Thursday, June 20, 2024

Black Sails Sinks a Ship but Leaves Another Limping Along

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I feel like I say this every week, but Black Sails was amazing this week. This was a special brand of amazing, though. I doubt we’ll look back afterwards and find many episodes better.

Last week’s episode left James Flint on the wrong side of overwhelming odds yet again, running from two ships full of men who want him dead. It also left him isolated from the only friend he had left in the world. So what happens now?

Incredible happens. As usual with Black Sails.

Spoilers for 4×09 “XXXVII” below


“XXXVII” starts off with a look at friendlier times between Flint and Silver. Weeks before the assault on Nassau, Flint decides to give Silver fighting lessons. Silver wonders about Flint teaching him how to defeat Flint with these lessons. Which, as the episode returns to the present day and Silver heading on to Skeleton Island, is obviously relevant.

Israel Hands tells Silver he spotted Flint and sent the others after him. Silver says Rogers gave them until sunrise the next day to return the treasure and they need to get Flint before he buries it, but Silver doesn’t think they have even that long. He is proven right when Rogers asks Billy whether Silver or Flint will win. Billy tells him to prepare for Flint winning. Rogers gives orders to prepare for attack.

He also asks to see Madi again.

Silver meets up with the rest of his hunters, who tell him there are two paths to follow. Despite knowing Flint wants to split Silver’s forces, Silver splits them because whoever Flint attacks can give his position away. Another flashback shows more sword practice. Flint gets the better of it, obviously, and while instructing asks about Silver’s past. Silver offers nothing. Flint feels disadvantaged since Silver knows his past.

Back on Skeleton Island, one of the hunter groups finds Flint. He leads them into an ambush and kills them. Three down, a bunch more to go. One of those looking to kill Flint, Jack Rackham, is on his way to the island. He asks the old man leading him there about the route. The old man assures him he knows and talks about the pirate life. He tells Jack to treasure the pirate life while it lasts.

In case you forgot what a prick Woodes Rogers is, he reminds you when he meets with Madi. He blows a bunch of threatening hot air about pirates and John Silver and blames pirates for Eleanor’s death. He only looks for compromise because of Eleanor. Madi refuses his deal, even if it means her death, Silver’s, or anyone else’s. She also places the rightful blame for Eleanor’s death on Rogers.

Tell that idiot, Madi.

He has Madi taken away and gives the order to attack the pirates. Meanwhile Silver finds the dead hunters. Hands doubts Silver’s commitment to kill Flint. Silver realizes Flint could not have taken the chest so far, so he must have left it somewhere first. He’s proven right when Flint and Dooley return to the chest. Just like Hands thinks Flint has to die, Dooley thinks Silver has to die and promises to do it.

The episode returns to the sword lesson flashbacks. Silver promises he is concealing nothing about his past, that he doesn’t think anything about his past is relevant to the person he became. He promises Flint knows everything he should and wonders if that’s enough.

Back on Jack’s ship, both Jack and Featherstone feel unprecedented optimism about their journey. Jack compares it to finding the Urca gold, where they felt optimistic but knew the problems the gold would cause. This time they can win true freedom. They’re interrupted by news of the old man’s death. Featherstone dubiously says he can find the way to Skeleton Island.

On the Walrus, Ben Gunn and De Groot talk about the island’s reputation spooking the crew. Rogers’s men use floating wreckage to disguise their approach in the water. They set fire to the Walrus and a larger force makes its way towards the ship. On the island, Flint and Dooley’s transport of the treasure is interrupted by two more hunters. Dooley is incapacitated but Flint kills them both. Silver and Hands spot him in the aftermath.

Flint and Dooley manage to get the treasure to a cave. Flint has Dooley bury it while he buys time. He comes across Hands and tries to convince him not to fight. Of course, they do fight. Flint kicks Hands’s ass shockingly easily. Silver interrupts before Flint can finish the job. Flint refuses to tell him where the treasure is and tries to get Silver back on his side.

With more flashbacks of Flint and Silver sparring interspersed, Flint says that Madi would agree with him about the treasure. Ransoming the treasure for him would lose her anyway. Silver pulls his sword to fight. Dooley sneaks up behind Silver but Flint shoots him before he can kill Silver. Flint and Silver fight briefly and evenly before the exploding Walrus distracts them.

The Walrus crew tries to put out the fires, but they don’t have time and De Groot orders them to abandon ship. British soldiers slaughter them in the water. Ben Gunn survives only because Billy won’t shoot him.

Flint, Silver, and Hands rush to a vantage point where they watch the carnage. Another flashback shows Silver explain to Madi about the trust and friendship Flint feels for him, and how he will return it. So long as they have each other’s friendship, anything is possible.

Well, too bad they don’t have each other’s friendship anymore. Or do they?


Goodbye, Walrus. After 4 seasons and numerous battles, you’ve earned your rest. Silver and Flint’s friendship will join you shortly.

