In this era of television with a twist, Black Sails is a rare show where the audience knows how it must end — but rather than diminishing the anticipation, that fact only amplifies it. We know that pirates do not rule Nassau today, and Treasure Island is not about Flint and Silver sipping piña coladas on a beach. Even so, Black Sails has always displayed a nimble balance between adhering to history, both literary and real, and building a unique narrative with surprising turns. Creators and executive producers Jonathan Steinberg, Robert Levine, and Dan Shotz sat down with Inverse to discuss their decision to end the show and what to expect from Season 4.
When Inverse spoke with Luke Arnold, he said that Season 4 will address Silver’s backstory. How?
Jonathan Steinberg: Silver is conspicuously the only one where there hasn’t been some attempt to give them a story, and that’s been intentional. So we would absolutely not get to the end of the show without addressing why we’ve been doing that. What we ended up deciding was to treat Treasure Island as a story that was written based on historical events that take place on the show. That book is clearly written in a different tone than the show; to not be able to acknowledge that puts you in a lot of awkward positions in terms of trying to literally marry the two narratives. By the time you get to the end of the season, it’s clear that [the two narratives] are married in a bunch of ways — but we didn’t feel the need to treat it as though it was the next page for the end of Season 4.
Season 2 had flashbacks to Flint’s life in London while Season 3 had his dream sequences with Miranda. Will Season 4 use similar storytelling devices?
Dan Shotz: All the relationships for Season 4 are at this intense breaking point. Everyone’s in it to win it, and the things they do are so massive and world-altering. We didn’t need a specific device to tell that story because of the present.
Robert Levine: [Flashbacks] are only drama if it’s impacting what’s happening in the present. [In Season 2] all that stuff we were learning landed in the middle of the story and started impacting it then and there. Having Abigail be that living link pulled Miranda into the story and sent Flint to Charleston.
Will there be a character like that in Season 4, then?
Steinberg: Sort of, although not in the same way. We wanted to own the end of Season 3; own the fact that historically, the British Navy left Rogers on his own. We spun that to where most of the Navy left him alone, but there is one group of holdouts that doesn’t like that they were defeated by pirates. Now they’re AWOL and out for revenge. It’s a way of exposing Woodes Rogers to a different kind of scrutiny. If he’s the villain in this story, eventually he has to be that.
Levine: For one of those Redcoats, we cast Chris Larkin, who is Toby Stephens’s brother. That’s whose voice is in the trailer.
So you have his wife in the show, his brother — what about his mother?
Steinberg: There are new characters in the second half of the season that are historical figures within the mythology of the show — people who have been discussed but never really shown. [Maggie Smith] was wrapped up in that for a minute, but it ended up not working out.
When were they discussed?
Levine: There are some loose ends we left in Season 1. We always had some sense that the story wasn’t going to be finished until it wound its way back through them. Season 4 does.
Does this pertain to Silver’s backstory?
Steinberg: They become relevant to him, but it’s a different story. In Season 1, there is a great deal made of Eleanor’s grandfather being a mobbed up sort of warlord in Boston. We felt like we had to see that.
Levine: Every season feels like we should shine the flashlight on another corner of the world. There are two in Season 4 that are very significant.
Steinberg: There are certain flags we need to plant in the ground to treat as canon – historically and Treasure Island-wise. As you move further away from those flags, there’s more latitude. There are people who don’t make it. Whether it is historically accurate or not, the record is so spotty anyway, it would be almost bizarre to feel some literal fidelity to it. The narrative has to take precedence, as long as it doesn’t end up upsetting things that feel bedrocked to historical record. Where things diverge – the suggestion is that they diverge for a reason.
Speaking of not everyone making it, is there a death you’re proudest of?
Steinberg: It hasn’t happened yet. Like any other scene, it needs to be about something. For Vane in Season 3, it felt true that a guy that started, when we met him, as something of a dead-ender, found a death in which he found meaning. That plays into Season 4. We are categorically opposed to deaths for shock value. They need to create more story than they close.
Have you always known what the show’s closing scene will be?
Steinberg: The DNA of it was built into the beginning of the show, it just acquired detail as we got further on. That’s a healthy way to tell a story — it has to keep growing. If you know too much at the beginning, the story isn’t going to be very interesting. This landed where it was supposed to.
Shotz: Jon directed it.
Levin: It’s very emotional.
As a piece of work, or for you to watch?
Levine: Both. In its content, it’s very personal. A very singular circle, in a lot of ways. It boils down to very simple things.
Did you know going in that Season 4 would be the last?
Steinberg: This was never going to be a show that went 10 seasons. We were getting a sense that we were nearing the end, it just wasn’t clear if it was going to land in this season. Once we got to a point where it felt like there was a very clean, gratifying, organic ending to this season’s story, it felt like the moment to get out. I’d rather get out a little early than get out too late. Ultimately, you want to be able to look at it and feel that it is a 38-hour novel, produced with awesome kickass action.
Shotz: What we cared about most was completing the arc. However many seasons it took, that we gave a fair shake to these characters and this world, and felt like this audience got a complete experience.
What’s next for you?
Steinberg: Ultimately, I don’t want to make this show again. But there are things the story is about that seem to find their way to the surface in the other things we’re working on now. It’s a story about story. A lot of the things we’re working on are very different manifestations of that similar idea.
Are they also period pieces?
Shotz: All over the board.
Steinberg: It’s a weird moment in television where you can kind of do anything. So you don’t want to take anything off the board.
What about a Treasure Island miniseries?
Steinberg: It would be exceptionally difficult to do, given the tonal difference. We talked about it. Never say never — but at the moment, I like where the show ends.
Season 4 premieres on January 29 on Starz.