Here we are again, another week and another episode of Black Sails. Things heated up last time around, and while this episode cooled things down slight, it still simmered pretty hot. Can you tell I’m writing this before I eat dinner? Anyways…
Content warning: Black Sails features some very violent material this week. Not quite on the Blackbeard keelhauling level, but arguably more uncomfortable, and it will be covered here. Just so you know going in.
Spoilers for 4×04 “XXXII” below
Hope you’re ready to feel uncomfortable right away, because Black Sails wastes no time this week by opening on a female slave being abused while others watch. This is punishment for the murder of the Underhills and their child. A horse rides up and tells the (presumed) foreman that Nassau has fallen.
Throughout, the scene keeps a focus on one of the male slaves named Julius.
The episode transitions to the fall of Nassau and Eleanor’s escape to the fort. She’s a badass here, rescuing other citizens and shooting pirates even after taking a slash to the arm. Some time might have passed since we’ve seen this Eleanor, but never forget she exists. She marches into the fort and takes immediate control, killing a plan to immediately attack the town in favor of waiting for her husband. The man she sends to retrieve Max tells her Max’s escort was attacked and she was lost.
Damn it, Black Sails, you’re really doing this to me already?
Carnage has overtaken Nassau. Pirates slaughter the British and plunder everything from their belongings to their heads. One of Flint’s pirates walks in on Flint and Silver attempting to reestablish pirate crews in order to bring order. The picked captains say no one can control the pirates right now. When they look to Silver to question Flint, Silver backs Flint firmly.
They reaffirm their unity, but disagree about the ability to bring order. Flint’s pirate tells them about those in the fort and brings them an offer from Eleanor; 20 of the pirates captured in the failed invasion from sea in exchange for Max. Only problem is they don’t have Max.
Silver also demands that Billy Bones come see him immediately, using the full force of his reputation’s authority. Flint echoes Silver’s earlier support.
Out at sea, Rogers has Blackbeard’s ship towing his smaller ship with the captured pirates when they come across another ship fleeing Nassau. These refugees tell him of the town’s fall and Eleanor’s continued presence. He resolves to sail immediately for Nassau and leaves the prisoner ship under the authority of a British lieutenant, with orders to take the prisoners to Port Royal.
Understandably, this lieutenant objects. He’s one of Berringer’s assholes. Sorry, he’s just a dark man doing dark things but he’ll totally be good afterwards. What better way to take out his frustration and vengeance than on the prisoners? Here we see Jack, Anne, and the others for the first time, chained up in the hold of Rogers’s smaller ship. The lieutenant decides since he can’t have the fight in Nassau, he’ll have his fight from the prisoners.
Back in the again pirate town, Flint suggests peace regarding Billy to Madi and Silver. Silver is understandably upset. Dude almost killed the woman he loves, after all. Billy arrives and says his men are trying to keep order in town. That next step involves salvaging the alliance with Nassau’s slave community, and Billy agrees to take Madi to the Underhill estate to start the process, but not before Silver gets in a threat, again relishing in the Long John reputation.
Which, considering Billy built that reputation, doesn’t work so well. He shrugs off the threat and wants to talk about the prisoner exchange since he already captured Max.
We return to the pirate ship where the British lieutenant tells the pirates they won’t all arrive alive to Port Royal. He makes Jack pick men to fight his biggest, strongest soldier. If he doesn’t, the lieutenant says he’ll make Anne fight him first. The man Jack picks puts up a decent fight but gets slaughtered in the end. Then Jack has to pick another to fight.
Meanwhile, Billy brings Silver and Flint to see the tied-up Max. Billy agrees to release her to Flint but only if he gets to talk to Silver alone, and gets five minutes to talk. He uses that time to tell Silver that Max sabotaged their naval invasion and argues for executing her as a way to bring order, since she is more valuable in that capacity than the men gotten in exchange. He then predictably tries to drive a wedge between Silver and Flint. Silver knows so immediately and objects. Billy keeps arguing, this time using Madi. He argues that Silver’s end goal of a war against England will not consume and destroy Silver, as they once talked about, but rather Madi. She’s most likely to buy into Flint’s war and be consumed.
