Black Sails "II." Review: Land Lubbers, All of 'Em

By Tim Surette

Feb 02, 2014

Black Sails S01E02: "II."

"Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me," as the drunken shanty goes. When we sing the song we have visions of swilling rum, hanging out with squawking parrots, having cool nicknames based on the color of our facial follicles, and best of all, hunting that darned treasure. But the spoils of piracy aren't just sitting out in the open for anyone with a peg leg to find. One needs to know where to look, and that information is typically scrawled on a treasure map that can be equally difficult to track down. Black Sails, for better or for worse, isn't leaving this less-than-exciting aspect of piracy out of its first season, and spend the entirety of its second episode letting its cast of booty-hungry characters chase a piece of paper that could lead to riches and the much-more-thrilling treasure hunt.

But it's not like the search involved making a trip to city hall or cutting through bureaucratic red tape. There's a simple richness to the characters and the messy company they keep that made "II." entirely watchable, even if it focused on chasing a page torn out of a ledger instead of people firing cannonballs at each others' noggins. Was it exciting enough to draw our attention away from the fact that hardly anyone even got wet in the episode? I'm not sure. Have we accepted the fact that Black Sails can be a show about pirates yet take place mostly on dry land? That's a serious question—I'm asking you. Most of the critics who've written negative reviews of the series have complained about its lack of seafaring (and action in general), but I want to know what you all think. In fact, here's a poll:

If you answered yes, then you're with me, brutha. Black Sails appears to be less of a pirate drama (according to most people's assumptions about pirates) and more of an adventure show with pirates, so don't be surprised if Captain Flint spends more time combing his beard for sand instead of brine. And aside from a pair of thrilling scenes in the pilot, I'm not sure we can call it much of an action show, either. That's going to turn some more people off, but "II." displayed the characteristics of a spy show with all of its surveillance, counterintelligence, and clandestine hand-offs (and handjobs). I don't know, maybe it's because I'm surprised that Black Sails ISN'T hitting me over the head with simple barbaric action that I'm impressed, but after two episodes, I remain highly entertained by this show.

So back to what happened in "II." (which admittedly wasn't a WHOLE lot, but it was still fun to watch the episode unfold): Everyone was trying to get their paws on the piece of paper John Silver stole, and everyone got really close because so far, Black Sails isn't keeping secrets. John's secret (he was the one who stole the page with the whereabouts of the treasure galleon from the log) was sniffed out by Captain Flint quickly, and John and Max's secret pact (she was the middleman arranging the sale of the page) was exposed by Captain Vane not too long after that. So despite a lack of visceral action, things progressed pretty quickly. I've seen some television shows (like Sons of Anarchy) conceal truths for like two whole seasons, and while that can work, Black Sails prefers to swim like a shark and move forward constantly. Because if it stops, it knows it will die. 

And so even though the movement came in the form of small steps, they were constant enough to qualify as a march. And because finding that piece of paper—that boring piece of paper—was what EVERY character was working toward, the common goal raised the tension of the entire episode as each party inched closer. It all come to a head in the thrilling climax on the rocks, when Flint and his men and Vane and his men (and one awesome woman) caught up with John at the designated selling point. Trapped with nowhere to go, John made the decision to memorize the paper and then eat it as an insurance policy to save his own life, which completely shifted the balance of power among the characters. 

Black Sails can't stay ashore for too much longer, and action will eventually come to the show. Michael Bay doesn't put his name on things that don't have mindless explosions, after all. But until then, I'm enjoying the skullduggery of the pirate life that isn't in the textbooks. 


– Max moved up quite a few spots on my list of favorite characters this week. I thought she was a stock character in the mold of the meddling prostitute caught in the middle, but her emotional breakdown when Eleanor screwed her over showed that she might be the most sensitive of the entire bunch. And oh yeah! She showed us some full frontal nudity, too. 

– I love Captain Flint's idea for founding a sovereign island nation! Get that gold and then build a big defense system of men without a country to fight against the Royal Navy. And of course I like his desire to be king of that nation even more. 

– Ummm... what was that scary undead thing that freaked Rackham out so badly that he backpedaled into the water and lost all his pearls? 

– "Fruit, fruit. Tits, tits. Plant, plant! It's the fucking same!" The new pirate motto! 

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  • woz22 Feb 19, 2014

    another hilarious episode just hope they can get to the high seas as the story chasing this paper around is starting to drag a bit.

