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Black Sails S01E01: "I."


Pirate's honor here: I was all prepared to use the headline "Bland, Ho!" because I didn't expect Black Sails to be anything more than the next Starz series that I would give up on a few episodes in. But by the time Captain Flint and his bloodied face handed Billy that blank page once the big main-event fight ended and "I." wrapped, I realized I didn't dislike Black Sails at all. In fact, my face was practically pressed against the screen. 

The word "romp" is often used to describe shows that aren't necessarily great but still manage to be entertaining, and after one episode, Black Sails, with its rising and falling galleons and bosoms, is definitely a romp. And let's not kid ourselves here, low expectations played a part in my favorable attitude. But there's a hint of something greater than just slicing and sexing to Black Sails, and it's the same thing that some other critics are bemoaning about the series.


I dig the story. In fact, I dig it enough that I didn't even notice that the first episode—apart from some intense bookends—was fairly light on mindless sea action. The opening ship battle, which I'll remind you was directed by Game of Thrones' "Blackwater" director Neil Marshall and cleverly (okay maybe not SUPER cleverly) shown from the perspective of Captain Flint's target to provide a better sense of the terror pirates bring, was everything we hoped the series would be minus a few dismemberments and disembowelings. And the final hand-to-hand contest between Flint and Singleton was elevated from a basic brawl to a primal, blood-soaked battle to the death. But in between, pillaging was put aside for power struggles and paper-trailing, turning what some expected to be high-seas happenings into terra firma times. Not enough sailing and cannonballs, some say! Well I've been on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland enough times to know that pirates aren't perennially oceanbound, and I for one enjoy the land-locked adventures of chasing women, being chased by overweight women, and enticing a dog to hand over the keys to the jail cell they're in. 

Black Sails' first episode accurately (I guess; I'm not a pirate scholar, despite riding pirate-themed rides at Disneyland) captured the chaos and lawlessness of pirate life, even among pirate ranks, and going forward, that should keep the show afloat. Captain Flint's hold on his ship, the mighty Walrus, was tenuous as Scarface Singleton rallied enough backers to get himself promoted to Cap'n. The uprising was in part Flint's own doing, as he put his personal thirst for wealth ahead of regularly padding the pockets of his crew and pursued the legend of a Spanish Galleon stuffed to the portholes with booty. That's what makes Black Sails interesting to me; these pirates are barbaric and willing to turn on their leaders at the sight of a shiny gold coin, so pirate politics regularly come into play and having trustworthy alliances is key. 


But why's that so different from ladder-climbing in any other genre? Here, the top rung is occupied by Mr. Flint, whom I find fascinating (and who is played magnificently by Toby Stephens). He reminds me, in some sense, of a more outwardly sinister Marcus Chaplin, captain of Last Resort's U.S.S. Colorado, in that his motives and level of competence aren't always clear. Flint might just be insane. He's definitely an egomaniac ("I AM YOUR KING," he bellowed to his buddy Billy even though the Walrus was more of a commune than a monarchy), he's obsessive, he's ridiculously intelligent, and he's a risk-taker. Those are all characteristics that would make following him somewhat troubling. They're also characteristics that will make him an awesome television character. His whole plan to maintain command of his ship relied on Billy making a split-second decision to lie to the entire crew, and this after he bugged out on the guy about being king. Ballsy! And Billy, the ship's second smartest resident, knew they were in better hands with Flint than any of the other tough-talkers. The fact that no one knew Flint's plan except Flint added extra weight to this scene, and the fact that Flint's plan came from unbridled personal obsession and was insane made it even better. I like this guy, a lot. I'm drawn to him like a siren.

