Black Sails "IV." Review and 4-Episode Test: At the Boat Wash

By Tim Surette

Feb 16, 2014

Black Sails S01E04: "IV."

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 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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  • woz22 Feb 24, 2014

    Great review I totally agree I am not sure where the show is going I think it will end up like Mob City all style and no substance , I mean their have to get off the island now on the High seas. This by the way what pirates do! Also Vane character cooked up on opium fighting with the pimps is wasted storyline and the character Anne Bony needs more to do then look menacing at the other pirates. I don't understand who flint killed on that ship in the flashback, It was obvious that the ship was going to crash when the billy couldn't organize the hoisting plan. If them pirates in the Script writing departments don't get their act together the whole ship will go down OH ARRRRRGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

  • JohnMangan Feb 22, 2014

    Well, sunglasses are a lot older than you think, even as this is presumably a mid 18th Century setting (TREASURE ISLAND being a bit vague as to actual dates). James Ayscough invented coloured lens glasses in 1750 but as a corrective for bad eyesight. No reason they could not have been adopted by pirates for intense sunlight though. There is a rumour they were also given to people suffering from syphilis as the disease makes sunlight too bright to be borne. Perhaps there's a plot twist coming?

  • killingtime Feb 22, 2014

    I got the feeling that his putting the shades on before bringing up "cleaning the last night's mess" was supposed to show how awful was whatever the crew's done to Max-bad enough to turn even a pirate stomach.... Vane suddenly looked quite ill at ease,too,and started to apologize (!!!!) to Max the moment she saw him. Considering his personality and Max's line of work, he probably wouldn't apologize "just" for rape and beating; and with the enraged crew-that probably didn't get all the details of what really went on that day,since Vane and Rackham wanted to protect their hides-and the bald sadistic sicko calling the shots there,we can only imagine...

  • killingtime Feb 19, 2014

    They won't careen the ship & (under)cook pigs forever. It seems that,in ep.V, Vane is going to visit his old buddy Blackbeard,& ask for some reinforcements. He will get them and storm Nassau,(probably in some later episode though)that will be under British control by this time.Hot dog!
    However,the squick level produced by the Max crap is still unacceptably high. Clean up guys!

  • safibwana Feb 18, 2014

    I'd just like to note for posterity that Tim made a disco reference.

  • Rolamb Feb 17, 2014

    I'm still not sure whether this ship has sailed for me or if I'm still on board (all references I thought you would have used Tim).

    Anne Bonny retired from pirating when she was 18, while being pregnant from captain Rackham. I don't think we'll see much of that. Her look from under her hat still makes me think she'll do some good for the series sometimes. Otherwise she will be a candidate for most underused character for next year's blowies.

    Vane still has the best opportunity to be a great character on the show. Flint might be interesting for what he is plotting. Vane just seems to be more of a Banshee man. That's what we want. In real life he was a merciless bastard.

    Although I also had hoped this series would be about pirates at sea, it is a bit about all the aspects of pirate life. because the premise was good, I'm not sure it's what we would like it to be.

    The most disappointing character is John Silver. he nowhere reminds me of anything I've seen of him in treasure Island. It's just a little shit head with no charisma at all. Why he hasn't been killed by any of the crew yet is a complete mysterie to me.

  • chrelle66 Feb 26, 2014

    And why is Long John Silver one of the shortest men on the crew?

  • Rolamb Feb 26, 2014

    Ah, you were thinking of his height .........

  • chrelle66 Feb 27, 2014

    Well it is mentioned in the original book.

  • Rolamb Feb 27, 2014

    Yes, a wooden leg can do that to a man :-)

  • klotensen Feb 17, 2014

    Can the reviewer please get over the sunglasses. It would have not been a problem to insert non-spheric colored glasses in a frame and call it "sunglasses" at the time. Sure it would have been idiotic but who says that there weren't any idiots in former times. Style over function - sure why not, pirates were known to try new things. Get over it Tim nobody is laughing anymore.
    For now I stay with this show. While watching this episode I got the Rome-feeling the first time and although both shows are still worlds apart this Black Sails thing might be worth it despite some stale characters and Kevin Costner from Waterworld.