While Flint waits, Israel Hands asks him about being in Nassau as a British soldier when Nassau last fell to pirates. Hands talks about thinking his actions that day earned him a spot beside Blackbeard forever, and how Flint should watch out that Silver doesn’t toss him aside the same way Israel was.
Silver is noticeably shaken when he leaves and tells Flint that Max is now theirs. Billy was real clever to take that approach.
We rejoin Eleanor in the fort, where she talks to Mrs. Hudson about how small her chances with her grandfather were. She laments that she and Nassau have ended up right back where they started and promises Mrs. Hudson can still return home when the opportunity arises. The chambermaid wants Eleanor to come to London as well because guess what? Eleanor is pregnant!
She thinks Woodes would want Eleanor to leave because of her pregnancy. She has also grown protective of Eleanor. I’m not sure when that happened, but hey. Eleanor says her parents argued about raising her in Nassau, and knows the risks of doing the same (obviously), but does not want to leave her husband alone. She hates that Nassau makes people choose between two terrible options.
A messenger then tells her that her exchange has been agreed upon.
Back aboard the prisoner ship, the British soldier finishes off another pirate. Anne tells Jack that anyone who could win the fight is dead and they need to try something else. Her idea is for Jack to not offer another name, meaning Anne has to fight. Jack goes along.
Excuse me a second, because this really hurt to watch. Warning, because this was very violent.
Anne notices broken glass from an earlier fight and takes a real beating to reach it. Her face gets busted up and she takes a mallet blow to the stomach. She does reach the broken glass, though, and uses two shards cut her hands to stab the big man and another. She manages to get the keys and throw them into the crowd of pirates to start a revolt.
The British are quickly overwhelmed but the big man gets hold of Anne and tries to choke her. Other pirates pull him off of her and Jack kills him. The scene ends with him cradling a busted up Anne gasping for breath.
Yeah, this really hurt. I appreciate the hell out of Anne’s toughness here, but it’s hard to watch a favorite suffer like that.
Silver approaches a freed Max back in Nassau to relay his second-thoughts about releasing her. He also asks why she didn’t kill him when they met. Max answers basically how she does: that it would have caused too many problems and she couldn’t live with that. Her well-established goal is to deescalate.
Silver also asks where she would have sent him to ensure he didn’t return. Max tells him about a person Anne met while recruiting spies in Port Royal. He runs a labor camp north of Florida and takes in prisoners from London belonging to notable families. They are never seen or heard from again. Silver wonders what families use this camp and Max says she doesn’t know.
The exchange goes off smoothly. The pirate prisoners leave the fort (De Groot among them) and Max enters. While this happens, Silver tells Flint about Billy’s warnings of the war consuming Madi. Flint wonders why he waited. Silver admits Madi makes him irrational and vulnerable.
He asks if Flint would trade their victory in Nassau for Thomas Hamilton. Flint says Thomas wouldn’t want him to, and Silver says that wasn’t an answer, but Flint won’t give him one. This proves Silver’s point, and while he recognized Billy’s tactic immediately, he can’t shake his worry. Flint tries to reassure him that this means they are close to victory.
As the fort gates close, Flint and Eleanor stare each other down. Strange to think that they were once such close allies but couldn’t be further apart now. I also wonder how much this moment inspires what’s to come.
Next we see Madi arrive at the Underhill estate. There she sees slaves still in chains and questions it. He tells her they resented the pirates because of the consequences applied elsewhere. Madi finds the older woman who served the Underhills, who tells her about the rise of a slave army started by Julius from the opening scene. This slave rebellion began at that moment after the slaver learned Nassau fell.
Madi is also told that this new slave army hates the pirates just as much as the British. That’s why the pirates still keep the slaves in chain. While the slaves know Madi and Flint are on their side, they don’t think they can control the pirates. Madi insists they can. The older woman says that fighting the world makes the world fight back, and Madi should learn from her mother finding a safe place to defend.