There's plenty to like in the comic-bookish assortment of other characters, too. Jon Snow reject John Silver has the benefit of Black Sails' well-read audience knowing that he eventually becomes the most piratey pirate of all pirates, and that soon he'll be more than a fresh-faced impostor on board the Walrus. Eleanor Guthrie, daughter of black market master Richard, is saltier than the seas around New Providence Island, and curses like a sailor who just hit his thumb with a hammer. And she's a lesbian! At least for now. An F-bombing cute-as-a-button maybe bisexual tough blondie is ridiculous, and exactly what I want from a show like this. Captain Vane gives off similar vibes to Pope from Falling Skies—a good thing—and will be Flint's biggest threat. He's already a mean sonuvabitch. And his hench people, the hipster 'stached Rackham and cosplay inspiration Anne Bonny, are suitably interesting based on their costumes and one-note personalities alone; they admirably stand out from the rest of the series' sprawling cast. And nothing helps define a character like Bonny more than the simple line, "I want to fuck." Cheers to you, m'lady. I think I like you. Finally, Max the whore plays on whore stereotypes—she's cunning, slutty, and smarter than you think—but so far, it works.


In its first episode, Black Sails didn't need to do anything except distinguish these characters from one another and give them a sense of direction, and mission accomplished, I'd say. That's not easy with a cast as large as this; Game of Thrones required several viewings before most people could separate the Lannisters from the Baratheons, but on Black Sails everything is gleefully simple, which is just how it should be with this show. I say "this show" a lot because Black Sails doesn't need to strive for awards, it just has to be fun.

And of course, part of that fun stems from the Starz way of doing things. There are boobies! Totally unnecessary lesbian scenes! And there was one bushy bearded clam that came with a corny Blackbeard joke! Maybe you're a more sophisticated gentleman than I, but camp and smut are right up my alley when my brain needs a rest, and I make no apologies for that. 

All told, the Starz stigma will probably keep Black Sails from really sailing into the waters of great television dramas. That's too bad, because there's an interesting ambition behind the series from creator Jonathan E. Steinberg that may have trouble surfacing above the well-sculpted breasts. But if you know how to compartmentalize your viewing and learn how to watch for both, Black Sails will be better than you expected.


BONUS PLANKS


– The other reviews I've read say that there isn't much action in the next three episodes, either. We'll see if it becomes a problem, or if story carries the series like I hope it can.

– Eleanor: "Can I tell you what happens with I stand near an earner? My pussy gets wet. In which case, I will go fuck myself." That is terrible dialogue, but I love it because watching a darling face like Hannah New's utter such filth is hilarious.

– Max: "The world is so full of surprises, let it surprise you," she says as she fingerbangs her girlfriend. Okay then!

– I wish the series was MORE violent. Like, arms getting cut off violent. 

– Some of the CG shots did not look good, but some looked great. I doubt there'll be much consistency in that department.

– Maybe it's just because I live in dreary old Portland, but I never got sick of seeing these location shots. They really add the escapist feel. 


What'd you think of Black Sails' series premiere? Will you be back for Episode 2?


Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 3/26/2016

Season 3 : Episode 10

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I'm willing to overlook the ridiculous dialogue for something like this, but a line has to be drawn somewhere, and the atrocious casting goes way over that line. The show might not be so bad if only two of the main characters were not so horribly miscast: Luke Arnold barely pulls off John Silver, despite the fact that, at 5' 9" he's hardly "long". Hannah Low, on the other hand, clearly cannot handle the role she's been given - at all:" she looks and acts about as convincing as Alicia Silverstone might have been if she'd been given the role. I wouldn't be surprised if she only got the role because she was the only actor of those who auditioned who was willing to do copious nude scenes.
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Not too shabby, I'll be watchin some more.
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I really liked this series so far a bit like spartacus on the high seas I am mean it silly dialogue and daft characters but thats the fun of it. Better then that turd Moonfleet and eddie Izzard Pirate show. I like the Vinnie Jones lookalike Captain Vane and Toby Stephens is great fun.
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i enjoyed it, but the opening credits blew my mind, gorgeous, on par with the animated/clockwork map in the GoT opening creds.
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It was... dull. Parts of it were good, I loved the lesbian smuggler chick, she was actually interesting (and not just the sex scene you perverts), as were some of the side characters, but the 'main' 'plot', duller than dishwater.