Or will it?

After the previous episode ended with Flint stealing the treasure and Silver ordering his death, it only made sense that this week would focus on the two of them. Flint stealing the treasure was the point of no return. The moment where their shared interests officially split and their partnership ended. Madi was simply too important to Silver and the war to Flint. No path to reconciliation existed once Flint took that treasure.

Only life is never so simple where two people with such deep trust and friendship can flip a switch and become bitter enemies. “XXXVII” did a brilliant job showing just how close these two men had become, and how neither could truly abandon that friendship. Not even now. It also showed the fundamentally different approaches to the world which separate them as individuals while also providing the balance making their partnership so potent.

By this point anyone watching Black Sails knows James Flint’s obsession with the past. The past drives his every action. John Silver has revealed himself as the exact opposite. To be sure, he has a past like anyone else. Whatever that past may be, Silver cares little to nothing about it. He is not defined by previous experiences. He feels the past bears no importance on the man he has become. On the surface his reasoning may appear an excuse to avoid his past.

If that was his intention, he would have continued with the same old story he began telling Flint. Instead he laid bare a truth about himself. He tried to build a deeper trust and friendship with Flint through insight he didn’t share with others. It worked so well because it was yet another layer where the two perfectly balanced and complemented each other.

This trust was the reason Flint and Silver felt so betrayed by each other. They had revealed more of themselves to each other than anyone else they knew. Silver knew Flint better than anyone besides Thomas. Flint knew Silver better than even Madi did. They both thought their bond so close that the other would never betray them. Breaking this level of trust creates a special kind of hostility. However, it is not a clean break. Such trust cannot vanish in a moment. It lingered between the two, waiting for them to grasp it again.

By the end of the episode they have both tentatively reached out. And Black Sails handled it perfectly.

For Flint, you could easily speculate that his trust went beyond that of a friend. He grew closer to Silver than anyone since Thomas, and may have loved him. He never wanted Silver dead. Up the very moment where they crossed swords, Flint felt he could convince Silver back to his side and refused to give up on him.

Over the course of the episode, as Silver’s anger gradually faded, he felt the same way. Israel Hands was right: when the moment of came, he pleaded for a truce. There’s a reason the flashbacks played such a consistent role throughout this episode. As these two men opposed to each other, those were the moments they remembered, the moments before the disastrous invasion of Nassau when they were the closest of companions.

(Whether you think it was romantic on one or both sides is entirely up to you. I tend to believe Flint felt romantic love for Silver, and still may feel that love.)

Black Sails has always been the story of James Flint and John Silver—their meeting, their bond, and their eventual split were always meant to be the final act for the show. Despite the opening left to them with the episode’s ending, their split will still likely happen. The flip side of the lingering trust between them is that while it may still exist, they will never fully grasp it again. Like smoke, it will slip through any attempt to grasp it.

Maybe they escape together. Maybe one of them screws the other over to escape. Either way, Black Sails needed this episode as a recap and send-off to the relationship between James Flint and John Silver. I’m holding out hope that I’m wrong and they find some way to escape together and rebuild their trust.

Because honestly, how the hell would they escape otherwise? Billy’s right about Flint escaping these kinds of odds numerous times. We’ve seen a lot of it through four seasons of Black Sails now. Still, this might be even beyond him.

They were far from the only high point of “XXXVII,” which will go down as one of the very best episodes in this incredible show’s history.

Jack’s scene with Avery’s old crew member and the poor guy’s death afterwards were full of potential foreshadowing. Madi resisting Rogers’s bullshit and placing the blame for Eleanor’s death squarely on his shoulders was a fist-pump moment. The crew of the Walrus received their own well-deserved send-off (though in brutal fashion).

Black Sails was just plain amazing, this week. Every scene worked on every level it strove to.

My one reservation about this excellent, excellent episode is how much it left for the finale to deal with. Jack still hasn’t reached Skeleton. Max and Anne didn’t appear. Silver, Flint, and Hands still need to escape, and presumably with Madi accompanying at least one of them.  Thomas’s potential survival still sits out there untouched. There are so many fates to decide and plot points to reach.

I suppose some of this may be unresolved. Maybe we won’t see the fate of every single historical pirate. Maybe we won’t see Flint set up every step of the trail leading back to the treasure.  I suppose there was no promise that Thomas is alive, though leaving that dangling fruit untouched would be a crime. There’s just so much.

I do think we see most of this. I think Jack will capture Rogers and bring him back to Philadelphia. Grandma Guthrie will probably betray him, Max, and Anne afterwards. Flint and company will escape the island and he will at least begin laying out the clues. At least no show can blast through a large number of plot points as effectively as Black Sails does. However next week goes down, I am so sad that it is the last week of this amazing show. At least it will go out on top. It deserved nothing less.

But come on, Black Sails. You have to follow up on that Thomas tease.

Images Courtesy of Starz

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