The episode transitions to Eleanor and Max. Eleanor apologizes to Max, but Max does not accept since she has been warning everyone this would happen for months.
Eleanor then asks where they would have gone if she took up Max’s offer to flee in season 1. She nearly said yes but couldn’t separate herself from Nassau.
While she wishes she could make up for it, though, she doesn’t think Nassau can ever be what they both wanted it to be. Max doesn’t answer when asked if she believes otherwise. Eleanor has a plan to gain something but needs Max’s help. They’re interrupted by news of sails spotted.
Blackbeard’s ship is the one approaching. Both the pirates and the British watch the ship and wait to see who controls it. Rogers raises British colors to identify them. Aboard the ship, he orders the ship to sail towards the fort so they can use the cover of its guns to invade. Eleanor gives the order for the fort’s guns to be positioned.
Max approaches Eleanor as she watches to ask what she’s preparing to do.
The pirates also prepare for the fight. Flint receives a message as Billy insists he can defend the beach. The “okay” is given but Flint doesn’t share his confidence. He gives Silver the message. They head to the tunnel under the fort where Eleanor awaits them on the other side of a grate.
I have to admit I was glad to see this because I wondered if everyone forgot that tunnel existed.
Eleanor tells Flint and Silver that she doesn’t want the coming fight—too many will die and she’s sick of it. She proposes unconditional surrender of the fort and Nassau in exchange for the buried Urca treasure and safe passage off the island. Flint and Silver are both understandably skeptical. Flint considers it, though, despite Silver’s strong objections.
Eleanor says one person can offer himself as prisoner until the treasure is retrieved. Once it arrives, that prisoner goes free and she and the British go free. Flint agrees and allows himself taken prisoner to end the episode.
I have so many ideas of where this goes from here. I should probably kick them out of my head because somehow Black Sails will surprise me.
You know, right when I think I have Black Sails figured out, they throw a curveball. Though I’m not suggesting this was a bad thing.
Much like the aftermath of the premiere, the pirates taking Nassau demanded time to properly play out the aftermath. Such is the mark of a good show: you have to recognize those moments when slowing down is necessary. You need to know when both your characters and audience need a breather.
And as usual, that breather just led to a reshuffling of the board to set up the next conflict. This is a Black Sails specialty. Conflicts last a handful of episodes and the aftermath transitions to another. The only conflict to last an entire season was Flint’s pursuit of the Urca gold in season 1. Even that took a backseat at times
This week certainly transitioned, even as the pirates and British prepare for the latest round in their bout over Nassau. An army of freed slaves now marches towards them. Jack and Anne are free, though Anne’s status moving forward is very questionable. Flint’s separation from the pirates has begun. Madi’s status as unquestioned ruler of the slave population has come into question.
All of this takes a backseat to the biggest probable revelation delivered in the episode: Thomas Hamilton very well could be alive. In fact, he almost certainly is.
I admit that the clues did not hit me until I sat down to write this review a day later. I knew there was an importance to the labor camp Max described. However, I never made the connectino between Silver asking what families used this labor camp and his later question to Flint about giving up the war if Thomas still lived. I’m a little slow to catch on sometimes, I admit.
Once it hit me, I can’t imagine not seeing a living Thomas Hamilton. What do we really know about Hamilton’s life post-disgrace? Only that he was put in a mental institution and later died. The thing about TV (good TV, anyway), is that scenes are intentional. Max bringing up the labor camp in and of itself can pass. Silver asked a question and she answered.
His follow-up question, though? And the later question to Flint about Thomas? There’s no reason for these scenes unless the writers want us considering Thomas’s true fate. Neither is there much reason to specify the labor camp as taking in the children of noble families. As Flint nears the goal he fought so hard in Thomas Hamilton’s name to accomplish, he will face exactly the conflict Silver posed to him.
I’m fascinated to find out what Flint will do in that moment.