It had major problems with showing how long things took, they were zipping around all over the place and there was a major disconnect there, and the ships were... badly done.

Someone needs to hand these guys a hornblower boxset on how to shoot ships.
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I so wanted this to be good but oh god its so boring. even the numerous titties couldn't save it.
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I hold off watching it till today and I was pleasantly surprised. Perhaps I had low expectation and ended up having a very enjoyable hour.

Many of the characters are very interesting and there is actually a few stories to tell. I guess it helps they have treasure island to base on.

I really liked Jessica Parker Kennedy's character. Captain Flint, Eleanor Guthrie, Captain Vane and Anne Bonny are all well cast and played to almost perfection. Zach McGowan was fantastic in Shameless and he looks good playing Captain Vane too.

The only one I am not sure about is Luke Arnold. Since he is playing John Silver who is suppose to be the lead character in this series, I wanted him to be more charismatic. I have not seen enough of that yet. Hopes he proves me wrong.

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I liked it a lot more than I would have expected and will be back to see if it keeps me interested. But I'm definitely interested in seeing how Captain Flint ends up being insane and how Long John Silver ends up like he is in Treasure Island. And other than that the other characters were also interesting enough to keep my attention throughout the first episode.
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The way Tim constantly insults Starz, I'd have to assume he never seriously watched Spartacus. Better writing in there than a thousand Breaking Bads or The Wires...
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I heard about, previewed and watched this series pilot all within a 90 minute period and while I'm not entirely convinced yet, I think I dig it.

"Not enough sailing and cannonballs, some say!"...those are the same folks who say of 'The Walking Dead', "Too much talking and not enough zombies!". I consider them the lowest common denominator of viewer and need not be catered to.

"Jon Snow reject John Silver"...HA! It's funny cause it's true.

Walrus...Worst. Pirate ship name. Ever.

When talking about a Starz show, I think you can only really compare it to other Starz shows because...well...it's Starz, and they've got a style all their own. The first thing that was glaringly obvious to me is 'Black Sails' (thus far) is missing the grab you by the face and make you pay attention sort of cast. In 'Spartacus', Andy Whitfield was magnetic from the very get go and complimented by John Hannah, Manu Bennett & Lucy Lawless...that's an attention grabbing cast. With 'Davini's Demons", Tom Riley channelling his inner Gregory House and bookended by Tom Bateman & Elliot Cowan is also pretty attention grabbing. But based on nothing but the pilot, I'm not getting that vibe from 'Black Sails'...yet.

I like the character of Mr Flint, but I still haven't forgiven Toby Stephens for ruining James Bond with the ultra craptacular 'Die Another Day'. It's not entirely his fault, but he shoulders some blame that I haven't been able to get over yet. I know it's part of the story to see John Silver go from mild mannered seaman {giggle} to badass pirate, but Luke Arnold just comes off so vanilla right now. And having developed a little crush on Jessica Parker Kennedy from her 'Secret Circle' days, I'm plenty okay with her getting naked and swinging both ways...but I'm not quite buying it yet. Jumping from The CW to Starz is a big leap and she's gonna need some actual acting chops to pull it off.

On the up side, Hannah New as Eleanor Guthrie...fantastic. Charisma, humour and a broken enough character to keep her interesting for a while I think. Captain Vane and his sidekick Anne Bonny, also great. We'll see what kind of depth each has, but if they end up as nothing but straight up villains, I think I'm okay with that.

Not the instant "I'm all in" like I had upon watching the 'Spartacus' and 'Davinci's Demons' pilots, but certainly more than enough to keep me coming back to the high seas.
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After reading some of the other comments, I've got to go back and look at the last few years of TV shows on Hulu and Netflix to see exactly when it became essential that actors in historical series have bad teeth, poor hygiene, and wardrobes that have never been washed and are covered with dirt & grime. Personally, none of those things matter to me.
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Tim, I'm VERY disappointed that you failed to mention the fact that the entire premise of this series, isn't, in fact, based around Cap'n Flint, but rather, on John Silver.

