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The Fight For Nassau Comes to a Head

Can you believe the final season of Black Sails is three episodes deep already? This is moving far too quick for me. I’m not ready for this to end. Especially not when I’m getting episodes this good on a nearly weekly basis. As usual with Black Sails, “XXXI” was a fast-paced thrill ride that somehow managed to give all its characters the attention they deserved. How do they do that?

While there were a couple aspects which fell flat or betrayed the show’s usual deftness, this week was yet another entry in what has been a terrific final season so far.

Spoilers for 4×03 “XXXI” below

Recap

In a surprise twist, Black Sails began its third episode with Captain Berringer looking fondly at a picture of his presumed wife and child. Whatever sympathy this scene tried for quickly disappears when Woodes Rogers shows up. This scene presumably takes place the night before Rogers leaves Nassau, as they discuss whether he has told his wife about “what lies ahead.”

We cut to Rogers on his ship watching Blackbeard give chase. The past conversation continues, with Rogers promising to make use of the good men Berringer assigned him on the ship. Berringer proceeds to say that none of his men are good. They might have once been good, and may be capable of such after the war, but right now they’re dark. He tells Rogers this war doesn’t need good men, it needs dark men to do dark deeds.

Real sympathetic, that Berringer. What a swell guy. This attempt at sympathy for him (which is brought up again) is a rare misstep by Black Sails. I’ll talk about it more later.

Eleanor is also ready to set sail to meet her grandfather. As she waits aboard her ship, Mrs. Hudson (the chambermaid with resting ಠ_ಠ face) says today is her son’s birthday. She also says weeks have passed since her Spanish contact has contacted her and the distraction of war may mean the issue of the Spanish gold being used to blackmail here no longer exists. Eleanor gives her leave to return home to London. However, their ship’s departure is delayed because the promised soldiers to escort her are refused.

Meanwhile, Max’s post-coital stress is interrupted by an escort of soldiers who bring her to Berringer. Another man present describes her meeting with Long John Silver the night before. He followed them at Berringer’s request. Max tells him Silver attempted to blackmail her and killed four of her guards when she tried to arrest him. Unsurprisingly, Berringer doesn’t buy it, and instead questions why she didn’t enlist any of the governor’s men to help.

I won’t pretend he doesn’t have a point, but we saw last week how he wanted any excuse to jail Max so he could find out her informants. He gets his wish her and indicts her for treason, with penalty of death. He also tells her he sent men to clear out the area, and his spy trailed John Silver after Max’s escape the night before. If Max helps expose pirate sympathizers he will consider letting her live.

Wow, so sympathetic.

After last week’s bloody fight between Flint/Madi and Billy Bones, we catch up with them as one of Madi’s men insists they leave for home. Flint, of course, refuses. Madi’s man protests further and Madi immediately shuts him up by pointing out how Flint and his men fought at their side. The alliance still exists. It’s shaky as hell but it does exist.

Madi decides to meet one of her agents working at the tavern in Nassau. Flint tries to instruct her on what to do with her agent, and Madi quiets him more politely than usual. She thanks him for siding with her during the fight. Flint thanks her, saying that they need to cooperate in order to take Nassau. Madi questions whether the task is still possible considering their weakened numbers. She has a point. Taking Nassau was a hard task with Billy, one no one was sure they had the numbers to truly accomplish. Even advocating for a fight, Flint understood the high risk. Now they lost all his pirates.

Their ultimate goal, the goal Flint and Silver created the alliance by selling, was to hurt England. Taking Nassau with their weak numbers may not matter at all to England. Flint didn’t get this far with a lack of faith, though. He assures her that taking Nassau exposes weakness in England which will harm the empire. Well, he tries to assure her anyway. Madi will keep fighting but she’ll never lose her pragmatism about their chances.

