Warning: The following review contains spoilers from this week’s episode of Black Sails.
A large black flag snaps violently in the wind. A wind that heralds a sea storm. slowly the camera trucks into a close up of Captain Flint (Toby Stephens). Premonition beckons. Slowly, Flint turns to see behind him. Miranda Barlow (Louise Barnes) in an ocean soaked dress climbs aboard the ship like an apparition rising from the sea.
The ship is deserted save Flint and Barlow. She speaks to him but her words cannot be heard. This entire sequence occurs in silence save the eerie creaking of the ship. Soaked to the bone, she makes her way below deck. A slow-motion Captain Flint follows, at once hopeful the woman he loved may still be alive all the while suspicious of the ghost he sees before him. This is the silence before the storm. Flint scans the chamber below top deck. He catches a glimpse of Barlow as she descends one level lower. This show is two for two this season in well crafted opening scenes that surely suck the audience in. Flint takes a step to follow Barlow but a hand grabs his shoulder and Flint wakes from his nightmare.
Flint walks the top deck surveying the crew of the Walrus as they prepare the ship to enter the storm. Captain Hornigold (Patrick Lyster) is in pursuit and Flint in all his wisdom has chosen to fight the weather instead of Hornigold’s war ship. John Silver (Luke Arnold) asks Billy Bones (Tom Hopper) why the men couldn’t have accepted Hornigod’s pardons with no intent to actually honor them. That would have been the smart play.
One appreciates the honestly in a show that at least mentions this obvious and much safer plan. Sure, for sake of a good story brave characters should sail unafraid into a storm of almost certain death but in reality one could just lie his way to freedom. To counter his own logic, and keep the story headed full sails toward a thrashing storm, Silver has this to say,
“The men I understand. Flint had them exactly where he needed them. Angry resentful afraid. I understand why they would rather do battle with that storm than even consider surrendering to Hornigold. but he had me there too. He had me there. and that is not supposed to happen. “
Even as Flint steps closer to the brink of sanity his influence apparently grows stronger as well, for John Silver’s most valued task on the Walrus has been to stand up to their Captain, but now he finds himself swayed by Flint’s guile.
Armed with a fleet of ships from Britain Woodes Rodgers (Luke Roberts) sails willingly toward Nassau to tame its wild beasts. Together, with Eleanor Guthrie (Hannah New), he inspects the fleet of ships, explaining to Guthrie why each ship is necessary to the mission. The last of which is here only to take Guthrie back to Britain’s gallows in the event she betrays him.
This wide shot of this fleet is the first example of an episode heavy on visual effects. The CGI is solid. It looks good in its own right, however cut against the real-life-constructed ship’s deck that Luke Roberts and Hanna New stand on it feels as if the two shots don’t come from the same world. Black sails is a gritty show. This CGI of ships sailing on a calm sea looks almost too pretty.
Roads clearly distrusts Guthrie, as he should. To ease him she explains that while he has the guns, canons and ships, its she that truly knows the individual pirates and which each is capable of:
“Because I have history with Charles Vane I know him most of all. I am all too aware what he is capable of destroying when he sets his mind on it.”
Continuing she says, “Nassau is my fathers house, it is my birthright, and I am obligated to see it set right, to see its monsters driven out”.
Charles Vane (Zach McGowan), former business partner and lover, is now nothing but a monster to Guthrie.
Monster is how the audience has come to know Vane as well. However, there is another side to him. He pounds stone in the fort beside the slaves he captured an episode ago. Mr. Scott (Hakeem Kae-Kazim) explains that Vane is confusing the natural order of things and asks him to stop. Visibly angry but never uttering a word, Vane gives in to Mr. Scott’s request. It’s a testament to Zach McGowan’s strong acting that he can have such presence in his first two scenes of this episode without saying a single word. Even as Edward Teach (Ray Stevenson) puts a knife to his throat Vane remains silent.
Its not until half way through his third scene that he final utters a few words which are spoken to Edward Teach, but are truly meant for Eleanor Guthrie. Teach asks of the father-daughter-Guthrie-duo’s fate, and Vane tells him, “They are both dead.” Teach presses, after all, Guthrie supposedly awaits trial in Britain. “They are both dead” Vane repeats. It’s clear that just as Eleanor now sees Vane only as a monster, Vane sees Guthrie only as a dead woman.
Its in this first interaction between Teach and Vane that the show feels somewhat disappointing. Episode one built Teach up to be quite menacing. History, or at least Hollywood’s interpretation of it, has portrayed Edward Teach aka Blackbeard, as quite dangerous. So, when Teach holds a knife to Vane’s neck the audience expects a reckoning. Instead, Teach pulls his knife away and hugs Vane. It turns out he wants the two of them to command a “terrible fleet” side by side. Quite unsatisfying for what should have been a showdown between mentor and protege.
The best parts of this episode occur at sea, on the Walrus, within the raging storm. Men hang from the ship’s masts awaiting signal from Flint to stow the sails. Flint won’t give the order until Hornigold stops pursuing them.
The special effects work real well here. The violence of a sea storm just fits what Black Sails is…dark and disordered, CG or not. A particularly well done shot comes with Billy Bones hanging atop the ship’s mast as the boat nearly capsizes. The mast, dips into a wave wall and for a few moments Billy is dunked into sea, dragged against the raging current. The ship rights itself and Billy is lifted from the water, but the man behind him, too weak to hang on falls into sea. This quick sequence unfolds all within one medium framed shot of Billy. It’s as if the camera were hanging on to the mast, a crew member itself.
Several members of the Walrus crew perish in this storm. Unwilling to lose more lives Flint orders all the men below decks. He ties himself to the top deck and takes control of the ships wheel. Wind and rain pound against him but Flint stands in defiance of the storm. Or… Perhaps he’s just not afraid to die.
Flint once again finds himself following Miranda Barlow deep into the caverns of his ship. She speaks to him, indeed she screams at him, but her voice goes unheard. Flint follows her into his Captain’s Quarters. She stands by a figure dressed and painted in all black. This is the second time in as many episodes we’ve seen this type of figure. It’s death, and it sits in Captain Flint’s Chair. This is death and it comes for him.