The original 'text' for this series, states that it is set 25-odd years before Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, and it is about the life of John Silver, before he became Long John Silver.

So the ultimate character of this series, is going to be John Silver, as it is telling HIS story, and that is what I find most unique about this series: The story of Black Sails isn't based around the 'main' or 'central' character i.e. Cap'n Flint, but rather, on what is currently, the 'runt of the litter' John Silver!
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I was a bit meh until the show ended with the fight and bluff by Flint. I always felt by the way John Silver talks about him or perhaps talked him up was that he was ruthless and fearsome, I didn't get that impression from Toby Stephens till the end and I'm not sure it was enough.

Did like the 1st attack and the pirate with sharp looking teeth, I imagine some intimidation back in the day was of value like Blackbeard burning hemp at the ends of his beard to look fearsome amongst the flame and smoke. You want your merchant vessel captains to give up easy and to know the reprisals for any kind of resistance or running are going to be bloodthirsty.

The initial ship given it's meager cargo strangely put up a fight but then I guess it was to protect the log book and the page torn from it and for entertaining tv purposes.
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Give it time. This was just the pilot.

The writers have Treasure Island, to work from...This is a rare situation: The writers only have ONE text to bas their work from.

This isn't like other TV shows that are based on penned work - This is one book, that the writers have to go on...It's not like the writers can 'interpret' Flint to be different, because all they have is Treasure Island, and given that they have already established that Black Sails is set 25 years before Treasure Island, they HAVE TO stay true to Flint's ultimate character.

I suspect we will see that, as Flint gets closer to his 'goal', he will become more ruthless.
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Maybe my hopes are a little high but I think this show has potential to be great. I thought "Spartacus", despite its slow motion nudity and over the top violence had some the strongest moments on television. And I may just be overlaying my view of "Treasure Island" on to this show but I love the John Silver character, and knowing that he becomes Flint's Quartermaster is a cool plot twist to look forward to.
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I found it boring. Too glossy. None of the characters grabbed me. Who should we root for? Nothing against gratuitous sex and violence as such, but the scenes here were somehow empty, lifeless (unlike the ones in Banshee!). The Blackbeard gag was slightly amusing, granted.
Eleanor Guthrie came across as entirely unbelievable; I don't buy she's a tough, pirate-defying master trader.
As others noted, those white teeth were a constant reminder that these were 21st century actors. Also, I agree these people's clothes are much too clean.
Niggles: I understand that Nassau, as a pirate's den, was at its height in 1715-1718, and lasted until 1725. Nassau harbor could take some 200 ships, so the place depicted here is too small. It had many saloons, brothels, what have you, on the waterfront. Plus, pirates came from many different places with different languages, so they would have spoken some kind of patois. Further, "Spanish Dollars"? Seriously? Try Doubloons, Real or Escoudos!
But historical accuracy is not what Starz is about, we know that.
Also, I believe filming took place in Cape Town, South Africa. So much of that "tropical island" feel is CGI... sorry, Portland.
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Didn't like it. Yes a Spartacus spinoff would have been great. Don't mind the sex romp. I find them hysterical. But really this was not that good. Didn't get past the 2/3 mark for me. I guess I will skip this one.
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It was solid. I'm interested to see how far they go intermixing the fictional from the historical fact. Obviously Vane, Calico Jack, and Anne Bonny are all major characters, and from a glance at the IMDB page I saw at least one other legit 18th century pirate I won't mention. Given the time period I can think of one or two others that shouldn't be too far behind as well. It's an interesting time period that hasn't really been mined as much as some of the other historical genre's, I'm willing to give it a chance. Between this and Da Vinci, Starz has started to turn itself around a bit as far as original programming is concerned.
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Starz should have done a Spartacus spin off about the rise of julius Caesar instead! Anyway will give this a few more episodes this pilot was ok nothing too exciting.
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I enjoyed it, even with the boobs, girls kissing girls , violence, perfect teeth etc, lol.
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Aye! I'll be back next week, I enjoyed the heck out of this episode.
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Well that was certainly something, wasn't it. It isn't bad, it isn't good it has ticks in both the pro and con columns. The setting is pretty, the story could be a bit more interesting. It wasn't a very good introduction to any of these characters and at times they just felt disjointed. Guthrie seems the most disjointed of them all.

