Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Black Sails Kicks off Season 4 Strongly

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Hopefully by now we have made clear why you should watch Black Sails. It really ticks off all the boxes we love. The amazing cast is strongly developed. A diverse cast of women feature prominently. All the development fits perfectly within established characterization. The plot twists and turns in an organic manner entirely consistent with the circumstances these characters find themselves in. There are bisexual pirates everywhere.

After a rough but solid first season, the second and third seasons delivered some of the best TV in recent years. We here at The Fandomentals had high expectations going into Black Sails’s fourth and final season.

Thankfully, if any of us somehow forgot why we loved this terrific show, boy oh boy did this premiere serve as a great reminder.

black sails silver and madi

Black Sails wastes no time jumping into the fight set up at the end of season 3. The premiere opens onto carnage. Bodies sink beneath the water alongside wreckage from a ship. Among all this is one John Silver, his peg leg stuck to some broken rigging and dragging him into the depths. Whaaaaat? Okay, we all know such an important character won’t die here. Still, the scenario is plenty surprising enough to remain effective.

Captain Flint monologues over the scene, quoting Genesis 25:23:

“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”

The episode cuts to an earlier moment where Flint and Silver talk alone in Flint’s cabin. As he finally nears the goal he has worked so hard to accomplish, Flint’s paranoia has only increased. He talks about the army he has gathered, how just about every one of them has wanted the person next to them dead at some point, and how they’ve all also wanted him personally dead at some point.

It’s no surprise that he worries about this; the first episode of Black Sails sees him fight off a mutiny and he has battled disloyalty ever since. Billy Bones is working to install Silver as the savior of Nassau, the Maroons fight only for themselves, and Teach just wants revenge for Charles Vane. No one besides Silver feels any true loyalty to Flint.

Even his loyalty is fragile, no matter his proclamation that he hasn’t wanted Flint dead in months. Flint has no illusions here or about anyone else. Like everything he does, his only wish is to keep things together long enough to take Nassau and then find a way to keep power afterwards. Hey, it’s worked for him so far.

The two men exit Flint’s cabin and we get the setup which eventually leads to that opening scene. Months have passed since the defeat of the British force on the Maroon island and the combined pirate force has arrived back at Nassau to take the island. Black Sails wastes no time getting into the conflict set up last season. Which, to be frank, is highly appreciated and kind of unexpected. I thought a couple episodes would be spent dragging this out. Billy still leads a resistance on Nassau which has provided Flint with info on the force awaiting them.

Silver is confident in their success. Madi, not so much. Acting as ever as the charismatic voice of Flint to the crew, Silver tells her of Flint’s worries about the crew falling apart. It’s clear right away that Silver is the main figure keeping everything together, and to lose him throws the entire endeavor into chaos. Gee, I wonder what’s going to happen…

From here we get our first look of the season at Teach, Jack Rackham, and Anne Bonny as they ready to help Flint take Nassau. Jack gives the crew a last-minute motivation speech about getting revenge for Vane, serving as a reminder to both the crew and the audience of what exactly this part of the alliance fights for. Teach especially has no interest in Flint’s pirate kingdom. We know that much for sure. He left his island because of Vane’s death, and has no interest besides punishing those responsible. His crew shares the desire. Jack certainly has motivations besides Vane, but revenge numbers among the most important.

As for Anne, well…we’ll get to that later.

Naturally, things don’t go quite so smooth as expected. Unknown to Flint, a number of scrapped ships lay beneath the water and the pirate fleet runs right into the wreckage. The Nassau fort opens fire, the ships are destroyed, and the battle lost decisively. Silver’s fake leg tangles into wreckage and he sinks. As expected at this point, the battle looks outstanding. Black Sails seemingly gets better by the season with the production on these battles, and season 4’s opener certainly lives up to the high standards established in season 3. It’s brief, brutal, and emotional. No other show makes me want to shout “FIRE!” like this.

Teach’s ship flees in hopes of drawing pursuit away from those abandoning the wrecked ships. The plan works and Woodes Rogers gives the okay to pursue. Then he asks someone to retrieve his wife. Wait, what?

Yep, one Eleanor Guthrie is now Eleanor Rogers. While the battle raged on, Eleanor took a spot sewing with the other wives beneath the fort where those not fighting await the outcome. She seems new and not very good at it, but none of us are immediately good at sewing.

Max sits with her, wondering how Eleanor can stand to wait below like this, playing the role of the meek wife. Eleanor says she is willing to play the part to help her husband. And it’s not like she has been shut out; Rogers apologizes for her not being able to see the battle, but Eleanor holds no grudge. As she told him before, she will do whatever is necessary to help Rogers succeed, and if his men want her to wait out battles with the other wives rather than at her new husband’s side, she will do so.

black sails eleanor and max
Don’t they look happy?

I can’t imagine that willingness lasting long if future endeavors go worse than this battle did, but we’ll see. I’m placing my bets on her verbally smacking down someone she’s “not supposed to” within the next 2 episodes.

Meanwhile, the survivors of Flint’s crew are gathering at a rally point onshore. Over 200 are unaccounted for between deaths and captures.

