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

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. 



EXTRA PLANKS

– 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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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.
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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 :)
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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.
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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
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Feb 05, 2014
There will never be another show as awesome as Spartacus, unless of course they do the Julius Caesar spin off !
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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.
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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.
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Feb 03, 2014
Second episode felt more grounded, I am really liking this show.
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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 !
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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!!!
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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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Feb 03, 2014
I think they have to set up what is going to be going down in the water between all of the challengers for the grand prize. You have to know a little bit about what's up in Nassau and whatever history we can get on the pirates and their relations to one another's crews before the hunt begins on the water to build the Drama. Geez, its only the second episode. So far so good. Better than 'DaVinci' but definitely not 'Spartacus'. Max just wanted to be able to break her ties from the pimp, Noonan, and Eleanor just screwed her over to get what she needed. An interesting female relationship in something with Michael Bay's name on it - progress? Still trying to adjust to pirate 'Jody'. Can't help but be laughing at Capt. Vane. All of the main characters are very watchable, good cast.
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Feb 03, 2014

Jack deposed Vane before he even met Anne Bonny, Vane's pirating days only lasted 3 years; I'm guessing he's the big death of this season. Jack will orchestrate his imprisonment with some sort of cunning I hope
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Feb 03, 2014
If you're trying to find another "Spartacus" type show, then this will not do, since there is no other show like Spartacus, but I think that given the chance, this show will be interesting. I'm still interested in why Rackham, maybe the most legendary pirate of all time, besides Blackbeard, is playing second fiddle to Vane
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Feb 03, 2014
I thought this episode was better than the first one which I almost hated. But somehow the excitement is still missing. A new Spartacus this is not. The only character I'm interested in so far is Anne Bonny, and she hasn't had many lines yet. The best one is from episode one:

Bonny: I wanna fuck.
Rackham: What? Because of what I just said?
Bonny: Fucks it matter to you.
Rackham: All right then.
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Feb 03, 2014
Poll

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Feb 02, 2014
It might be realistic, but aesthetically speaking, I could do without the frontal nudity if it will include a black beard every time.
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Feb 02, 2014
"John made the decision to memorize the paper and then eat it as an insurance policy."
Eat it, burn it, all the same thang.
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Feb 02, 2014
Still a little boring. Not giving up on it yet, though.
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Feb 02, 2014
Pirates, treasure, treasure map, booty, threat of mutiny, skullduggery.........hmmn? Well? It's got all the right elements but for now it just seems pretty standard fare. I would'nt call it awful but it's only mildly entertaining at best. Toby Stephens as a lead seems miscast and whilst I'm all for getting to know characters, the time spent doing this should contribute to the show eliciting a connection to the characters. I'm not feeling connected to any of these characters, there's very little real chemistry between them all; the relationship between Eleanor and Max feels gratuitous and the angst about trade on the island is the least entertaining of all. Unless the show intends to serve up a real battle for territory and trade with Toby Stephens anointed King then pretty soon it will become missable.
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Feb 02, 2014
This show has so many lookalikes it gets confusing at times, i.e. is that Iain Glenn, Michael Hutchence resurrected, Vinnie Jones etc. But all in all it feels like a grower - no whore house jokes please. Visually the worst thing thus far is the CGI for the ships and I can live with that.
However, Black Sails has gone for a route in which it tells a tale of pirate captains with a bit of nouse and not just thuggery - or buggery; no peg boys here me laddo, no peg boys here. And I find that deeply troubling and wrong. For example, Flint frequently offers mercy and talks to his crew more like a bunch of democratic marines. And John Silver (the INXS front man lookalike) is supposedly going to turn into the fearsome Long John Silver. As it stands, I just can't see that happening with any surety.
Pirates got (and still do) their reputations with good reason. They were skilled, deadly and merciless men who could operate by no other means if they wanted to avoid their captain's wrath, the crew's or the King's gallows.
But here we have pirates as fairly well controlled by their own volition, patient and, in the main, good with women. Not to mention how they respect and trade with a woman; who merely has to 'throw' a few "fucks" about, wet pussy jokes and challenge their prowess to get them to back down.
This show passes the time well enough but it lacks any real bite. I fully expect it to go the usual route of depicting the English Royal Navy as the real blaggards and the pirates as just wanting to get by. Flint and Guthrie's character's have already given enough exposition to take us there.