You know who we like here at The Fandomentals? Anne Bonny. She joins Teach and Jack while the Queen Anne’s Revenge continues chasing Woodes Rogers, and asks if there’s any chance he can escape them. Only the usual surliness is absent from her demeanor. Jack assures her there’s no chance Rogers gets away, and Blackbeard tells her she’ll join him in leading the vanguard boarding the ship.

I love when Blackbeard asks Jack about ever captaining a ship the size of the Revenge, he says no, and Blackbeard asks again to get the answer he wants. It’s a small teaching moment. Looks like the grumpy old man warmed up a little.

Anne worries that she and Jack will never escape the pirate life. Jack talks about underestimating Teach’s intelligence, and how he managed to persuade such a fearsome, intelligent pirate to forego revenge in favor of capturing Rogers. He assures Anne that he would be content to walk away as the pirate who stood alongside Blackbeard in defeating Rogers and ushering in pirate rule in Nassau. AKA “we’re one day away from retirement.”

Rogers’s ship finally fails a maneuver and Teach’s crew prepares to board.

Back in Nassau, Madi meets with her agent at the tavern. She asks her to help find resistance in Nassau. The agent tells her about the lack of support. When Madi mentions Flint, the agent assumes John Silver is with them as well. What follows is yet another acting powerhouse by Zethu Dlomo when Madi finds out Silver lives. The frantic eye movement, the muscle twitches, the sparse tears she immediately wills away…holy crap this woman can act.

Next we catch up with our good friends Cravat and Cleavage (Featherstone and Idelle). Featherstone wants to run, assuming Max will give them up to Berringer. Idelle knows Max better. She assures him Max will never give up her friends, especially to a bully like Berringer.

And gee, how does Berringer try to make her talk? By bullying Max. What a surprise. Max defiantly insists upon the deal she made with the governor while Berringer shouts in her face. He appears on the verge of physical coercion when Eleanor storms into the room. Also revealed here; apparently the family at the Underhill estate last episode was murdered, including the child.

black sails max defiant

Look at those eyes. Damn.

Meanwhile Berringer’s men move in on Silver. He remains with Israel Hands, unshackled and offered food. Hands asks how Silver will take Nassau without an army to back him up. He does not to offer before Berringer’s men show up and the pirates run. They try to hide on a nearby hill but are discovered by three British soldiers. But here comes Flint to the rescue!

Silver tells Hands “that’s how we’ll take Nassau.”

The episode returns to sea, where the battle between Blackbeard and Rogers has begun. Jack orders a ceasefire while the vanguard climbs aboard. They find only silence and bodies aboard the ship, but suspect a trap. Smart how Teach and his men go around stabbing the bodies to make sure they are dead. One of them was only pretending because guess what? It’s a trap.

Rogers and the men Berringer loaned him burst from below deck and a fight breaks out. The pirates are eventually overwhelmed and Jack signals surrender. Here is where I start freaking out for a while, because two of my favorite characters are at the hands of a man in a very dangerous state of mind.

The episode returns to Nassau, where Eleanor tries to convince Berringer to release Max. He remains predictably hard-headed while assuring her she’ll be on her way aboard her ship in the morning. Eleanor returns to Max. Max describes the situation and Eleanor takes her to task, wondering how it slipped her mind to report Silver to the British, much the way Berringer said she should have. Eleanor wonders why she tried to go around the law.

Max proceeds to throw Charles Vane in her face while again making her consistent point about not escalating the conflict for Nassau. Capturing and hanging Silver would create the same type of backlash as hanging Vane, which basically created the pirate resistance. To her credit, Eleanor takes this rebuke well. She talks about not being able to leave to acquire her grandfather’s assistance until the issue with Max is settled, and pleads with her to give Berringer something he can use.

But Max won’t let it go, and accuses Eleanor of not realizing she is being used.

Soldiers return from the beach to report Silver’s escape. Attached to one of soldiers Flint killed is a note signed by John Silver calling for Nassau’s aide and the release of pirate prisoners. Berringer reads the note aloud and challenges anyone in Nassau to comply with Silver’s request. Yeah, the man’s nuts. We knew that, though.

