'Black Sails' Just Gave 'Game of Thrones' a Run for Its Money

In Season 3 Episode 2, "XX," 'Black Sails' delivers its own "Hardhome."

Black Sails is a show full of scheming, reversals of fortune, and general skullduggery. Each week, we’ll break down the conniving, betraying, ass-kicking, and unexpected alliances as they emerge. Without further ado, let’s dive into the second episode of Season 3, “XX.”

Who is top dog?

Surprisingly, after last week, Eleanor is top dog. Although Woodes Rogers isn’t exactly warm and fuzzy, he’s reasonable, which allows her to claw her way back into the center of the action — though not without nearly jeopardizing everything by foolishly failing to keep the details of her relationship with certain pirates on the DL. Subtlety, Eleanor. Even so, Rogers talks a big game, but it’s only a matter of time until he starts doing her bidding while thinking it was his idea all along.

Who is utterly screwed?

Flint and his men are magnificently, devastatingly screwed as the ocean makes a plaything of their poor ship. Black Sails is the best-looking show on TV besides Game of Thrones — and as we’ve previously said, although Black Sails delivered one of the best overall seasons this past year, Game of Thrones“Hardhome” claims the top spot for the best single episode. Breathtaking visuals and scope must be anchored in character development to qualify as excellent television, and “Hardhome” was a perfect synthesis.

I immediately regret this decision.

But just two episodes into this season of Black Sails, “Hardhome” has met its match. The storm sequence is astonishing and cinematic, but what truly elevates the episode is the way it cuts from the epic action to John Silver’s quietly tragic ordeal with his drowning friend. That miniature character arc anchors the action and infuses it with humanity. The expression on Silver’s face as he’s finally rescued from his watery tomb conveys magnitudes about his thoughts: None of this futile death and destruction would have happened if only Flint listened to him. Wave goodbye to the cheerful snarker, because Silver will never be the same. Elements like his peg leg and storytelling skills have been building throughout the show, but this will go down as the definitive moment to pinpoint where the John Silver of Treasure Island is really born.

Like “Hardhome,” this episode was epic in scope and technically impressive. But the character-driven humanity at its center elevates it to greatness.

Pirate-Gangster is the new Buddy-Cop

For all their smarts, Rackham and Max have a lot to learn about running Nassau. Rackham’s Achilles heel has always been his contradictory nature: For such a witty man, he can make bafflingly poor decisions (see Season 2: nobody puts Anne Bonny in the corner). If Flint or Eleanor were in charge, they wouldn’t give another chance to a man dumb enough to lose a sack of gold; they would tell him where to shove it.

For her part, Max might have the right idea to suggest exchanging it, but her fatal flaw has always been her arrogant tendency to overestimate her own intelligence and underestimate that of those around her. These two are out of their depth. Maybe Idelle should be in charge.

Idelle knows what's what 

The most unexpectedly eloquent

Blackbeard’s musings on The Good Old Days are simultaneously amusing — in how the other characters react — and illuminating. It’s disconcerting to see guys like Vane and Rackham intimidated by someone, even as they try to play it cool. Blackbeard’s presence is doing for Vane what the Season 2 flashbacks did for Flint: contextualizing and enriching our understanding of his life experience. The revelation that Vane shafted his mentor for Eleanor adds dimension to both relationships.

Can Ray Stevenson be on every epic show from now on? 


Just two episodes in, Blackbeard’s presence on the show feels lived-in, and his unimpressed takedown of Nassau’s current state is elegant and cutting. His old-school ideology emphasizing proving oneself through toil, sweat, and balls of steel clashes with Rackham’s nouveau riche “let’s build a city of gold and become legends!” outlook in a manner that’s fascinating food for thought about the psychology of the pirate lifestyle. From the look on Vane’s face as Blackbeard talks, he agrees. Those pissed-off lion eyes don’t bode well for Vane and Rackham’s continued partnership.

The most intriguing hostility

Flint and his own troubled mind. Dream sequences are tough to nail, but they can make for rewarding television when they’re done right. Miranda’s unnerving presence is spot-on. Flint is not only haunted by her death; he’s haunted by his own actions and the man he’s become. Miranda represents his last vestiges of “James McGraw” — and it appears he might not be as comfortable burying him as he seems.

Stray nuggets of gold

  • As usual, the show beats us to addressing potential plot holes: Silver brings up the fact that they could have avoided the storm fiasco by accepting the pardons and immediately breaking them because they’re fucking pirates. But Flint’s failure to take the devious path shows how far gone he is.
  • That scene where Vane helps the slaves and reacts to Mr. Scott’s gentle reproach shows how far Black Sails has come since Season 1: No longer does it rely on naked resurrection murder theatrics (as fun as they can be) to tell the story; it trusts its character beats. This sequence marks the show’s most affecting approach to Vane’s psyche as a former slave.
  • Blackbeard and Vane’s awkward hug: the best awkward hug since this one?
  • Rackham’s cheerful greeting to Blackbeard that fails to mask his panic: The guy might have a lot to learn about economics, but he always provides comedy gold.
  • Blackbeard’s look of disdain to those poor schmucks who want to join his crew — Ray Stevenson does so much with so little.
  • Not enough can be said about Luke Arnold’s performance in this episode. When he looks at his drowned crewmate before limping away, his silent expression conveys more about Silver’s headspace than a long monologue could.
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