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Feb 02, 2014
When I told my friend about the show before it aired they thought it was about little known African Ameican pirates. Anyway,the the show is what I was hopping for. All these people complaining about not enough action on the sea would probably be the same people complaining if they got their wish. I mean, what do you want, the bad pirate of the week in which we know who's going to win. Having a main bad guy through out the show would be very hard if it was all sea battles. one ship looses and the bad guy nearly drowns ever other episode so then they spend an episode inbetween each battle on land so whoever's ship got beat up or sunk has a few days to fix it up? No it;s about pirates, it's about stealing, backstabing, and besides not that many women spent much time on the high seas so we'd end up with the boob shot of the month. Give the show time.
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Feb 02, 2014
I like the action and the story but I have to say, the modern hairstyles and the fact that so many pirates and thieves could actually read takes a bit of the period-ness out of the production. I know this is television but the costume designers couldn't come up with something more appropriate to the period. And writers get real.
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Feb 03, 2014
I mentioned the same to my husband, since when did most deckhands back then (not officers) know how to read? Oh, and the extremely white, perfect teeth on everyone is disarming.
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Feb 02, 2014
I still stand by the belief that those who insist this show needs more high seas action are the same type who insist that 'The Walking Dead' needs more zombie kills. Taking focus away from story and character development in favour of action and violence is IMO what's wrong with much of television. It should be a medium to tell a story, not an excuse to blow sh*t up.

While I'm not the biggest fans of the two sequels, 'Pirates of the Caribbean' is very much a "pirate movie". Hell, it even has "pirate" in the title...but A LOT of that film franchise takes place on dry land. I don't recall ever hearing it wasn't piratey enough.

As for 'Black Sails', first my complaints:

Toby Stephens: Perhaps unfair, but he still bugs me. I look at him and all I can see is Gustav Graves which does nothing but remind me of the abomination that was 'Die Another Day'. Maybe in time Capt Flint will make me forget about that, but that time isn't here yet.

Max's accent: Okay, is she a local from the Bahamas or is she from France? Her accent keeps flipping back and forth from a decent Parisian to a really bad West Indian. Even Drusilla from 'Buffy' thinks its terrible and Jessica Parker Kennedy should get a new vocal coach.

Rackham & Mr. Scott's wigs: They're awful! Truly, truly awful. No more need be said.

Beyond those three relatively minor and subjective complaints, I'm diggin' 'Black Sails' thus far and am SHOCKED it's a Michael Bay production. There's a solid enough story that carrying it through 10 episodes shouldn't require any filler. Gates, Eleanor, Vane and Max (accent aside) are also quite I'm on board with the character casting.

From next week's preview, it looks like Capt Vain and Capt Flint might join forces. The former to make amends for loosing $5000 in pearls and the latter, well, cause he needs help. When the time does come that they hit the high seas is when this show will be put to the test. Eleanor and Max are pretty key characters and leaving them ashore to follow the adventures of the testosterone fueled sausage party (plus Annie Bonny) might grow a little stale if not careful.

But I'm happy to stick around and find out.
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Feb 03, 2014
Yep Gustav Graves [shudder] thankfully I've seen him in other things but I guess Die Another Day did have that Madonna judged sword fight which may have influenced casting. I'd like to see more ruthlessness from the pirates, Flint especially.

Isn't Max supposed to have a creole accent? French language with an island lilt to it! I got no complaints, she broke my heart with that scene with Eleanor.

Surprised how probably the same people criticising this shows authenticity and blah blah eat up that Pirates of the Carribean BS, maybe they need 3 Johnny Depps and Johnny Depp talking to small versions of himself on his own shoulder or Disney Castle Logo and all would be forgiven.

So far not much with the swashbuckling but I guess Vane has hit a woman and stabbed a homeless intermediary, piratey behaviour, why pick a fight with someone as strong as yourself if you can be predatory on the weak. Loving the Pirate King mixed with Odesyus mythology insanity, I would find it amusing too.
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Feb 03, 2014
The accent thing isn't a big deal, it's just a pet peeve of mine. Like actors speaking other languages...if you can't, then don't. But butchering an accent or language because that's what's called for, ya...not a fan. But I do put the onus on the producers first and actor second.

Creole I've always found pretty distinctive and while it would make sense for the character, all I hear is either French or Caribbean, but not a fusion of the two...it's either clearly one or the other.

Could entirely just be me.
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Feb 02, 2014
It isn't bad per say. It is just that it makes Cutthroat Island and The Pirates of the Caribbean look authentic. The story is mediocre, the so called sneaky cook is neither sneaky nor intelligent enough to lead me to believe that he is capable of remembering what he had for breakfast let alone the journal page. Speaking of eating. Unless their trip are done with motors he would have had to make them a meal then they would realize he wasn't a cook. Also, it took the Captain way too long to realize that the cook had the page.

