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 8, “XXVI.”
Who is top dog?
Vane has saved Flint’s ass twice now, but there’s always been a question as to whether Flint would return the favor, were the situation reversed. This episode presents a definitive — and very Flint-like — answer in the form of, “mostly.”
Impressively, Flint doesn’t hesitate. He’s more gung ho about rescuing Vane than Rackham is (despite the fact that Vane’s capture wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t stick around to save him. Not cool, Jack). It says much about Flint’s regard for Vane that he’s instantly willing to go after him. This is the guy who strangled his own closest ally in Season 1 for interfering with a plan; who nearly blew up half of Nassau in Season 2 when Vane spoiled another plan; and has no qualms about executing his own crew members when their actions threaten more plans.
Flint likes plans. A lot. Being willing to ditch one for Vane? That’s a big deal.
And so, although he doesn’t ultimately go after Vane — because his pragmatism always trumps his altruism — his extreme reluctance to leave him is major. Every time we think Flint has gone into full world-burning mode, he surprises us with his humanity.
Who is utterly screwed?
It’s no a picnic to witness a character get knocked down (except Dufresne), but there’s something tragic about seeing Charles Vane crawling on the ground. It presents a picture that’s equal to that of Flint crying in his office a few episodes back: It throws the universe off balance. Vane doesn’t get knocked down.
But even when he does, even when the odds are against him — shot, injured, hopelessly outnumbered — he never stays down. If Rogers’s backup hadn’t arrived, Vane would have beat him, wounded and disadvantaged as he was. Although Vane ends the episode in the more dire position, Rogers is physically worse after their tangle.
Their fight cleverly invokes Rackham’s conversation with Rogers in the carriage, in which Rackham tells him, “You and I were neck and neck in this race right until the end. But Jesus did I make up a lot of ground to catch you.”
Vane began his life as the lowest of the low, has never lived in civilization, rejects everything about it, and revels in his darker inclinations. Rogers began his life privileged and suppresses his darkness to fit into polite society. Rogers has every advantage; Vane must work harder to catch up, but he always does. Rogers doesn’t win the fight, he rigs the odds.
Pirate-Gangster is the new Buddy-Cop
Any episode in which Flint wears his pirate ninja outfit (I believe that’s the proper historical terminology) is automatically one of the greats. But this one is particularly thrilling for its novelty: We’ve seen countless battles on sea and land, but we’ve never seen fights on the road. Add to that the image of Vane, Anne, and Billy similarly decked out like a Western bandit posse — and some of the show’s best cinematography to date with that True Detective style long shot that throws the viewer right into the chaos — and you’ve got a Black Sails classic.
I mentioned once before how well Black Sails handles fan service, and this sequence proves it again. Although everything we could possibly want to happen does (Flint, Vane, Anne, and Billy working as a team; Vane leaping off his horse like a boss and upending the carriage with one shot; Jack and Anne’s affecting reunion) Black Sails also isn’t afraid to counter that with something nobody wants: Vane getting screwed. If a show concerns itself with catering to fan’s desires too much, it’s not going to be good. But if it isn’t aware of what fans want, that’s also a problem. It’s a fine line to walk, and Black Sails does it better than most. That being said, if Billy doesn’t prove himself to have the rhetorical skills of 10 John Silvers next week, we’re going to need to have some words, Black Sails.
The most unexpectedly eloquent
Flint and Vane’s conversation about domesticity in the opening scene is nothing short of delightful. As the camera pans to Flint in Miranda’s old house, we think he’s having a solitary moment of grief and remembrance. When we hear someone in the background, we assume it’s the only person he’d let into such a private space: Silver. But then we hear Vane’s distinctive voice.
Vane and Flint’s grudging friendship is the best thing Black Sails has ever done. As interesting as Flint is with Silver; as Vane is with Rackham, these two are never more fascinating than when they’re together. Even discussing something simple, they’re at odds, but their chemistry works. In spite of their differences and rocky history, there’s a tangible layer of mutual respect. Their exchange here is one of their all-time best:
Vane: “All these things. Porcelain, books. All so goddamn fragile. The energy it must take to maintain it all. And for what? I can understand a woman’s desire for domesticity — but a man’s?”
Flint: “I can’t understand how you cannot understand. You have no instinct towards earning for yourself a life more comfortable?”
Vane: “I don’t. And had I that instinct, I would resist it. For that is the single most dangerous weapon they possess. The one they tempt. ‘Give us your submission and we will give you all the comfort you need.’ I can think of no measure of comfort worth that price.”
If Flint and Blackbeard represent the idealogical differences in how to be a pirate, Flint and Vane represent the opposing poles of why to be a pirate: Vane is an anarchist; Flint a politician. Both rage against the machine, but Vane has never been part of it and never wants to be. He resists it because he has no use for structures that seek to impose on him. It counters the philosophy he’s always held. Flint, on the other hand, comes from the machine, has been shaped by it and cut by it, has amended his philosophy accordingly, and wants to dismantle it from the inside. But even after everything he’s been through, part of him will always look wistfully towards its familiarities.
The most intriguing hostility
Rackham and Rogers’s carriage conversation is important for two reasons: Their dialogue foreshadows Rogers’ fight with Vane, and Rackham’s backstory. Of all the main characters, he’s the one we know the least about. We often forget how little we know, because he broadcasts his personality so colorfully. But previously, we had no idea where he came from or what pushed him into the life. Like everyone else, he’s been burned by the system — but of course fashion is related, as is a disgraced family name.
Stray nuggets of gold
- A nice call back in the opening scene: As the camera sweeps Miranda’s house, the first item we see is a clock. One of the last things we saw before her death was a clock. This show is so goddamn good with details. It rewards sharp eyes and lends itself to several viewings.
- Correct me if I’m wrong, but this episode marks the first time we hear Jack say the word, Calico!
- Serious question: As we haven’t seen any wanted posters, and there’s no Facebook or Instagram, how does Rogers know he captured the real Vane? Sure, someone could have told him “Wild-looking guy with long hair and a killer right hook,” but that describes about half the island.
- Even the way Vane does something as simple as dismounting a horse is cooler than the way anyone else does it.
- Silver’s story is quieter this week, but it emphasizes the show’s skill with character dynamics. He’s not suddenly walking around, curb-stomping anyone who pisses him off; that would be too sudden. That said, he still lays down the law.
- Anne and Jack’s relationship really is the most nuanced, realistic, and oddly romantic one on any show — not just Black Sails.
- Not enough Idelle and Featherstone this week.