Speaking of Silver, he hears the story about Billy from Flint as they make their way back from the beach. They discuss what to do about Billy, who controls the Underhill estate apparently, and Flint says there’s little they can do at the moment. When he asks about Hands, Silver starts to reassure him before stopping because he sees Madi and totally luurrrrves her. And she loves him back. They rush forward and start making out in front of everyone.

I needed that, guys. This episode started getting really depressing. I choose to ignore the sadness in Flint’s eyes for the moment.

black sails morose flint

Is Silvmadint actually a thing? Er, Madilverint? Whatever.

Madi’s agent arrives to tell the rebel alliance about upcoming prisoner executions and a challenge from Berringer for Silver to do something about it. They agree the time has come and Silver asks Madi’s agent to spread the word. I can’t imagine her letting anyone else order one of her people to do a damn thing.

We return to the adventures of Cravat, who tries to convince another Nassau Council member to help Max. He warns the council member that Nassau may resist if Max is executed. Cravat gets shut down pretty hard. He’s about ready to piss and moan when Idelle brings Madi to him.

Eleanor tries warning Berringer against hanging pirates as a dramatic display of fear, that people can only take so much fear before it no longer keeps people docile. She hands over a map Max drew of favored resistance routes into the town and asks Berringer to use these to capture Silver before he enters Nassau. It is a good plan, and one taking into account Max’s earlier warning about avoiding a repeat of the Vane mistake. Did anyone watching this think Berringer would actually listen, though?

Welp, time for whatever happiness I felt after Silver and Madi to vanish. That was nice while it lasted.

The episode returns to Rogers and his recent captures. The conversation between him and Berringer returns, with Berringer asking what his governor will do if he captures Blackbeard. Rogers tells a story about his time as a privateer, and the extreme measures he took to torture and kill all but one of the crew aboard a Spanish ship he fought. He then puts this cruelty into effect with Teach.

Let me be clear here; I have no illusions whatsoever about the violent content of Black Sails. It is a show about pirates and war, with constant fighting and bloodshed. I have seen many characters bleed and die over the past 3+ seasons. And I won’t say for sure that Black Sails crossed a line with the keelhauling of Teach. It at least straddles the line, though, and perhaps did cross it.

For those who don’t know, keelhauling is the act of dragging a bound person across the bottom of a ship. It is a very brutal form of execution where the various growths on the ship are used to shred a person apart. Black Sails really lingers on this process as Rogers has Teach keelhauled numerous times. The damage done is explicitly shown.

Again, I don’t oppose to showing violence, or even this violence. The point is clear. I just wonder if showing this much of it was necessary.

Rogers intends to do the same to all the pirates, but Blackbeard’s refusal to die seems to kill this cruelty and he puts Teach out of his misery with his pistol. Then he orders the other prisoners restrained for the trip back to Nassau.

We return to Nassau to find the time has come for the executions. I’m definitely not in the mood for this considering what just happened to Teach. A rider whispers something in Berringer’s ear, and Eleanor assumes it to be news about Silver. Instead she realizes Berringer never set an ambush and has decided on his plan to confront Silver publically. Eleanor has Mrs. Hudson give out orders to bring food, loyal soldiers, and Max to the fort. Clearly she doesn’t expect Berringer to win this coming conflict with Silver.

The rebel alliance does not disappoint. They march past wary citizens to the square where the executions are taking place. Berringer has his men enter a firing line formation, but Nassau citizens arrive to answer Silver’s call. A fight breaks out that Billy Bones’s men also join, turning the tide decisively towards the pirates. Like I said last week, Silver is the one man who can pull all these people together.

This is like a pro wrestling entrance. BAH GAWD THAT’S BILLY BONES’S MUSIC!

