Black Sails "IV." Review and 4-Episode Test: At the Boat Wash
Aye, aye, aye, the ship be sinking, matey. There appears to be a great divide between what I think is interesting about a pirate show and what Black Sails showrunner Jonathan Steinberg thinks is interesting about a pirate show. In my eyes, it's been a few episodes since anyone's done something particularly pirate-y in Black Sails, and that's coming from the guy who really enjoyed the first and second episodes, even though the latter was little more than a paper chase. And after the third and now fourth episodes, I'm just taking the show's word that these people are actually pirates. I know I said in earlier reviews that Black Sails' characters don't have to be firing cannonballs and swiggin' rum all the time just because they're on a pirate show, but I don't think they should be spending all their time on backroom business deals and negotiations like they did in last week's episode, either. What is this, Dracula? And "IV." wasn't much better. Maybe I'm talking crazy here, but it's probably not a great idea for the main plot of any episode of a pirate drama to be about pirates cleaning a boat.
I know, I know, cleaning boats is part of a pirate's job. And as Flint said, a clean boat will be able to gain a few knots and turn sharper when it's in the water, and yes, speed and maneuverability are key to successful plundering. So indeed, a pirate ship should be cleaned, should have its hull scraped of water-dragging barnacles, should have its deck scrubbed and while you're at it don't forget to dust the top of the bookcases. But you know what? That stuff is hella boring to watch on a television show.
I'm not sure what Black Sails has been thinking these past two episodes. I'm sure Steinberg wants to dive deep into the itty-bitty of the nitty-gritty that is a pirate's life, but there are boundaries of banality that just shouldn't be crossed. There's a reason we don't see Game of Thrones' Tyrion Lannister making sure the table is set for dinner or confirming that the wash basins have been polished. First, he's too short to see the top of the table, and second, even George R. "No detail is too small" R. Martin knows that'd goes too far. These pirates were cleaning a boat!
And the other big plot of the episode involved the continued plan to secure some guns from the soon-to-be-arriving Captain Bryson, and after much long-winded and fake-suspenseful debate, Bryson agreed to hand 'em over. Hooray! That is, until the very last minute (oh no!), when Mr. Scott—or so we assume—either told Bryson the deal was off, or told Bryson to shove off in order to "save Eleanor from herself." So this whole plot, which began last week, came to fruition after lots of unexciting chit-chat around tables and then unfruited itself at the last second. Ugh. It's one thing to spend a ton of time trying to get some guns, but it's another thing to spend a ton of time trying to get some guns and then NOT GET THE GUNS. Obtaining equipment for a mission shouldn't be a mission in and of itself, but we're now headed into our third straight episode of Captain Flint not having the what he needs to hunt that treasure galleon. What's next, will the spyglass store be all out of spyglasses?
It all smacks of Black Sails not having a clue as to what its focus should be and struggling with pacing. The show's obsession with the details of pirate life is going to be its undoing, and its tunnel vision regarding such menial tasks is in direct opposition with its lack of appreciation for the true details of a pirate's appearance. A pirate wore sunglasses in the last episode, for Pete's sake, so I think we as viewers have accepted the fact that Black Sails isn't the most accurate portrayal of sea bandits. So pick one or the other, show, because your number-one goal should be to entertain us, and your last two episodes have not come close.
Well, wait, there was ONE entertaining moment during the great boat cleaning, and it was all about the best part of the series. Captain Flint remains a fascinating character, and the type of guy you'd totally clean a boat for. This guy is a pirate's pirate, the kind of man who earns your trust through charisma and great leadership. But he might butter you up just to break your trust later. He's a true pirate, that Captain Flint.
So there was Captain Flint digging out Randall the slow cook when his leg got pinned under the boat as it buckled. And conveniently, Morley—one of the sailors who'd been talking mad smack about Flint—was also there. John Silver offered up his butcher's knife to dismember Randall's leg, and Flint took it. He hacked at the limb and blood sprayed all over the place while the rest of the crew cut the ropes holding the boat so the mast wouldn't snap. It was one of the best scenes since the pilot, and when all was said and done, Flint walked out with most of Randall. (Time to get yourself a peg leg, Randall!) But Morley wasn't so lucky, and his corpse ended up under the boat. The implication was that Flint may've chopped up Morley to squash any chance of a mutiny, and it was the one scene that saved this episode from total disaster. Now Silver and Billy Bones have joined us in wondering exactly who this man is, and what he'll do in the name of finding the treasure galleon. This, Black Sails, was awesome. Do more of this.
Given that "IV." marked the completion of the TV.com 4-Episode Test™, Black Sails is looking at a "proceed with caution" after a strong start. But I will say this, Starz seemed pretty eager to send out the next two episodes, so maybe things will pick up in "V" and "VI." Or maybe we'll follow Flint around New Providence as he does some last-minute shopping and gets his boots shined. At this point, neither would surprise me.
– I was worried I missed something about Ms. Barlow, but apparently the show is just introducing her really, really slowly. She's a runaway aristocrat whose infidelities drove her husband to kill himself, and now she's self-exiled to the island paradise of New Providence. Guthrie tried to work a deal with her to have them both set free, and we'll see what she says next week. But otherwise, this thread is a drag. I wish that kid who threw things at Lady Barlow had a stronger arm.
– Fucktent! Fucktents for all!
– Charles Vane's story has really taken a turn for the worse. Now one of the series' most interesting characters is a powerless opium addict. Yeah, he murdered the whorehouse manager and his thug friends, but this feels like a missed opportunity for a character who should have been a threat to Flint.
– Speaking of missed opportunities, do you think Anne Bonny will ever do anything other than peer out from under her hat and sharpen sticks?
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