But their is a problem a huge glaring, well gleaming actually problem. What the hell is with all of the fresh from the 21st century dentist crest smiles? I couldn't notice any of the words they were saying because they were all said behind the gleam of a bright white smile. That and the costume designer went to the Revolution school of costume design. Everyone is fresh from the laundry. Just had a battle, lets do a quick change and get the blood off? NO this is the early 1700s, they had no dentists, they had no set baths, they had no set laundry. Everyone is too clean and with that this show becomes inauthentic and makes Pirates of the Caribbean look authentic. These were not clean people.

Part of what makes shows like GoT and TWD work is because they are for the most part covered in muck, grime, blood, gore and dirt. In fact some of their more memorable scenes are when they finale get to bath themselves. And that lends to the quality of their show because if the runners can even just get that right then they will get other things right. Black Sails, doesn't have that. I doubt it will have that. Hell they are on or near the ocean 24/7 and they aren't even salt encrusted. I spent 48hrs on a boat once and I felt like I was blasted with a salt cannon.

Come on guys, step up the game a little. Showtime, HBO and now even Cinemax have raised the game and you guys need to step up.
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Bah, I don't know how to embed YouTube videos in comments here. Do you wrap youtube tags around the link? Anyway Bear McCreary is doing the score for Black Sails and he's awesome. He uploaded a new video yesterday http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=On_Lh1wiSjk
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I FIGURED IT OUT! lol It's a good video. Bear is an amazing composer.
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I could not keep my attention on this for a full episode, so I'll just pass on this one
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I agree with you that "Black Sails" exceeds expectations and is worth watching--but, I strongly disagree with you about the need for more violence. I'm beyond tired of the violence-porn that Americans seem to require as some kind of litmus test for "adult" material. This "Game of Thrones" mentality requires gross-out hacking-off of limbs and bloody disfigurements in every episode. Indeed, I was extremely happy that in the opening sequence "Black Sails" narrative moved forward, without showing the viewers Singleton "administering justice" to the captured & terrified English merchant captain. I hope the writers & directors continue to resist the cheap violence thrills. If not, I won't be a regular viewer of this series.
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Well I'm far from an American, and I don't care for hyper-violence normally, but in shows/movies set at sea during that age? You need to show just how bloody sea battles were.

You didn't sink your enemy, it's very hard to sink a wooden ship (without setting fire too it or hitting the gun-powder stock), what they did was make the crew bleed instead until they gave up. So you need to see blood running into the scuppers to get that across.
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I'm with you, Tim. This was a lot better than I expected, and now that I know what to expect I'm just going to enjoy it. I like how Starz does camp!
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It wasn't good but neither too bad. Also there wasn't one character who captivated my interest enough to care what will happen to them next and I'd to listen to much unnecessary blah blah only filling the time.
Will give it a second chance, maybe I just expected too much.
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"...That's too bad, because there's an interesting ambition behind the series from creator Jonathan E. Steinberg..."

Not sure if we're seeing EXACTLY the same thing where that statement is concerned, but I definitely felt this when Flint began talking about the greatest threat to their life not being any king's army, but civilization slowly creeping in to wipe them out.

If the show maintains this theme over all the Starz'y stuff it'll pack into each hour, If it can make a statement relating the rise of civilization to the loss of freedom, and show that Flint saw it all coming, THAT will elevate it into greatness.
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I agree with all of what you said.

I expected to my more Starz'y along the lines of Spartacus. Man was I wrong, there were times (hell most of the episode) didn't feel like a Starz production.
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Boring !!! Zzzz.. I will pass...
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Ok, after reading the reviews and comments from almost everybody here I see that I should give it a try (not that anybody cares ;)
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Really enjoyed this!
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I agree completely about the Flint character, he is immediately interesting and its a great performance by Stephens. I also think Silver will be interesting, he is almost comic relief here, but we know he will darken as the story unfolds.

