The series finale of pirate drama Black Sails is shocking, not because of who dies, but who doesn’t die.
Obviously, spoilers abound below.
Jack and Anne live to raise the black another day. Silver and Madi reunite. Most surprising of all, James Flint gets a happy ending with his long lost love Thomas. Or does he? Depending on how you view it, Flint either finds redemption or he’s killed by Silver on Skeleton Island, while the Thomas story is another one of John Silver’s lies. Black Sails creators Jonathan Steinberg and Robert Levine discuss the end with Inverse.
In your words, what is Flint’s fate?
Jonathan Steinberg: The crew’s understanding of Flint’s fate in Treasure Island is that he dies alone in Savannah in an emotionally not good place. How did he get there? We like the idea of a story about how he was put there as an act of mercy. It turns into loneliness later on, presumably when Thomas dies of old age. That made sense as a way to both acknowledge the book and spin it. To take something that seems like a neutral piece of story about where Flint ends up to be an artifact of this emotionally fraught moment between Flint and Silver. Silver is facing the choice of having to kill him or not. There’s this choice made to create a different story.
But is the story true? After the camera cuts away from Flint and Silver, the men see birds fly up from that area as if Silver does shoot that gun.
Steinberg: There are a lot of things they could have been reacting to. It was deliberate to have there be no sound to allow for interpretation.
Robert Levine: There’s a choice on Madi’s part about what Silver’s telling her. We wanted to put the audience in the same place of having to make a choice about believing Silver or not.
Do you believe him?
Steinberg: Do we have a sense of what we imagine is happening? Yes, but if I was someone else, I wouldn’t want to watch it with my interpretation coloring it.
On that note, let’s talk Silver’s backstory.
Steinberg: It’s been a conversation since the beginning; we’ve always defined him as someone from nowhere. That is the counterpoint between Flint and Silver — where Flint is so thoroughly defined by a backstory, he was going to be attracted to and be undone by someone who comes from the opposite place. It was not credible that he didn’t have a story. There’s a hint that wherever he comes from is pretty dark. It felt right to not put words to it. It was so awful, it was something he couldn’t speak about. That that’s all you need to know. It meant more in relation to him and Flint. In a subtle but powerful way, they see the world and themselves very differently.
At the end, Jack says about Long John Silver’s story, ‘Those who stood to benefit most from it were eager to leave it behind.’ The camera cuts to Silver, but we know from Treasure Island that he doesn’t leave it behind.
Steinberg: Silver is wrestling with this alter-ego. Part of him is intoxicated by it and part of him knows how destructive it is. Ultimately, he makes a choice that he doesn’t want to wear it. He found a domestic life that felt meaningful that he could leave everything behind for. In that moment, Flint tells him it isn’t going to be enough. Flint’s curse on the treasure isn’t a ghost story curse. It’s a curse for Silver that you can decide to leave that part of you behind, but one day you’ll come back. Treasure Island, in its existence, is some fulfillment of that curse. Flint was right. Whatever happens between Silver and Madi is not enough. He comes back looking for something he feels he left behind that he didn’t think he wanted. The end of his story in this show is the hope that he can get away from it. That made Treasure Island feel like a meaningful sequel about a massive transformation in that character. It was foretold by Flint, but it wasn’t preordained.
So his ending with Madi isn’t a happy one?
Levine: The way you see them at the end, they’re in the same frame but they’re yards away from each other. Emotionally, that’s as close as they’ll ever get again.
Steinberg: I’d be interested to read the book again thinking about what’s he after. One version of what he’s after is maintaining the narrative he built. If Billy has found this map and is now after this treasure, there’s a version of Silver just trying to put everything back where he left it. Because that’s the story he built and wanted to exist.
When we spoke at the beginning of the season, I asked if you always knew what the final scene would be. You said, “The DNA of it was built into the beginning.” Did you mean Flint and Silver’s ends or the final Jack scene?
Steinberg: Both. The Flint and Silver story has been with us a long time. At the beginning there was a more obvious path: They would become enemies and be antagonists in each other’s story. We made the choice early on that it would be more impactful and tragic if what you’re watching is these two guys who are as close to each other as anyone in the world, and there’s just this one point at which they can’t connect. We said this when we pitched the show: Ultimately it’s about a guy standing on a rock in the ocean shaking his fist at civilization and then making a run at beating them. With a guy with that much presence and power, he’s ultimately undone by the smallest person he could have imagined at the beginning.
Steinberg: While the story is about Flint and Silver, it’s also about what piracy understands itself to be, what we understand it as, and how and why those two things are disconnected. There are no pirates left in Nassau; it’s pre-ordained that this ends badly. At the same time, three hundred years later we’re still talking about them. In any story in which immortality and legacy have been thematically relevant from the beginning, it felt right to end with some connection to why we are still talking about them. They are immortal in a sense. Ironically, the one guy who has been most explicitly chasing it is the one to see it. And in that moment, it doesn’t look like immortality to him, because how the hell would you know? On some level, that’s the cruel joke. You chase this thing, ultimately find it and you never know that’s what you saw.
Levine: In a moment in which [Jack] feels like he understands the whole world, he’s looking at the one thing in this world that will survive all of them, and it just looks suboptimal to him.
You’d said you didn’t always plan for Season 4 to be the last. Watching this episode, I was surprised because it feels so final. What would Season 5 have been — just Jack, Anne, and Mary?
Steinberg: By the time we got to the end of Season 4, we were closing in on the idea that this was the end. We didn’t look at the finale as a launching pad for a new story. But we talked about it. The story going forward that was most exciting to us was the adventures of Jack, Anne, and Mary. I would watch that, but it didn’t feel like this show. That was proof the show was over — the most interesting version was a new show.
Do you see Jack and Anne’s career continuing for awhile after Black Sails?
Steinberg: With his luck, they’d get captured five minutes after the credits roll. So maybe there wasn’t much show left. But I’d like to think that there’s still some fun to be had between the two of them.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.