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