A prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’, produced by Michael Bay…
Rarely has a show that sounds so awful on paper, worked so well on-screen. For ‘Black Sails’ is, by far, the best series on television: Beautifully shot with an excellent cast and captivating story-lines; its good old fashioned, high-seas adventure and intrigue, without so much as a comic book character or dragon in sight.
With the love of his life murdered by the Rothschild controlled British Empire, and every pirate hunter from London to St. Lucia gunning for his head: We last saw Captain Flint (Toby Stephens) putting the English colony of Charleston to the flame; having been betrayed by Viceroy Lord Ash (Nick Boraine), and rescued from certain death by rival Captain Charles Vane (Zach McGowan). Flint, embittered and out for revenge; cuts all ties to his former life as a subject of the crown, embraces his destiny as a pirate and works to instil fear in his enemies: slitting throats, burning towns and harassing British forces across the Caribbean; Captain Flint seems intent on becoming the monster his adversaries always wanted him to be: And with that; Black Sails sets off to a brutal and sobering start.
One of the first things you’ll notice about season 3, is how they’ve tempered the pace to focus on character development: Sure, the Urca de Lima Gold is still a major issue, and all the political machinations of Port Nassau are very much in play. But there’s a lot more introspective self-reflection going on, as we edge ever closer to the beginning of Stevenson’s novel e.g. Flint and his crewmen aboard The Walrus, are engaged in an increasingly reckless blood feud with the maritime marauders of His Majesty’s Royal Navy, much to the concern of pragmatic pirate / newly appointed Quartermaster; John Silver (Luke Arnold). And its during a scene in which The Walrus is marooned in the doldrums, that the Flint-Silver dynamic comes into its own: Luke Arnold does a great job in bringing the metamorphosis of John Silver to life. For gone are the days (i.e. Seasons 1-2) when Silver was a smirking, swashbuckling ladies man; for now; he’s a peg-legged, bearded and solemn soul; desperate to be taken seriously and struggling to impose his will on the dangerously charismatic Captain Flint: Its all rather intense; though fans will get a kick out of the scene where John coldly warns tavern revellers in Port Nassau: “My name is John Silver. And I’ve got a long f***ing memory”.
Meanwhile, Captain Flint also struggles to come to terms with his place in the world: Flint fully understands the nature of the war he’s fighting, but remains reluctant to relinquish what’s left of his humanity to win it. Look out for a particularly powerful scene where Flint, having dispensed some reverse Wisdom of Solomon-style justice aboard The Walrus, retreats to the Captain’s quarters and silently contemplates what he’s become: The excellent Toby Stephens manages to encapsulate & convey three years of emotional turmoil into a subtle and unsettling performance that wouldn’t seem out of place on stage; really top drawer, quality acting here.
But all this dourness doesn’t mean that Black Sails has compromised on action and suspense; for there’s still plenty of that on Nassau and elsewhere; as the usual suspects and a handful of new arrivals jostle for supremacy: From the mercurial Eleanor Guthrie (Hannah New), cunning Brit; Captain Rogers (Luke Roberts), Pirate legend; Captain Edward ‘Black Beard’ Teach (Ray Stevenson), savvy ex-hooker turned mover & shaker; Max (Jessica Parker Kennedy), debonair Captain Jack Rackem (Toby Schmitz) and his hard-as-nails other half; Anne Bonny (Clara Paget), oh, and how could I forget Mr. Scott (Hakeem Kae-Kazim)? For just when you thought there wasn’t much else to his character, in comes a fascinating sub-plot that reveals who he actually is, and his pivotal role in the maelstrom of chaos, empires & piracy.
The show continues to make its point that the British Empire’s villainy is considerably worse than that of the pirates, but doesn’t shy away from depicting the fact that every character is, above all else, a flawed human being; neither all-good nor all-bad just motivated by different agendas. Agendas routinely justified in accordance with their own beliefs and world-view. With one surprising twist and 30 superb episodes to date, ‘Black Sails’ is historical fiction at its finest. That said; I’d suggest they plot a course for seasons 4 & 5 (so that’s 20 more episodes) before rolling into the docks, dropping anchor and lowering the flag to go out on a high.