  • sangbaran Feb 16, 2014

    Is it only me or the girl playing Elanor has a striking resemblance with Kiera Knightly? a more nourished version of her :)

  • kurlebj1279 Feb 05, 2014

    Ok, so first off let me say hello - I am new to the site (well, been reading here for a while but never posted) and have recently felt compelled to contribute my 2 cents to the proceedings. Let me also say that I am relatively new to the original programming of Starz. I've always been into HBO shows but never really watched anything on Starz until I recently took a shot in the dark chance at watching Spartacus. Holy bejesus that show is awesome. But anyway, based on my new found love of Spartacus and my long time love of all things pirates, I had to give Black Sails a shot.

    Let me also preface this mini-review by stating that, yes, I really really like the Pirates of the Caribbean films. All 4 of them. I do not claim that they are "great" or "life altering" films, but I think they are very entertaining for what they are and love him or hate him, Johnny Depp cracks me up as Capt. Jack Sparrow. Is it realistic? Of course not, but I am entertained by it and that's all that matters. Onto more relevant issues...

    I like Black Sails so far. I don't think it's giving Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad a run for it's money but I think it's entertaining and off to a decent start. Since I already have a built in love for pirates in general, it is always cool to me to see representations of infamous pirates from history. One of the things I am most interested in with the show is to see how they play out characters like Ann Bonney, Rackham and Vane. (Also - here's to really hoping that Blackbeard - the real Blackbeard - gets added to the show at some point and they get a really good and menacing actor to play him).

    I do have some complaints. For a "pirate" show, it is off to a bit of a slow start. I'm not crazy about some of the casting choices so far, cough, John Silver, cough. And I would have hoped for a little more character development on our "leads" - specifically Flynt, by this point. But even though I don't know a lot about Flynt yet - I AM interested in learning about him and seeing what drives him. And seeing where those motivations lead him. As for the first season, I can see Vane emerging as the villain proper, with Rackham emerging as the "villain in disguise" if that makes sense. And that would be totally fine to me. Then maybe if 1 or both of them are out of commission at the end of season 1 they could introduce Blackbeard in as the primary big bad for season 2.

    Well, I guess I should wrap this up now. These are just the thoughts off the top of my head on the show so far and I'm sure I'm forgetting some but the point is, I am cautiously optimistic and enjoying it thus far. The show certainly has a ways to go to reach the "Spartacus" level of good but I'm willing to stick with it for now to see if they are able to find their sea legs.

  • Kurtis2009 Feb 04, 2014

    Personally I wanted Black sails to be like the pirate version of spartacus...however not sure we are going to get that...but ah well still enjoy the show

  • johnmckenzie338658 Feb 05, 2014

    There will never be another show as awesome as Spartacus, unless of course they do the Julius Caesar spin off !

  • Haloprogram Feb 04, 2014

    I've seen meth-heads that have pretty scary faces but if that's what 18th century opium does to ones face, then color me freaked out. That face was seriously messed up.

  • nutleygrundt Feb 04, 2014

    the directors and producers would do well to remember their own admonition...fruit,fruit,,,tits,tits....plant,plant! Just having a lot of soiled muslin earrings, carribean sea and thigh boots does make an exciting pirate yarn. The two girls and Ann bonney are the only saving graces so far.

  • dodge_hickey Feb 03, 2014

    Second episode felt more grounded, I am really liking this show.

  • MarlboroMagpi Feb 03, 2014

    For the record, I have never like pirates of the Caribbean movies so I delayed watching this show because some others mentioned it is kind of the same. After 2 episodes, I would say it is anything but.

    So I am enjoying it so far and lack of sea action does not bother me at all. The plot,tension and the chase is well done and the cast is quite good. As someone mentioned below, I am a little sad that Max had broken up with Eleanor and hope they get back together soon.

    Now this is my must watch Sat show !

  • MightyMad Feb 03, 2014

    "II." remained me of a simple fact of life: there's nothing sadder than two hot lesbians clearly in love who are still breaking up.

    Seriously, get back together already, you two silly girls. Do not stand against true love!!!

  • bubujin_2 Feb 03, 2014

    Pirate Tim, you imply that John Silver stole the page from the captain's log book, but initially it was another crew member who helped himself to the log book when their ship was under attack by Flint's crew. Silver got himself secured in the cabin with this crew mate and then stole the page off of him when the opportunity arose.

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