Nothing is that interesting, mostly because the show runner has made the bold decision to not allow us to know any of these characters. None of them, the Captain is who we know the most of and we don't know anything about him. He wants to be Kind of the Caribbean, ok, why? The Cook wants to survive, ok, why not go to the Captain to begin with an barter for a high position on the boat. Speaking of boats, Pirates sailed on them, I know, I know, I was shocked too. I realize that a show simply on a boat or several boats would be boring. I mean that movie Master and Commander was boring as hell. But the show can't take place only on the islands either.

It seems they are only betting on the multitude of T&A that is there. Which is fun, but come on, there needs to be something else.

But again, the worst thing about the show is that it is too freaking clean every crappy piece of dialogue is said through bright white clean teeth. Said by a person in clean well laundered clothes. This is the early 1700s neither one of those things were common in a sea fairing community. And that means they don't care to get it right and it, at least for me, compounds everything else that is wrong with this show.

I doubt I am going to continue with the show. I might pop in here to read the review and see if it gets any better.
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Feb 02, 2014
I am hanging on but not with the enthusiasm I had hoped. The characters are pretty flat (established in episode one and I do not expect them to change during the whole season). The nudity is put in for cheap effect (like the see through dressing gown and the fact that the handjob was shown with a screen between the camera and the handjob instead of a screen between the handjob and the door) (don't get me wrong, I love to see beautiful nudes like in Banshee). Love the fact that John Silver has an eiditic memory, it will come in handy later.......
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Feb 02, 2014
I'm glad the show has more to it than fighting pirates at sea, I think that would be kinda boring. I like the political maneuvering on the island. I'm sure there will be plenty of action along the way. I am enjoying the show so far!
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Feb 02, 2014
I´ll keep on reading here, and when the pirates get their feet wet, then I start watching ;)
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Feb 02, 2014
I voted Yes. I'm not sure how you could make it based on the sea without it becoming an enemy-ship-of-the-week show, which I think I'd tire of quite quickly.
It seems that the writers have decided to give the main characters more of a story than simply the stereotypical thug who likes killing people. And so far, we've learnt quite a bit about Eleanor, Max and to some extent Vane. But we still know little about Flint and practically nothing about John.

I'm guessing that now Flint's got the schedule (sort of), there will be some sailing involved shortly. But, it's been good to let us get to know the characters a bit, before they all get stuck on the Walrus, probably with Max as a stow-away.
It will be interesting to see how the viewing figures hold up, if people mainly tuned in to see action and violence. But, at least we'll get a second season anyway.
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Feb 02, 2014
I vote Mike_Schmidt head writer for the remainder of the series!
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Feb 02, 2014
Max had a really tough time this episode, looks like it will be downhill for her for a bit.
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Feb 02, 2014
a. Eleanor should be keelhauled for doing this to Max, but I'm sure she will make it up to her somehow...
b. can't wait to compare this show to Crossbones - healthy competition is good for us viewers!
c. thank you, Tim, for this review. I voted no.
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Feb 02, 2014
It looks as if Crossbones has been pushed back until the Summer now. I'm not sure what that says about it.
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Feb 02, 2014
I had high hopes for this series but they are quickly going out to sea. Being from the Bahamas, I was hoping for a least an iota of factual history since the pirate legacy is rich there ( and potentially thoroughly entertaining) . This is more soft-porn, cheesy, arg me matey nonsense. I watched the first two episodes and did other things on the computer during both because it's boring even during fight scenes. I wish there was more action at sea. The ships are quite fine. They should have taken some notes from Horatio Hornblower and Captain and Commander instead of Jonny Depp and Disney.

The casting is serviceable but the guy who stole the map and started the whole mess is just awful. I was going to expound on the casting and plot holes but I just don't care. Don't think I'll stick with this one.
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Feb 02, 2014
My feelings about this show are lukewarm at best. I don't see any real depth in these characters, and the story is really slow burn. When you hear that there's a pirate show you expect ship to ship cannon battles, sword fights, and drunken debauchery, the show has plenty of the latter but very little of the former. We're only 2 episodes in, but if they don't pick up the pace a little I won't keep watching.
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Feb 02, 2014
I'm worried for Max! I'm sure they won't kill her, but Bonny is gonna find her and turn her into Vane and I'm sure Vane will do something awful to her like rape and beat her or let his men rape her. I mean that is what pirates did back then. But I like the show so far I find it entertaining not great television but entertaining.
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Feb 02, 2014
Not digging this series as much as I had hoped I was going to, I don't know exactly what it is but it's not grabbing me. The stacks aren't that high for me I guess, I just doesn't really care or like any of these characters, I can care about scumbags but they have to be interesting or charismatic or something, so far nobody really is. I'm disappointed.
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