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 10, “XXVII.”
Who is top dog?
This episode is the show’s most meta. Jack Rackham tells Blackbeard, “To be underestimated is an incredible gift,” and Silver’s arc proves his point. Silver has been growing more confident in the pirate world all season — in the boat with Flint; in the tavern with Dufresne — but each scene displayed his trickery, balls of steel, and ruthlessness separately. It isn’t until now that we see them working together. When Dobbs seemingly betrays him, it appears that his Season 1 cockiness has returned and he overestimated the men’s need for his approval.
But by using the framing device of his fireside talk with Flint, the episode plays a sleight-of-hand and tricks us into underestimating Silver. Not only is his plan more diabolically clever than it seems — but in a Flint-like fashion, he sacrifices Dobbs without a blink. Billy doesn’t even realize how close he is to the truth when he later constructs John Silver as a fearsome legend.
Who is utterly screwed?
Even after he killed her father and ignited Woodes Rogers’s ships, Eleanor apparently never learned her lesson about what happens when you fuck with Charles Vane. She’s naive to assume it ends beyond the grave. Billy Bones and his band of merry men (and Idelle!) are up to the task of showing her.
Though it might seem more appropriate for Jack or Blackbeard to lead the charge avenging Vane on the home front, Billy makes a poetic kind of sense. Recall that Vane tried to recruit him at the end of Season 2, calling him “a proper pirate.” Unlikely as it seems, they might be the most alike in spirit: Billy is the only one who understood Vane enough to honor his head-shake on the gallows. Anyone else — even Flint — would have rescued him anyway. We often forget how proper a pirate Billy can be, because he’s more clean cut than the rest in both appearance and demeanor. But he really comes into his own here.
Not only do we see him using threats (hanging that captain when they fail to take Vane down); we see him being a leader. As he explains the plan to Jacob (the dark haired guy), the glances Jacob gives him — half admiring, half intimidated — echo the way Billy has always looked at Flint.
It’s also a wicked in-joke for him send the black spot, as Treasure Island begins with Billy petrified to be on the receiving end of one.
Pirate-Gangster is the New Buddy-Cop
Rackham and Blackbeard’s off-kilter dynamic — not unlike a puppy trying to play with a mature dog who isn’t having it — stole the episode, at least to the extent it can be stolen from Flint and Silver. Each man’s reaction to Vane’s death is perfect, with Blackbeard’s chilling “they failed to account for me” and Rackham’s pained expression.
It wouldn’t be in character for anyone to sob, but we needed a stronger response than anyone gave last episode — otherwise, there’s a disconnect if the audience cares more than the characters seem to. We got it here.
When Blackbeard says, “We can count the number of things Flint and I agree on on one hand. Among them is the sincere confusion why Charles invested any time and energy in you,” and Rackham says hopefully, “It sounded like there was more to that thought,” Blackbeard’s face might be the best that’s ever happened on Black Sails.
His approval is important to Rackham, both to help him feel closer to Vane and more validated in his own status and name. And though he won’t admit it, Blackbeard clearly begins to see that there’s more to Rackham than meets the eye and one doesn’t need to be a paradigm of masculinity to be a proper pirate. Bring on the rise of Calico Jack.
The most unexpectedly eloquent
We’ve been waiting three seasons to hear Anne Bonny yell “fire!” in battle and she doesn’t disappoint. Watching her use Vane’s swim-boarding technique and command his old crew is immensely satisfying — both on a character level and for its cinematic staging. She’s been taking a more active role all season now that she’s no longer tethered to Max, but this is the first time we’ve seen her in high-seas action. And whether or not it’s intentional, having her wear Vane’s hairstyle adds an extra layer of poignancy.
Blackbeard’s impressed glance and Jack’s I told you she rocks gleeful snicker provides a perfect cap to the scene.
The most intriguing hostility
Flint and Silver’s talk is a duel every bit as riveting as Flint’s swords-and-pistols clash with Blackbeard a few episodes ago. It begins in a deceptively innocuous way, with Silver’s query about Thomas Hamilton. An undercurrent of tension builds as he questions Flint’s pattern of getting loved ones killed. Still they remain cordial; when Silver says, “when this pattern applies to you and I, I will be the end of you,” he sounds straightforward rather than threatening. For his part, Flint, sounds almost fanciful when he responds, “Is that so?”
The unease rises as they address political philosophy: Flint’s expression turning from amused at Silver’s presumption to unnerved. Silver has always been a jovial guy with an easy smile, but the combination of the firelight and his intensity makes him downright sinister. It finally simmers over into a feeling of hostility at the end, when they share that look across the water. That marks the first time we see them lock eyes as equals, with both men aware of that fact.
In an episode brimming with some of the most technically impressive battles on TV, this glance is the most dramatic moment. And like Silver’s nickname, it’s a development that might not have come across as authentic if the show introduced it too soon — but it’s more than earned.
In “XXVIII,” Black Sails proves once again that it’s peerless when balancing sweeping action with some of the richest characterization on TV. Seasons 2 and 3 are cemented in television history as two of the all-time strongest seasons of any show. Though I trust the writing, I had concerns last episode about how Vane’s absence would affect the show’s pacing and chemistry. I’m happy to be proven wrong. His presence is sorely missed, but Black Sails still delivers an epic and beautifully crafted hour. Anne says the British aren’t fucking around — neither is Black Sails. The only flaw with the end of Season 3 is the wait for Season 4.
Stray Nuggets of Gold
- I’ve said this before but I’ll repeat it until it’s fixed: How is this show not winning more awards in writing and acting categories?
- Flint’s sexuality didn’t prompt any reaction in Silver. I wonder whether it’s a non-issue because of Silver’s personality — he only cares what you do behind closed doors insofar as the information is useful — or because of the anti-establishment spirit of his life. Would other crew members have the same non-reaction, or be more taken aback? I posed this question to the creators, so look out for that interview soon.
- Eleanor likely isn’t long for this world, but Black Sails is keeping us guessing who will do the deed. The most likely candidates are Blackbeard or Jack, but Max could be a wild-card option. Perhaps, increasingly alarmed with her leadership methods, she’d poison her.
Flint has had his share of badass moments, but his slow-motion gun load and crack-shot to Hornigold blows them all out of the water.
“Tell your governor! Tell him I’m coming!” Although Flint has had arguably his best season (though I’m still partial to the reveal about Thomas) he hasn’t yelled as much as Season 2. I didn’t realize I missed it.
- “XXVII” featured the largest amount of traditionally “pirate” things: buried treasure, black spots, and Long John Silver. It could have come across as silly — which is undoubtedly why they’ve avoided it — but because of the work they’ve done to build to them, they had the right amount of ominous weight.
- Charles Vane denial corner: He was totally at the forest fight — he was just hiding in the trees to attack people from above, wearing camo-paint! It’s the sort of dramatically nutty thing he’d do.
- If you’ve been following these weekly — plus our pioneering of Black Sails thinkpieces and character essays— thanks for reading! I know that, like Jack Rackham, you’re very particular about your library, so your selection of this one means a lot.
Look out for a Season 3 post-mortem with the creators and a Season 4 speculation piece coming soon. And if you missed any of our interviews, here’s Luke Arnold, here’s Toby Schmitz, here’s Zach McGowan #1, here’s Zach McGowan #2, here’s Ray Stevenson, and here’s Bear McCreary on that epic intro. We will also periodically revisit the show and provide you with off-season updates, like what the cravat situation will be in Season 4. So you don’t really have to wait until January to engage with Black Sails again.