Israel Hands cuts Berringer’s throat, and the pirates win! Hurray for the rebel alliance! Medals for all the Wookies! I needed that after Teach’s death. I really did.

As Berringer bleeds out, he drops the picture of his family from the beginning. Nice try Black Sails, but stop trying to make sympathy for Berringer happen. It’s not happening.

Review

Far too often I forget just how quickly Black Sails moves. If you had told me before the first episode that the pirates would take control of Nassau to end episode 3, I’d assume things moved too quickly. It didn’t, though. Somehow, Black Sails always manages to move at a breakneck speed while giving just about everything the attention it needs.

And clearly taking control of Nassau does not mean the end of this conflict. Woodes Rogers is still out there with two very valuable prisoners. Eleanor is holed up in the fort with Max. There is a long way to go before this is settled. And unfortunately the chances of the pirates coming out on the winning side feel really slim.

Which sucks when I like them all so much?

“XXXI” continued to show why Black Sails does character development as well as any show currently airing, if not better than them all. Character arcs which have developed since the very first season are starting to come to their conclusions. This is the endgame and we’re seeing the final evolutions. For some we’re seeing the end of their lives.

Black Sails is nailing it so far.

Flint has worked the hardest to create the conflict currently taking place in Nassau. To get here he staved off mutinies, trials, shipwrecks, a becalming, and imprisonment. Last episode he escaped Billy Bones attempting to kill him. He survived all this for the express reason of ruling Nassau when it was all over. Not because he wants to be a king, but because he thinks he is the only one capable of leading them successfully against the British response.

Now he finds himself marginalized in the war of his own making. John Silver has taken his standing among the pirates. Madi has offered him nearly nothing with the Maroons. Billy has completely undermined Flint’s reputation and authority among the island’s rebels. It’s quite perfect. These are the three he needed to continue this war over the seasons. They have kept him in power. Their contributions came at a price, though.

Flint may think he can just scheme his way back above them. He’ll certainly try to come out on top the same way he has for years now. As we near the end, and knowing what becomes of Flint’s relationship with Silver…it leads me to think Flint ends up the odd man out and does everything he can to take a petty vengeance on those he thinks betrayed him.

I certainly can’t imagine him cracking the strong alliance created between Silver and Madi. I really love these two. In an episode full of unpleasantness they gave me something happy to root for. We’ve seen over and over how Madi tries to hide her emotion from her subordinates. She does so in this episode when she learns Silver still lives. For her to just straight up suck his face off without caring who sees tells me a lot about the bond they have.

This gives me life.

No one is splitting them. The best their enemies can manage is a temporary conflict they will resolve swiftly. I really love these two, and the way Silver has finally taken the role Madi has encouraged him to take since last season. They might be the only thing I have full confidence survives this show relatively happy.

And let’s just say I have a hell of a lot more faith in them than our other favorite couple, Jack and Anne. I knew going into Black Sails that their eventual fate would probably be grim. “XXXI” had a “one more day until retirement” thing going on with a few characters, but most noticeably for Anne and Jack.

Anne especially has been growing increasingly disillusioned with the pirate life ever since season 2. She tries to leave it after Jack gets his crew but agrees not to bring her along. Her motivation for taking the Urca gold had a great deal to do with ending her pirate days. She wanted to keep running when Jack returned for the pardons and did not want revenge for Vane this season.

As always, though, her loyalty to Jack won out over her personal desires. Since he has always wanted more, to make the Rackham name something which lasts to make up for what happened to his father, she has gone along with him.

Please, Black Sails. Don’t make me watch Jack or Anne’s face while the other gets the Blackbeard treatment. Please don’t do that to me.

And while I’m pleading, I’d highly appreciate Max surviving, too.

