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. Let’s dive into Season 3 Episode 4, “XXII.”

Who is top dog?

This episode marks the first time we’ve really seen Blackbeard in action. Thus far, he’s given off the air of a lounging lion watching his prey just waiting to pounce. When he finally does — swooping in to help Vane, guns blazing — their body language does as much to sketch a picture of their shared history as a dialogue scene could.

Each character’s fighting style speaks to his personality: Flint fights with ruthless efficiency; Rackham is sloppy yet dogged; Vane is feral. Blackbeard is commanding yet surprisingly light on his feet, practically waltzing into the fight like he’s having fun after his sojourn away from this world.

Ray Stevenson as Blackbeard.

Who is utterly screwed?

Black Sails has been a top-tier show for most of its run, but Vane’s Season 1 resurrection adventure was part of why it took until Season 2 to jump from “very good” to “holy shit, how is this show not getting every award?” In an effort to demonstrate his badassery, Season 1 gave in to the temptation to make him superhuman. It’s a mistake by no means exclusive to Black Sails — how often has Vikings turned Rollo into the Hulk?

Now, with the whole island looking to cash in on the price on his head, Vane has never been more screwed. But having him fight 10 men at once presents a potential writing dilemma: It has to stay true to his tenacity, but it risks reverting to Season 1’s SuperVane if he wins easily. After all, these aren’t lightweight colonists like in Charlestown; they’re fellow pirates. Luckily, Black Sails is smart enough to realize Vane doesn’t need to be superhuman — he’s more interesting operating on his own raw scrappiness. He owns the fight in a plausible way that’s not without struggle, which marks how impressively the writing has evolved. Few other shows improve this dramatically as they progress.

Has nobody learned what happens when you anger Charles Vane? 

As we’ve known ever since that time he said, “For those of you who live to see tomorrow,” unleashed Vane is the best Vane. Nobody fights with more abandon, and he’s never more compelling than when he’s backed into a corner. One man against an entire island is dubious even when that man is Charles Vane. It’s fraught with tension because his failure is a real possibility. Black Sails tweaked how Ned Low historically died; Vane could conceivably bite it at any point.

He’s always been the show’s purest anarchist, but as he later tells Blackbeard, he’s grown enough that he’s not interested in watching the world burn just for the hell of it. But when it turns on him, he’ll certainly light a spectacular (and historically accurate!) fire and take it down with him.

History is cool: The real Charles Vane did this.

Pirate-Gangster is the new Buddy-Cop

Eleanor’s apparent reluctance to accept Rogers’ promotion is baffling. The Eleanor we know would never try to discourage someone from giving her more power. There are three possibilities, here. The first is that she’s playing the long game but realizes the only way to charm Rogers is with the truth — he’ll see through anything else. The second is that she plans to run for the interior once they’re in Nassau, which will be harder if she’s in a high-profile position. The third is that she truly wants what’s best for Nassau and sees Rogers as her new Flint. Recall that as much as she lied to everyone, she was always honest with Flint: confiding in him in Season 1; confessing to him after betraying Vane in Season 2.

Still, Rogers was threatening her until recently and Eleanor isn’t quick to trust. Chances are she’s got a hidden agenda. For his part, Rogers seems a little too pleased by her disinterest in hearing about her ex. Although his demeanor is professional, this promotion feels not-quite kosher.

What's your game, Eleanor? 

The most unexpectedly eloquent

Only Black Sails could make the line “Fuck you, Jack” poignant and tragic and moving and oddly sweet, spelling out the course of Vane and Rackham’s entire relationship in one indelicate utterance. It’s hard to write and act around what isn’t said, but the show often has to, because most of its characters aren’t the types to verbally proclaim how much they mean to each other. Rackham and Vane’s parting highlights what a master Black Sails is at these elegant, layered scenes filled with sentiment brewing beneath a deceptively crude surface.

Rackham’s awkward “Godspeed, Charles” is equally affecting. He doesn’t get talked about as much as Flint, Silver, or Vane, but he’s the secret MVP: If there’s a scene that’s simultaneously funny and full of heart and dialogue acrobatics, chances are he’s in it. This might be the show’s saddest breakup.

The most intriguing hostility

Recently, Luke Arnold told Inverse, “Flint and Silver’s relationship has been one of the absolute joys of the show.” No arguments here. It’s beginning to seem like these two could make it compelling to watch paint dry, as long as they’re together discussing the process.

When Flint confides in Silver about his past, it’s as exciting and unexpected as Silver’s confession about the gold last week. Many have noted that Woodes Rogers’ goals are exactly what Flint’s used to be — but the past few episodes, it has seemed that Flint was too far gone to recognize it.

The fact that he does shows that, as unstable as he’s been lately, his core nature is still there. When Flint tells Silver, “I don’t know that I have any more lies left in me,” it’s the most vulnerable we’ve seen him let himself be in front of another person since before Miranda’s death. For a brief moment, not only do we see the old Flint; but we also see a shadow of McGraw.

Literally leaning on him.

Many shows featuring antiheroes who go “dark” make the mistake of rendering them joyless for viewers, as well (e.g., later Sons of Anarchy). But even as Flint spirals downward, his humanity and complexity keep deepening. Black Sails just keeps reinforcing how its character development is second to none.

Stray nuggets of gold

  • Treasure Island character alert: Strung-out cage-dweller Ben Gunn’s presence confirms that this is the treasure island. Which means that in the future, the gold will somehow move from the fort to this island.
  • Black Sails’ first spin-off will be an Anthony Bourdain-style travel show, Around the World With Anne Bonny. “I hear Brussels is nice. Paris, maybe. Though we don’t speak French. Or whatever the fuck they speak in Brussels.”
  • Rackham’s nonchalant execution of that guy, followed by Vane’s “Recognize him?” and Rackham’s “Paul … something or other” is up there with Season 2’s warship heist (Silver: “Do I really have to fight?” Flint: “What the fuck did you think was going to happen?!”) as one of the show’s funniest exchanges.
  • In Treasure Island, Silver is married to a woman “of African descent.” It’s often theorized that it will be Max, but this episode presents another possibility: Mr. Scott’s daughter.
  • The reveal about Mr. Scott was perfectly handled, with enough scattered hints for us to piece it together right before the camera cut to him. It’s a damn shame for him to die just when he gets an intriguing backstory, but gut wounds operate slowly. He could survive the trip to his wife’s camp.
Photos via Starz