Because we are living in a time of uncertainty and unrest all around the world — Brexit, Trump, Aleppo — entertainment is more important than ever. Even so, it sounds odd to say a show that is a Treasure Island prequel is one of the most relevant shows airing today. But impactful fiction serves two functions: It’s a means of escape and a distorted lens through which to make sense of our own reality. And though it involves a book written hundreds of years ago, the themes in Black Sails are timely as hell. As it will be capped and complete at four seasons come January it’s also the perfect show for a winter binge. Whether you’re a longtime fan or a curious newcomer, here’s what you need to know about why it’s the most fitting fictional world for the moment.
1. Black Sails is all about fighting “The Man”
At a time when many are disillusioned with those in power, watching a show about a counter-cultural group of people is cathartic. The story mixes fictional pirates like Long John Silver with historical figures like Anne Bonny in a melting pot of fictional truth and truthful fiction in a similar manner as Deadwood and Penny Dreadful. The first two seasons mostly involve the pirates having ideological differences with each other, which is intriguing in its own right as they struggle over the best way to be a leader and which code of ethics is “right.” But by the end of Season 2, all eyes are turned towards fighting the establishment.
Also, this is how people dismount from horses on Black Sails.
2. For any show — let alone a period drama — it’s woke as fuck
Mild spoiler alert for Season 2 — Captain Flint (Toby Stephens), the brutal pirate hellbent on fighting the English rule, is initially an enigma, but Season 2 reveals his motives. He began his life as a part of the establishment only to be cast out when his sexuality came to light. As a result, his male lover — a mild-mannered man of reason and peace — was institutionalized and put to death. And yet, civilized society calls Flint the monster. The show could have been heavy-handed about making its antihero a badass gay pirate, but it remains uninterested in defining him or his motives in a simplistic way. It doesn’t stop there, either. Season 2 presents a thoughtfully depicted polyamorous relationship, there are several lesbian pairings, and — spoiler alert for the Season 4 trailer — Season 4 will present an interracial relationship in the 1700s. Yeah, Michael Bay’s name is on the trailers, and he’s not exactly the King of Woke, but the show couldn’t be further from his modus operandi.
At a time when anyone who is not a straight white man is feeling marginalized (hell, some straight white men are feeling marginalized too), it’s pleasantly shocking to see such casual representation in a show set in the 1700s. Black Sails doesn’t do it in a way that feels like its making a statement; rather, its woven into the fabric of the plot nonchalantly.
3. The show is written with the assumption that the audience is smart
We are living in an era when truth and facts are being disputed. It can be easy to feel like pulling your hair out. But Black Sails not only embraces intelligence, it already assumes the audience can keep up. Where some shows spoon-feed character motives and plot turns to viewers, Black Sails lets them slow-burn until they boil over. As a result, its action sequences — while spectacular — never feel like shit blowing up purely for the sake of it, but rather rooted in character development. John Silver earning his nickname is a fist-pump moment in Season 3, but it also demands that you pay attention to the foot-stomp foreshadowing in his Season 2 speeches. Charles Vane doing mostly anything is a “fuck yeah!” moment, but it’s never out of the desire to look cool and it’s more of a natural result of his thought process.
4. Despite being an hour-long drama, binging Black Sails is well-balanced with hope and humor
Between the aforementioned terrifying world events and a seemingly unprecedented amount of celebrity deaths, 2016 has been a rough year. This is reflected across social media, where downtrodden sentiments reign. And while Black Sails is ultimately a Shakespearean tragedy — an underdog story in which the underdogs likely won’t win in the end — it’s not without its moments of grace and humor. Where other period piece shows take themselves deathly seriously, Black Sails maintains a balance between pathos and lightness, and even in the face of darkness and character deaths, it never turns to despair.
If shiny happy entertainment feels hollow right now but you also don’t want to wallow in nihilism, Black Sails is the much-needed middle ground. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.
The fourth and final season premieres on January 29, which leaves the perfect amount of time to catch up on the previous three.