[WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS for Black Sails Season 4 Episode 2]
After kicking off its final season with blow after crushing blow dealt to the show’s heroes, Black Sails continues its heartbreak in the follow-up chapter. Unfortunately, the idea that it would be the British who inevitably reduce, then defeat the bulk of the pirate forces has been proven to be only part of the story. The scars and hatred of the previous seasons rears its ugly head in the second episode, as Billy Bones and Captain Flint begin the open rivalry that’s been boiling since the start, and a figure from Blackbeard’s past returns to re-balance the scales. The future of Nassau may hinge on Eleanor Guthrie and Woodes Rogers’s wits, but the real question deciding the fate of out heroes may be: what would Charles Vane do?
In “XXX,” written by Jonathan E. Steinberg & Dan Shotz and directed by Alik Sakharov, John Silver (Luke Arnold) finds himself a prisoner of Israel Hands (David Wilmot), a forgotten pirate with ties to Nassau’s history. While Flint (Toby Schmitz), Billy (Tom Hopper), and Madi (Zethu Dlomo) see their plan for taking back Nassau foiled before it begins, Jack (Toby Schmitz) and Blackbeard (Ray Stevenson) question how to best honor the memory of their dead friend. And as Eleanor (Hannah New) and Woodes (Luke Roberts) hatch their plan to depart Nassau, Max (Jessica Parker Kennedy) sees her footing on the island grow even more uncertain in the shadow of Captain Berringer (Chris Larkin).
“He is Going To Be Relevant To What Happens Next”
It may be Madi’s role as an outsider, or simply a sign of what makes her a capable leader that her first look at Billy Bones makes the reality of the pirate resistance in Nassau “painfully obvious.” Blessed with the ability to see things as they are, not how she would will or wish them to be (an example both Flint and Silver could learn from), Madi can see that the extent to which the men trust, rely, and perhaps most of all like Billy has afforded him new power. If nothing else, Flint has gained new understanding of his previous assertion that placing an ocean between a king and his subjects lessens their devotion. Billy has fought, bled, and led Nassau against British occupation… and Flint is too focused on what comes next to apply the tact to get them there.
The blame for the doomed assault on the Underhill plantation can’t be laid at Flint’s feet, however, since this is Billy’s plan. A plan that goes horribly awry for the most heartbreaking of reasons: an island full of slave laborers scared to inaction by the threat of reprisals upon their scattered loved ones. Whether it’s the loss of authority in Flint’s eyes, or simply another case of men new to power struggling to grasp its limits, it’s tragic to see Billy begin his spiral out of reason. Having led men for years, Flint knows when a battle must be lost for the war to remain winnable – and with Madi at his side, we know that his stance is the smartest one. Not only because Billy’s plan was also Madi’s plan, but… well, she’s Madi.
Flint’s authority remains fearsome to Billy on some level, making his last attempt a plea for his captain(?) to not continue. Whether it’s a gesture of subservience, an appeal to humanity, or a warning, there’s no question it is hate that compels Billy to open fire on Flint, Madi, and their loyal forces. The act of anger and desperation places Billy alongside the likes of De Groot and Dufresne, having listened to the voice in their heads claiming to be just, yet inevitably leading to more bloodshed in the name of vendetta or, more sympathetic a cause in Billy’s case: unwillingness to allow Flint control over their story once more.
And just when it had finally started to make sense. If only Billy knew that the hand destined to be Flint’s end was not his own.
In Israel’s Hands
“Joseph said to him, “No, father, this one is the firstborn. Place your right hand on his head.” And Israel refused, and said: ‘I know it, my son, I know it; he also shall become a people, and he also shall be great; howbeit his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his seed shall become a multitude of nations.” – Genesis 48:18-19
The mystery man who happened upon Long John Silver among the dead of the premiere’s battle is finally given a name, and a home. Israel Hands will be familiar to the pirate enthusiasts of the audience, both for the historical pirate of the name, and the character in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island to which Black Sails is prologue. Having chained Silver up in his home among The Wrecks, the former second-in-command to Blackbeard made the mistake of leaving his prisoner’s mouth open. That’s all Silver needs to tilt the odds in his favor (once he regains his senses), relying on his knack for storytelling to make the men around him feel part of a far bigger, far great story. And in this latest yarn, Israel Hands is the hero.
Establishing Hands as a fearsome ‘proper pirate’ of Nassau’s golden age, the plot helps fuel events in Nassau Town and ultimately climaxes in the bond between Silver and Max being permanently broken – or temporarily, since Max simply intended to remove him from the current situation, not sacrifice him to its villains. But the real benefactor of this plot is Silver himself. It’s always difficult to know if Silver is believing a word he’s uttering, even when spoken with conviction (a credit to Arnold’s performance, not an inconsistency). But when arriving at his conclusion that he is no one, and yet someone of great potential and importance, it’s possible that John Silver is taking Madi’s earlier words to heart.
He’s still not at the point of accepting that he is a skilled leader, or even one deserving of men’s loyalty. But he states the facts, which are harder to deny: however he may see himself, fortunes have shifted “because I chose it.” Fearful men lie awake at night “because I decreed it.” And scores of the British army now rot “because I made it so.” Silver may have taken issue with Billy’s crafting of a legend around him in the premiere, but having come so close to death, it seems Silver is beginning to see the truth that even Billy may be blind to.
Billy made the choice to tell the story, and in so doing create “a new beginning” for Nassau. But when Silver delivers his monologue to Israel Hands, he takes the next step, stating that he is that new beginning manifested. It appears John Silver may have joined the Black Sails Resurrection Club. As Charles Vane was claimed by the Earth, only to be born anew, Billy was swallowed by the sea, and pulled out with a new mission, and Flint was driven to his end by air (or lack of it) in the doldrums, staring down death before being restored. All we need now is fire.
Black & Rack Find Common Ground
The rest of the episode amounts to a collage of memorable, foreboding exchanges and wagers. Will Blackbeard behave as expected and pursue Woodes Rogers from Nassau, allowing Eleanor to buy their future? Will Max be able to survive under Captain Berringer? Will De Groot? Can Anne Bonny become any more wise or self-aware? Yet the star of the episode must be the exchange between Jack Rackham and Edward Teach – an emotionally-fueled duo who now possess such shared awareness of their love for the late Charles Vane, they must henceforth be referred to simply as ‘Rackbeard.’
It’s a testament to both actors that the scene, in reality an exchange of monologues, is played with only a hint of open emotion yet is among the most sentimental and touching that each has shown, let alone shared. That both men find common ground in not only their desire to avenge Charles Vane’s death, but the awareness of what he would truly wish may be the most promising moment of this chapter. So close to the end of Black Sails‘ story, the alliance of Jack Rackham and Blackbeard may be as effective as any to date… provided the pirate alliance hasn’t disintegrated by the time they reach the shore.
Black Sails airs next Sunday, February 12th @9pm ET on Starz.