One last rowboat makes its way in off the water while Madi waits, hoping Silver is among them. Flint joins her and shares information about it being the last rowboat, and an injured man pulled from the water being among those on it. Which Madi says she already knew. Of course she did, that woman knows everything her Maroons know as soon as they know it. Flint tries to convince her that he cares for Silver as well. Madi does not believe a word of it.

The survivors on the boat reach the beach, and the injured man, while somewhat resembling season 1 John Silver, is not him. I have to say, Zethu Dlomo acts her ass off in this scene. The hopeful anticipation as the survivors exit the boat, the flickering eyelids and swallowing when Silver is not among them, the furious resolve to keep her composure, she is outstanding. Without saying a word her feelings towards him are made perfectly clear.

Billy Bones and his men arrive at the beach, and Flint is understandably furious about having no warning of the shipwrecks beneath the water. Turns out Featherstone was supposed to send the message along and didn’t. Him and his stupid cravat. Billy is understandably upset about Silver’s unaccounted whereabouts, since he crafted his entire resistance around the man. Take note of the authority he shows here. Billy acts every bit the equal to Flint and tosses out orders without hesitation.

In case people were unclear about Madi and Silver, we get a flashback scene of the two post-bumping uglies (with equal opportunity nudity for all, as you see as much of Silver as Madi). Silver has heard word of the resistance in his name, and this worries him for numerous reasons. Elevating him above Flint might break their alliance, he had no say in the matter, it tempts bad luck in ways he is not comfortable with. He also does not like the possibility of losing Flint’s friendship. Madi tries to convince him that Flint is not really Silver’s friend. She is clearly planting the seeds for Silver to join everyone else in tossing Flint aside. Welcome to the story of Captain Flint. Everyone always seems to want him gone, but he never goes anywhere.

Obviously this isn’t going to last.

Back with Teach, and to Anne Bonny’s disbelief, the crew decides to stop running and fight. While she watches Jack prepare for the fight, Teach tells her that Jack wants this fight, and to let him have it. To say Jack’s willingness to personally fight in a battle is weird is an understatement. Jack has always been proud of his brains. He fights when he has to but not so willingly and recklessly. This raises some questions. He gets a kill in a tough fight, and they defeat the British boarders.

Post-battle cleanup occurs back at Nassau, where Rogers told 75 pirates have been captured, a lower number than he expected. His soldiers have no idea where to look for the rest and no one in town will come forward with hints. Rogers is frustrated at the lack of help from the pirates, England, or anyone else. He and his soldiers stand alone in defending civilization from the pirates and no one seems to care. Another group of captures, including Ship Master De Groot, are brought to Nassau. The British captain talks to him about being at the Maroon island and seeing what they did to his men, how they have defied British orders by staying with Rogers to defeat the pirates.

He then cuts De Groot’s ear off as a trophy, retribution for the same done to British soldiers on the island, and tells Rogers this is not a war where the pirates will turn on each other anymore. Dude immediately comes off as dangerously unstable.

During the walk to Billy Bones’s hideout, he identifies this British captain as Captain Berringer, and says he leads a mutiny of a few hundred who stayed behind when the British returned home. These soldiers have led a zealous effort to stamp out Billy’s pirates, which has in turn led Billy to dark means to stave them off.

The battle lines are drawn: Woodes Rogers controls the town while the pirates control everything else. Billy calls these pirates “his” people, which Flint does not react well to. Might have something to do with Billy spending months working to push Flint out.

Madi questions Flint about whether they have already lost the war he promised her mother. She wants to know if the fight died with Silver. Again, he is the binding keeping everything together. He is the only unifying force bringing all these allies together. Without him you just have three sides with entirely different motivations and end goals.

Cracks also appear among the Rogers side when Max sees the trials carried out in her establishment—trials Rogers has no intention of reimbursing her for. Berringer’s influence on Rogers seems to have taken full root. Rogers laments the due process of the trials and threatens Max for daring to ask. She explains that she can only serve him when appearing neutral. After all, she best serves him with information and as a calming influence, which she can’t do if the citizens of Nassau see her as yet another finger on Rogers’s cruel hands.

“Da fuck you say?”

Rogers is done with that kind of fight, though. He wants to draw the lines in the sand and force everyone to pick. This is not that kind of show though, and you can bet this will come back to bite him. You don’t turn Max against you and hope to keep any kind of order in Nassau. She is Nassau.

Back with our lovable band of merry pirates, Billy and Flint disagree over whether to attack Nassau or not. Billy says they don’t have the numbers and wants to instead attack a plantation to swell their ranks with freed slaves. Flint thinks Rogers is weakened and Nassau vulnerable. Here, Billy asserts the authority he showed throughout the episode so far, telling Flint this army was built for Long John Silver, and without Silver it will be him that decides the next move, not Flint. Billy is the one who has led them, fought with them, and suffered with them. Flint may be tactically useful, but these pirates do not belong to him.