  • killingtime Feb 20, 2014

    I dunno why people are so bothered by Rackham being a fop and a wag-it was a golden age for those; for goodness's sake,tough men wore rouge and beauty marks! (see Tim Roth as Archie Cunningham in Rob Roy)

  • Rolamb Feb 17, 2014

    The best coloured glasses were doctor Jacobi's in Twin Peaks and an honourable mention for Walter's reference to it in Fringe.

  • dhaworth Feb 17, 2014

    I'm getting the impression that the story for this season is "Go and get the treasure ship". That's it. So two episodes as an introduction and 2 for the plundering. That left four episodes to try and fill up, with probably little budget as it would have been spent on capturing the ship.
    I was happy to watch this, as it wasn't actually about cleaning the ship, of course.
    I'd certainly agree though, if this was the first episode of Black Sails anyone watched, it wouldn't be easy to work out they were pirates, other than the not-jolly-roger flag.

  • tvguy007 Feb 17, 2014

    I think the show is fantastic so far, and the negative reviews are just one man's opinion. This show is about a pirate colony, not pirates on a ship (what comes to mind when everyone thinks pirates). It is a historically important time/place in human history. Nassau was home to the worst pirates in history. Black sails is trying to show us that place, not just a bunch of dudes sailing around on a ship sinking stuff. They did that first episode, and I have no doubt there'll be more of that to come. But wouldn't a show limited to a boat be more boring after 4 straight episodes of nothing but "boat stuff"?
    What would be more compelling on a pirate show than what they've done so far? Constantly attacking other ships? Fun for about 30 minutes, then it's starts getting repetitive and ...boring.
    I think they are doing a great job so far with the characters, and plot development. They need the guns, and a clean ship, to have a shot at attacking the Spanish galleon, now they are going to get the guns that they are being denied. If anyone on the island pisses off the British too much then the British will send their navy down to destroy them. The island has a fort to protect it, but the British can still surround the island and cut off trade.(which historically is what they did).
    I give this show 4.5 out of 5 stars so far after 4 episodes.

  • AdedayoAdelakun Feb 17, 2014

    I agree with every point your raised in your review Tim, there is a limit to much you can have a pirate show on land and not get a bit too boring. If something doesn't change within the next 2 episode I can't see this show lasting more than a season at most and even if it changes it still might not last. Fingers crossed lets hope the writers get their act together and sort it out.

  • FamilyDutyHonor Feb 16, 2014

    Uum the sex scene between Flint and Ms. Barlow seemed pretty awkward to me, he kinda just layed there totally uninterested. I really thought Ann Bonney was gonna cut some throats this episode (obviously not) but I guess we should be grateful for the 2 or 3 extra lines that she did get because like someone else mentioned the most she does is peer out from underneath her hat and sharpen sticks. Can't believe how fast Vane fell this ep. also. And whoever effed up the plot to get the guns needs to executed. I thought this show would have a much bolder attitude/personality but all it seems to do is spend an hour -no literally 58 mins- on a single plot detail strecheddd out. I'm actually hoping for another character like that guy Flint killed in the pilot he was the only one who was about business, the rest of these pirates are as tame as well trained dogs. There isn't a shred of unpredictably on this show. Oh and that French whore I feel bad for the situation she's in and she blames Eleanor for it but what'd she think would happen if she tried to escape and run away on her own like that. They initially portrayed her as being so clever and now look she's totally helpless and can't even defend herself against some dusty ol' pirates. I'd think that after all this time whoreing she'd have learned a trick or two/ have a knife tucked beaneth her breast or something, I mean come on what purpose does she serve except to get fucked and abused. OK rant over let me just say I will stick with this show cuz I do feel like it has potential so hopefully these first four episodes were just laying the groundwork and things will pick up next week.

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