for the whole duration of such a long voyage. So even assuming that “a ship that can barely sail” miraculously manages to maintain a speed of 10 knots for more than 900 miles, the voyage from Nassau to Philly could not have taken less than 4 days.

    And yet, the Philadelphia storyline seems to take place at the same time as the others. After 407, I managed to draw up a timeline that satisfied me, allowing that the events in Philadelphia were taking place several days after those occurring in Nassau and at the Maroon camp (which is apparently located between half a day and a day away from New Providence). But 408 gunned down that admittedly honeypot-ish logic, since we were shown Jack and Featherstone being already back in Nassau and plotting away after what seemed like a grand total of 3 days after they left.

    Sorry for rambling, but I’d really like other fans’ opinions on that one. Maybe I’m being nitpicky, but as Julia and Kylie and several others on this amazing website pointed out before, timelines and world-building logic matter.
    Black Sails has been my favourite show since it started, and I’m quite a bit disappointed by the way they are handling the timeline this season. (Don’t get me started on “the 24th”, aka the longest day ever into which the writers managed to cram no less than three and a half episodes… I suppose it could still realistically happen but the Nassau-Philly teleportation was just… ANYWAY.)
    I just have trouble reconciling myself with the fact that a show that is otherwise insanely good with details and character development could be so sloppy on some other important levels.
    Okay, I’m done for now 🙂

    • Bo

      I don’t remember how far away the Maroon Island is from Nassau. I suppose knowing that would help a lot in determining the timeline.

      I honestly haven’t paid enough attention to the time they are saying passes between all of this.

    • Bo

      I honestly have no idea what time the show claims to have passed since they left Nassau.

      It probably isn’t that difficult to assume that once they reached the island, Flint and Silver spent some time on the island before the ransom note for Madi arrived. And we know Jack left Philadelphia within a day of arriving. I think it works, though there may be something I’m forgetting that blows the timeline up. In order to work, we would need something saying Flint and Silver were not on Maroon Island for more than 3-4 days.

  • Sterenn

    Oh no, was my comment deleted? Did I say something wrong?

    • Bo

      Looks like it’s here now. Not sure what happened.

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