[This is a review of the season premiere of Black Sails. There will be SPOILERS.]
If you’re under the impression that Starz’ new ambitious series Black Sails is just Pirates of the Caribbean with more nudity, then you’ll be disappointed. Sure, there are beautiful men and women who bare all for a premium network that demands it, but the fantastical notions of ghost ships and cursed treasure are nowhere to be found. There are pirates aplenty, but their romantic nature is stripped down to a more personal and gritty reality that’s worth your attention.
Ever since the departure of their hit series Spartacus, and after the cancellation of both Boss and Magic City, Starz has been in search of a new flagship. Da Vinci’s Demons found success in ratings, yet critical acclaim is something it sorely lacks. Executive producer Michael Bay (Transformers), along with Human Target writers Robert Levine and Jonathan E. Steinberg look to right the network’s ship by giving viewers a new take on a classic legend.
The series premiere, simply titled ‘I.’ begins in 1715 with Captain Flint and his band of pirates laying siege to a merchant ship off the coast of New Providence Island. At first glance, this band of not so merry men appear to be your typical killing, marauding, and cutthroat pirates from tales of old, yet under the gruesome layer of blood and filth, these men and women live a complex life.
Flint, portrayed by the talented Toby Stephens (Strike Back), is the spitting image of what a proper sea captain should look like, but he’s a man losing control of his men. Black Sails triumphs at laying the groundwork for a complex political system where a captain can be voted “out of office.”
Pirating and Accounting are two words that don’t come together easily; however, Flint’s ship does have a financial adviser, and it appears that $8 profit for every man will get you kicked out of the captain’s chair swiftly.
Again, this new series is attempting to showcase the inner workings of pirating during the early part of the eighteenth century. This complex system of stealing, buying, and selling takes us too Nassau, where we are introduced to the women of Black Sails.
It’s no secret that like most premium networks, Starz enjoys giving its viewers gorgeous bodies to feast their eyes upon, but these goddesses are not always essential to the plot. But Black Sails, like Game of Thrones, gives its heroines both beauty and strength.
HBO’s True Detective could learn a few things from Eleanor Guthrie (Hannah New) and Max (Jessica Parker Kennedy). These women are not playing the “nagging wife” role, but instead choose to forge their own destinies. The plight of strong female characters on television is an article for another time, but Black Sails is pointing their ladies in the right direction.
The other leading men include a Han Solo-like character named John Silver (Luke Arnold). From the very moment he flashes that devilishly-handsome smile, it’s clear that this is a man who is consumed by greed and selfishness. Where Flint seems to be trying to fulfill a kind of destiny, Silver just wants to be remembered in the history books.
If there is an antagonist to Flint and Silver, it would have to be the fearsome Captain Vane, played by the Shameless star Zach McGowan. Vane’s primary motivation is to destroy the fragile stability of Flint’s crew by slowly usurping power. Vane’s efforts may never come to fruition as Captain Flint wins back the respect of his men by defeating his rival, Singleton.
All this setup brings us to the most important question of any new series premiere, which is: Why should you care?
Black Sails is by no means a perfect show, but its gorgeously crafted world mixed with solid performances warrants a second viewing. The motivations of these men and women are still unclear, but like its intricate political and financial systems, this series should give us more character development as the season progresses.
Captain Flint is a man driven by purpose, almost like Captain Ahab chasing his white whale. Will the captain catch this wealthy Spanish Galleon by season’s end, or will he loose the respect of his crew before getting the chance?
Due to a positive screening at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con, Starz has already renewed Black Sails for a second season months before its premiere.
Can this series stand out amongst the many genre-based giants dominating the television landscape, or will it fall into obscurity, like so many others before it?
Black Sails continues with ‘II.’ next Saturday @9pm on Starz.