Flint tries to threaten his way to influence by withholding the treasure buried back on the Maroon island, which with Silver possibly dead only he knows the location of, but Madi tells them she knows its location as well. Without Silver there will be no pirate king. They will succeed together or not at all. It’s a nice scene to affirm Madi’s dedication without John Silver, as well as her dedication to him by keeping this alliance together when, let’s be honest, she trusts no one and would probably love to go back home.

Then, of course, we see that John Silver is very much alive. This was another expertly produced scene as Silver frees himself from the wreckage and surfaces within one of the sinking ships. The quickening heartbeat, the sounds of battle, the hilariously well-placed goat still in the hold… Whoever edited the sound here more than earned their paycheck. Again they try to sell him in danger when the ship he’s aboard starts sinking. Come on, Black Sails. We all know John Silver won’t die here.

Whew, almost at the end. A lot going in in this premiere.

Back aboard Teach’s Queen Anne’s Revenge, Jack gets a wound stitched up after the fight. Anne comes to confront him about the fight. She thinks he did it to earn Teach’s respect, but Jack says he did it for Vane. If he had been just a little better, a little stronger, he could have killed Rogers back in the carriage in season 3 and Vane would still be alive. He is still trying to make Vane proud.

But in the beautiful, blunt words of Anne Bonny: “Fuck Charles Vane.”

She was loyal to Vane, too. She tried her best for him. But he’s dead, and she’s not wasting her time looking back. Taking back Nassau isn’t about finding a purpose, or finding herself, or making anyone else proud of her. It’s about stepping away from all that and staying alive. It’s everything Anne Bonny in a few sentences, and an entirely different motive from everyone else involved.

Black Sails is built on obsession with the past. Jack, Flint, Teach, Billy, the Maroons, they all pursue Nassau in the name of some ghost. They all want to sate some part of their conscience currently tied to the dead. That got them this far, but as Anne points out, those ghosts eventually demand their own ends which have started to split them apart. Teach is not in this for Nassau. He is in this for vengeance, and he is now returning to Nassau willing to end his own part in this fight in exchange for Eleanor.

Speaking of, the new Mrs. Rogers confronts her husband over the vicious change he made that day. Guilt over the backlash for hanging Vane drove her to step back and accept a lesser public role, because she believed she was still an equal partner. Now she’s less sure and confronts Woodes over his change in attitude. She insists he explain his desperation. In case anyone was confused, you don’t fuck with Eleanor Guthrie.

To his credit, Woodes Rogers does seem to respect his wife and want her influence in his life. He tells her that his divorce from his previous wife caused a backlash. His ex’s family is using their considerable financial and political influence to get creditors to call in the debts Rogers owes. If they do, then many more will and he’ll be a fugitive from the law because of them.

I have to say that I love this development. When they revealed his marriage to Eleanor, I worried his previous marriage would just vanish from the story. Divorce used to be an immense political risk. Just take a look at The Crown for an example of how recently the consequences of divorce existed. Thankfully Black Sails is a great show well aware of the consequences and found a way to make them matter directly to the main plot. Bravo, Black Sails. Though I’m a little confused about Eleanor saying her family has the money and influence. It’s true, for sure, that much was established immediately back in season 1, but I can’t see how it would be any use to her. She’s the disgraced daughter of a man who helped piracy flourish. Maybe her family would agree with Rogers’s efforts enough to overlook that. Maybe the Guthries would agree to try and clean the stain Richard and Eleanor put on the family name.

And finally, Black Sails ends an eventful premiere with John Silver alive on a Nassau beach among dozens of dead and dying. A lone man walks among them, and kills one of the survivors, but not Silver. Instead he welcomes him home. Friend or foe? Welp, gotta wait until next week for that.

Grumble grumble.

Woodes Rogers really needs to stand up to peer pressure.

To Sum Up

lot happened, and almost all of it focused on fracturing the factions which had formed going into the episode.

The pirates lost many men in the battle. Teach abandoned Flint’s alliance. His focus on vengeance may leave Jack and Anne on the outs. Flint, Billy Bones, and Madi began falling apart without Silver. Woodes Rogers has potentially alienated Max. He also risks losing Nassau town. Contrary to the “it’s time for everyone to pick a clear side and fight a decisive battle” thing both Flint and Rogers want to happen, the opposite occurred all throughout the hour run time. Why? Because this is a terrific, complex show where characters rarely fall into any neat group which determines their alliances for good.

Still, the premiere set up the conflicts which will last at least for a few episodes moving forward. The pirates and British will have to fight. Rogers will have to decide whether he wants to eliminate one of his greatest enemies by handing over Eleanor or not. The pirates and Maroons will continue to fight until Silver reappears. Eventually Flint will make his move to take back the power Silver is gaining through others.

Anyone with a general knowledge of Treasure Island or pirate history has at least some idea where Black Sails is going. There’s plenty of liberties taken between the the stories of Flint and Silver and the real life history of the characters in the show to keep you guessing, but there’s still a direction the story has to head in eventually. Does that matter at all? Not to me. I can’t wait to see how this eventually ties in. Who knows, Black Sails may thwart both and end in an entirely original fashion.

Whatever the case, this was a strong beginning to the final season. Keep it up, Black Sails. You have a happy, highly engaged fan here.

Images Courtesy of Starz

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