At the end of the day Black Sails is a prequel to Treasure Island, and as such we have a good idea where many of these characters end up. We know Flint alone knows the location of a buried treasure. We also know he and Silver have some falling out before Flint’s eventual death. This endpoint suggests a falling out likely occurs before the end of Black Sails. The reintroduction of Thomas Hamilton provides the catalyst which can split these men.
Despite everything he’s done, Flint has never truly been a pirate. He has always saw himself as superior to them, with his crews and allies only serving to further his goals and easily tossed aside when no longer useful. Even those he cares about (like Gates). He does not wish to live the pirate’s life forever, and Nassau was always his end goal.
On the other hand, John Silver continues to fall deeper and deeper into the pirate persona. His reputation depends on violence. Just look at his reaction to Flint turning himself over to end the episode; a season or two ago, Silver likely would have seen the opportunity and gone along with it. He didn’t want to fight, he wanted to prosper.
Now? Silver vehemently rejects it with an authority he wouldn’t dare before this season. Madi has bought into this war and Silver along with her. He will probably go along with Flint and Eleanor’s plan with the idea that they continue the war after Nassau comes under total control. The split has been introduced, though. Both have someone personal who makes them irrational. If Thomas’s reintroduction causes Flint to do something putting Madi at risk, the relationship with Silver will not be recoverable.
We also know that Flint eventually gets control of the treasure and hides it from everyone else. You have to figure we’ll see this by the end of Black Sails as well.
Let’s also not forget that Silver and Flint are only two people in a much larger conflict—a conflict which becomes bloodier and bloodier by the day/episode.
I found it interesting that Black Sails followed Teach’s graphic, violent death with an episode featuring numerous graphic, hard to watch scenes. The intent is clear: the war for Nassau has escalated to a dangerous point and the stakes have never been higher. Black Sails seems intent on making this visually clear now through uncomfortable, visceral violence.
“XXXII” opened with horrifying physical abuse of a slave. The pirate sacking of Nassau featured severed limbs and widespread murder. The fights on the prisoner ship featured graphic moments of broken bones and blood. And, of course, you have the fight Anne participated in. A popular main character now lays in mortal danger after suffering a brutal beating. Two episodes in a row now have featured main characters as the victims of explicit violence.
Our favorite characters now face life or death in every episode. Black Sails is making that danger hard to watch. Damn if it isn’t effective.
(Quick tangent: Anne may live now, but her injuries are not the kind anyone easily walks away from. We may very possibly watch her slowly die from these injuries over the next episode or two. Her injuries can go a multitude of ways, but I hope Black Sails avoids turning such suffering into character development for Jack. Too many shows use the suffering of women for the development of male characters. I trust Black Sails to be better than that. I hope these writers avoid betraying that trust.)
Another thing this violence has resulted in is Eleanor’s desire to avoid more of it. She has really shined this season, and her conversation with Max was one of the best parts of this episode. It put into perspective just how far she has come, while Nassau has fallen back where it started. I’m sure Eleanor has some plan in mind besides surrendering Nassau in exchange for treasure. Flint most certainly has a plan as well.
I can buy that both of them desperately want to avoid yet another bloody fight where the only certainty is a considerable amount of violence and death. It seems ages ago, but Flint and Eleanor were once on the same side with the same vision for Nassau. Perhaps Eleanor thinks she can flip Flint. This may be another way that Thomas Hamilton comes into play, if he does reenter the picture and wants Flint back on the side of the British.
Again, Flint has always been a temporary pirate. Eleanor knows that as well as anyone and may seek to take advantage. Not to mention the Urca treasure does solve major problems for Woodes Rogers, and Eleanor as his wife. It can pay his debts and buy him desperately needed time to properly deal with Nassau.
That is, if Jack and Anne don’t beat them to it? Jack knows where it is, and after this most recent close call, he may look to cut and run. Just a thought. Or if anyone comes looking for it, the Maroons may stop them and tie back into Julius’s army of freed slaves, regardless of Flint’s plan.
There are so many directions this can go and I can’t wait to see which direction Black Sails picks.