I'll come right out and say it: "VIII" was a damn good episode of Black Sails. But it was also a pretty crummy season finale. The good news is that the series has already been renewed for a second season, so future generations will be able to jump right into the Season 2 premiere (I'm going out on a limb here and saying it will be called "IX") as soon as they're done watching "VIII" by downloading episodes via their ocular iVisors and they won't feel the pain of waiting an entire off-season just to see what should've happened in Season 1. As for us, we have to wait. Even though we shouldn't. But other than that totally major gripe that drove me up the effing wall, "VIII" was good!
You see, from the very beginning of this season, we were promis—no, that's not the right word, we were led to believe that we'd see Flint and his crew either gut the Urca de Lima for all its Spanish riches or get blown to smithereens while trying to do so. It was a valid expectation; from the very beginning, Black Sails presented a goal (the Urca) that we'd either achieve or fail to meet by the finale. But in the end, the big showdown was with a random galleon—possibly an Urca escort, possibly another pirate ship, possibly a booze cruise. Granted that showdown was the best scene of the series so far (more on that later) but it felt like a prelude to a boss battle instead of the real deal. And after Flint woke up on a beach following a royal ass-kicking, what should appear over the bend but the Urca, smashed and trashed on the shore after being taken out by a storm. Flint looked on greedily. End of Season 1.
So our pirate friends were smoked in sea battle but still stumbled upon the Urca, which had been taken down by nature. That's not the thrilling heroic or even anti-heroic finish I expected from this so-called action-adventure series; it was passive and didn't feel earned. And obviously, whether or not Flint and his crew actually plundered that booty went unanswered. I wouldn't even call it a cliffhanger, it was more of an interruption to a building story that would've be more fitting in a penultimate episode rather than a season finale. I'm curious to know whether this is how Black Sails always intended its first season to end or if its early Season 2 renewal in July, seven months before Season 1 premiered, simply allowed the producers to leave Season 1 open-ended.
But as viewers, we're just along for the ride, and thankfully that ride did give us that fight between the Walrus and El Random Boat. For all the bemoaning critics did about not enough pirate action in the early going of Season 1, when Black Sails did take to the seas, it was staggering. Flint had the idea to play innocent victim of a pirate ship and use his partner ship, The Ranger, as their alleged attackers, and when El Random Boat went after The Ranger, Flint would blast away. Unfortunately, shooting at a boat sailing away from you narrows its size by two-thirds, and cannons firing from 300 yards out are about as accurate as a pirate realistically wearing sunglasses in that time period. Flint's first round of lobbing was worse than Shaq's free throw percentage, but a few direct hits gave the crew reason to cheer. Then El Random Boat began to turn and faced The Walrus broadside, and OMG it absolutely unloaded on The Walrus with three rows of cannons. It looked a little something like this:
BOOM BOOM BOOM
Maybe I never knew I was some sort of nautical warfare geek, but wow. Watching Flint get tossed off his ship was heart-wrenching. And on the other side of the Spanish boat The Ranger was getting totally shredded. Not sure Captain Vane is going to be happy about that.
But what even eclipsed the awesome destruction on the seas was the slow crumbling of Flint's integrity and authority as word of his planned treachery spread. Armed with Barlow's letter and the knowledge of Flint's plans to take a few shares of the Urca loot to start his own pirate paradise where he would be king, Gates protested and was about to go so far as mutiny when Flint sprung on him like a cobra and snapped his neck. I did not see that coming. But before he was relived of his duties and life, he passed along what he knew to new quartermaster Dufresne, who used it to undermine Flint's authority. Right during the middle of Flint's planned attack on El Random Boat.
It's hard to say whether the distraction and delay in attack caused The Walrus to misfire, and consequently, get ripped a new one, but it certainly didn't help things. Maybe Dufresne thought it was time to challenge Flint's command because he didn't agree with the immediate orders, but that would mean he was leaving The Ranger and all their buddies on that shit on a short rope. I liked Gates' attitude before he was murdered—get the stash from the Urca first, and then bring Flint to justice back on the mainland. But Dufresne couldn't wait, and that meant a whole lot of new holes in the boat.
Thankfully John Silver fired a cannon during the standoff, giving The Walrus no chance but to go through with Flint's orders (Silver's "sorry!" was a nice moment of levity to break the tension). And it was the combination of the visceral action (Showers of splinters! Pirates flying through the air! The recoil of the firing cannons!) and the men fighting for their lives for a captain they no longer trusted that made this scene outstanding. Among the smoke and destruction, there was Flint realizing that his plan had come undone and the constant gambling he does with his crew's lives for his own self interest had finally gone the other way. It was exhilarating and sad at the same time, a clash between the horrors of greed gone awry and the sanctity of the chain of command as The Walrus was ripped asunder.
And now that we know that Flint is capable of murdering his men, as he did with Gates, it brings up the question of whether he did toss Billy Bones from the boat and whether he did kill his rival when he was saving Randal from the boat. I had always pegged Flint as a man who would never do that, but Black Sails is really starting to point towards him being a total bastard.
Back at Nassau—and I talk about this reluctantly because it pales in comparison to Flint's plot—Vane brought his gang of surly wood choppers to take New Providence by force. In the end, he got a shaky partnership with Eleanor and her consortium to run things on the island as long as she stayed out of his way. I'm not sure the story of New Providence ever really took hold, as it was basically a pirate version of a hostile takeover. A lot of it felt a bit convoluted, if you ask me. Season 2 needs to do a lot of work on the land-based story, starting with making me root for someone to take control of the island, because I'm not really into Eleanor as head of things.
The abrupt end to Season 1 was a bit of a disservice to fans, but I'm still looking forward to Season 2. What did you think of Season 1 and the finale?
– I think I got seasick watching the scenes when the ships were in the storm. How did pirates do that!?!?
– I loved the idea of Randal not being the idiot everyone thinks he is, and as an old man in a young pirate's world, that's what he has to do to survive. And using his peg leg to save John Silver's life was great.
– I had hoped that a couple of characters would turn into more important cogs in this machine, but Rackham and Max both felt more like pawns than major players as they were early in the series.
– Toby Stephens has been amazing all season. Bravo, sir.
– Hold your tongue and say, "I was born on a pirate ship."
What'd you think of the finale? How 'bout the season as a whole?
AIRED ON 3/15/2014
Season 1 : Episode 8