One of the most surprising parts of the Black Sails series finale is the fact that Jack Rackham survives to sail another day. Throughout all four seasons of the Starz pirate drama, he’s struggled more than anyone with being a pirate. Although he’s the king of fashion, he’s never been the most skilled fighter or strategist. Additionally, every Black Sails character based on a historical figure has died more or less along a similar timeline as their real-life counterpart. The real Jack Rackham had a short swashbuckling career, and the real Anne Bonny reportedly had harsh last words for him: “If you’d have fought like a man, they wouldn’t be hanging you like a dog.”
Toby Schmitz, who plays Jack, painted for Inverse a portrait of where he imagines Jack’s story would go after the travel, and revealed whether or not he was surprised by his fate.
Where do you think Jack goes from here? Do you have an idea of his ending worked out in your mind?
Clara [Paget] and I always wondered allowed how much the show would stick to the “die like a dog” historical version. We knew that the writers felt very little allegiance to “history” not least because the history is so unverified. As Season 3 ended, Jon [Steinberg] said something only slightly cryptic. He said: “You two are in it ‘til the end. I like the characters too much.” This didn’t necessarily mean that we weren’t going to perish — or one of us would — in the last episodes. But it did get us thinking how much the creators were going to play with perceived endings for these characters. One theoretical idea we had was that I died hung from the rigging on a Redcoat ship while Anne simply jumped over the side, never to be seen again. It has shades of Flint’s story about the ghost who slips in and out of the ocean.
Were you surprised that he lived, then?
I was pleasantly surprised because surprise is what the show does brilliantly. Each episode has about 20 surprises ranging from “Huh, that’s different.” to “Wow, no one saw that fucking coming.” All effective narrative surprises are twinned with a sense of “Oh, of course!” Otherwise, they’re just curveballs.
By the time I read the final pages [of the script], of course, I had read the previous pages where Jack becomes a narrative voice, another layer talking about story. If Silver is required to pass into legend and out of the viewer’s immediate perspective, then that kind of only left Jack among the key players to be that voice. So the last image wasn’t, by the time I got to it, entirely surprising. I’ll stick with pleasantly so. His obsession with awe-inspiring legend also made it fitting, though now (we imagined about a year down the track) it has a melancholy edge: He must be a pirate in secret and he has discovered that being the subject of legend isn’t as fun as he thought as a young man.
Were you glad he finally got his flag moment he’d been working towards since Season 2?
The disappointment with the flag is fun on, firstly, two levels. One, he is, of course, unaware that he is workshopping the very image that will transport his name down the ages. And two, Jack is defined by disappointment. It was never enough; dissatisfaction is in his DNA.
That he and Anne and Mary sail into the horizon on the final page of this show was a surprise, yes, but it had all the satisfaction of the “Oh, of course!” feeling for me. The show’s darkness needed an upbeat for narrative splendor. There is always hope; in fact, one beat of warmth makes us appreciate the darkness all the more. The most delicious surprise for me was how the audience gets to experience both Flint’s death and redemption or peace. That was a narrative masterstroke that required talking blatantly about narrative. Maybe Jack was the only one left to indulge that idea, maybe that’s what saved his bacon.
So where do you see his adventures going after the finale?
Interestingly, after five years of pondering and inventing possible narratives neither Clara or I spent a single second talking about what happens next, and I haven’t given it much thought since. It’s really interesting actually. From here on I suppose I am an audience member, but one who knows better than to try to guess where Black Sails is going.
I suppose I think they have more adventures until Jack’s luck runs out and Anne survives him, depleted but maybe capable of becoming or remaining her own creature until one day she vanishes from the record. Vague, I know, but that comforts me more than knowing or being certain. Jack’s still out there, dissatisfied but surviving, and as always, seeing the underlying, divine comedy.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.