The first two episodes of season 4 saw Max go to great lengths to piss off everyone on both sides of the war for Nassau. Berringer’s immediate hard-on to arrest her this week came as no surprise. The rebel alliance will likely ask for her head next week. Max has always survived between worlds. Vane and Eleanor, Vane and Flint, the British and the pirates, etc. It worked for a while, when the two worlds were simpler to manage. Maintaining neutrality is much harder for such an influential person in the midst of a warzone.

By taking Eleanor’s seat, she now finds herself in the exact same position Eleanor once did back when Vane and Flint were at war with each other. It was fitting that Eleanor came to her aid in this episode. I like seeing these two rekindle friendship after everything that happened in season 1. Eleanor’s going to try and push Max towards the side of Woodes Rogers, just like she did by convincing Max to draw the map.

That’s not Max’s style. Unfortunately for her, her preference really matters little to anyone right now, and either way she pisses off someone she would help a great deal alive.

I do think Woodes Rogers eventually shooting Blackbeard and canceling the keelhauling of anyone else suggests at least a possibility that he can still listen to the reason Max speaks. His cruelty in this episode did not entirely shock me, but it did shock me a little. I don’t doubt his dedication or the lengths he will go to but this seemed personal. And I suppose the fact Teach wanted Eleanor dead injected something personal into the conflict.

Still, holy crap. Thinking about what Rogers can do and actually seeing it was jarring. I think Eleanor’s good influence on him (who would have thought I’d say that a couple seasons ago) showed in his eventual “mercy.” He wanted to do the same to Blackbeard’s crew that he did to the Spanish crew, but he thankfully didn’t have the heart to go all the way. Hopefully this means he’ll find some path to peace. One where Max lives through the end of this show would be preferable.

I care about all these characters so much. I don’t know how Black Sails manages to make so many people so defendable and empathetic, even in the worst of circumstances.

Not that they always succeed. Time to rant about the deceased Captain Berringer. Look, I get it. Black Sails does not like easily defined good and evil with its characters. The whole thing with Berringer’s family was mean to humanize a man who acted like a one-dimensional monster so far. Unfortunately the show went about this humanization in the cheapest way possible.

They also failed to put in any effort besides one momentary glance at that picture of his family. It was an attempt at cheap sympathy which fell flat on its face because of Berringer’s circumstances and actions throughout the rest of the episode.

Why not have Berringer act reasonably towards Max? Why not have him understand and agree with Eleanor’s point about fear? Why not have him doubt his course, agree to the ambush plan, and then have the ambush fail? Then Berringer can react angrily, revert back to cruelty and violence, and die with a bit of sympathy that he at least tried. As is, I feel literally nothing but happiness when Berringer bleeds out at the end. Black Sails put in no real effort to humanize the man or make me understand him. They portrayed him as an unreasonable villain from beginning to end.

Not to mention his whole “missing his family” thing falls flat when Berringer refused an order to return home. Orders do not keep him in Nassau. His own violence does. Forgive me for not buying one wistful look at a picture as proof he’s some good man gone astray. This kind of lazy attempt at audience manipulation is something I expect from Game of Thrones, not Black Sails.

I also think we can officially call Blackbeard’s inclusion in the show underwhelming. Yeah, he went out hardcore, but as Kylie pointed out in her review of seasons 2 and 3, we never really got a sense of why this man is the most infamous pirate to ever live.

Combined with the explicit manner of Teach’s death, Black Sails did have some uncharacteristic gaffs this week. Overall it was yet another excellent episode. The plot continues to move at breakneck speed while somehow retaining strong development for one of the best developed casts on any show I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to hold one misstep with a minor character against them when the episode did so much right.

And now we have Woodes Rogers on his way back home with loved characters captive, while the pirates have two others holed up in a fort.

This is going to hurt, isn’t it? Hurt me more, Black Sails.

Hurt me. Please. A lot!


Images Courtesy of Starz and Egoraptor

Bo
Written By

Bo relaxes after long days of staring at computers by staring at computers some more, and feels slightly guilty over his love for Villanelle.

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