For me Eleanor Guthrie's character seems a bit clunky, nothing against the actress, but she is too pretty and delicate looking, and the character lacking confidence, to hold the position she is in amongst all those pirates. And that middle-class English accent using that language is just jarring, it sounded a bit like she was reading lines rather than speaking naturally.

My main problem was the pacing, the political intrigue I, like Tim, found interesting, forall the action and sex its the drama that keeps people glued to shows like Game of Thrones, Rome etc. However, I felt like they put in about 3 episodes worth of plot twists in to this opener. I hear people complain about some shows being too slow, but this seemed too quick, especially with the Max character, literally switching alliances from one scene to the next. If they can get the pacing right it's certainly a promising show
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I had the same problem with ms. guthrie. that stint of dialogue mentioned in the article did not appear to come naturally at all to the actress.
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No, and there was no sense of her being powerful enough to control that mob of cut-throat pirates. They have gone for a beautiful poster girl, but the character needed to be more earthy, more powerful, to be believable
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I was thinking, in terms of miscasting it reminds me of when they tried to do a re-boot of the King Arthur story a couple of years ago and they had that scrawny, waif, boy-band reject as Arthur. It completely scuppered the show from the start as no-one could invest in an Arthur who looked physically incapable of lifting a sword. It's all very well casting some good-looking people to try and draw viewers in, but they need to think about what roles they are playing, otherwise they do more harm than good.

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yeah I watched that and pretty much just rooted for his brother the whole time.
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That was fun! I really enjoyed it, which is all I ask from a show about pirates. I love the setting. I'm not sure if I missed something, but I didn't quite understand why the cook stole the page of the log in the first place? And given he'll get a share, why doesn't Silver just give it to Flint? I'm sure this will be made clear.

I do like the way that Stevenson's familiar fictional characters have been spliced together with historical fact. I hadn't realised that Vane, Rackham and Anne Bonny were all real, even if their time lines have been mucked about with. Also, the ship they're after. the Urca de Lima, existed.

Apparently, a prequel to Treasure Island was published in the 20's, called Porto Bello Gold. It seems that it tells the story of Flint and his crew capturing a galleon and the treasure. I don't know how similar to that this show will be, has anyone read it?
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silver obtained the page from the real cook whom he killed when flint's crew was attacking.
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Yes, but why did the real cook take the page?
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Clearly the page is valuable (so valuable, people are killing people for it). Why wouldn't he steal the page?
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I do miss the swashbuckler movies and the series "The Buccaneer" of the 50's and except for Captain Hook in OUAT, there haven't been many pirates around lately. It is a refreshing change from the plethora of police, lawyer, supernatural , and superheroes that populate the networks these days. It's about time for a show about pirates.
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Agree 100% with the review. However I didn't even notice a lack of violence/action, so I don't have that qualm.
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the beautiful locale of the pirate stronghold is huge for me too. mr. well preened w/ quaffed hair and lady bucaneer were definitely two characters who intrigued me as well. a little disappointed by jody (vane) in that he's an ass but his willingness to punch that chick if it weren't for their previous relationship at least solidified who we're meant to see him as. flint is obviously nuckin futs and more power to him for it. I'm gonna miss scarface but not the sense of impending doom his character brought with him. I thought at the very beginning it would be best they they offed him by the end for that reason and glad they did. I also like billy and the quartermaster. I like silver as well but damned if have any idea what choices he's gonna make.

as long as this show stays more john hannah and andy whitfield spartacus and less whatever the hell magic city devolved into it'll have my viewership for the foreseeable future. and I'm greatful for its existence
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Loved the first episode, can't wait for more. Came into it expecting Spartacus-on-the-Seas, and that's pretty much what I got. Not quite the ultra violence of Spartacus, but I definitely agree that "romp" is probably the best word to describe this show. If you love booty (of both kinds), and badasses, this show is for you.
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