Piracy in the high seas and political power plays on land are back with a vengeance on Starz’ Black Sails Season 3.
Black Sails Season 3 starts with the remnants of Season 2: John Silver (Luke Arnold) has a peg leg, Eleanor Guthrie (Hannah New) falls from grace and is in jail while Jack Rackham (Toby Schmitz), Anne Bonny (Clara Paget) and Max (Jessica Parker Kennedy) and their two ships of Urca gold lord over Nassau. Queen Anne’s Revenge Captain Edward Teach or Blackbeard (Ray Stevenson) makes his formidable entrance by killing three armed men, who happen to be the brothers of the ninth wife he abandoned, just before he eloquently states his view about forever. In the flurry of changes, Walrus Captain James Flint (Toby Stephens) is able to squeeze in a haircut. He now sports a much shorter hair because he is too busy to be a monster to someone to tie it in a ponytail.
Without Miranda Barlow (Louise Barnes) to hinge him to his past, Season 3 Flint is darker, more vicious and less forgiving than the previous versions of himself. Like his no nonsense hair, Flint does not mess around. He kills unarmed men and women to raise his middle finger to the civilized world. He even kills members of his crew without so much as batting an eyelash, just to make his point.
Flint struggles in the aftermath of Barlow’s untimely demise and sees death in his dreams, so he unconsciously translates his nightmares to be the reality of his crew. He forces Walrus into the vortex of a ginormous storm and survives it to tell the tale. He makes hard decisions when they get stuck in doldrums. He unwittingly leads his remaining men into a trap on Maroon Island, yet, once again, Flint rises to the occasion and uses his wits to get them out of another deadly predicament.
Toby Stephens is great at being menacing and monstrous. His growls, the way he curves his lips and lifts his eyebrows are spot on as a dangerous and murderous psychopathic pirate.
Through it all, Walrus Quartermaster John Silver remains Flint’s sounding board and talking head – slowly becoming the captain’s equal, but more so in the eyes of the crew. Silver, his peg leg aside, is instrumental in making the ship afloat and saving the men from the wrath of Flint. As Silver hobbles about, he cements a solid relationship with First mate Billy Bones (Tom Hopper). Billy ceased being loyal to Flint after his return from the dead, and sees Silver as the new Flint, someone worthy of his allegiance and more importantly, someone who can free the pirates without the bloodshed that usually follows in Flint’s wake.
Aside from Bones, Silver finds an ally in Mr. Scott’s (Hakeem Kae-Kazim) daughter, Marooner Madi (Zethu Dlomo). Silver and Madi are the successors-in-waiting as the next Flint and the Maroon Queen, respectively. They are young but see the mistakes of their elders. Also, they share the same long-term big picture view and know that to save their existence, they have to fight together.
Bones treats Silver with a little awe, but Madi sees right through him. Despite that, Madi sees herself in him. Watching Silver interact with other characters, gives him the opportunity to be weaned from Flint’s darkness and prove himself as the better option than the captain. Setting aside my personal dislike for Silver’s hair, I have to admit that his character is one of the best written in the show, and Luke Arnold shows the perfect balance between the darkness that slowly creeps into his being and his goal to save himself.
While Flint battles his way back to Nassau, Eleanor Guthrie takes back her crown as the queen of Nassau without much struggle. At the end of Season 2, one would think that Guthrie is down and out, but one man’s decision puts her at the top of the world once again. That man is pirate hunter and English Captain Woodes Rogers (Luke Roberts). Rogers is what Flint was before he was booted out of London for having sexual relations with the son of a powerful man: idealistic, honest to a fault and humble. Woodes’ goodness rubs on to Guthrie as she becomes inclusive in her plans, foremost of which is Charles Vane’s (Zach McGowan) downfall. With Rogers’ ships and men and Guthrie’s knowledge of Nassau and the pirates, they plan to return the island to England’s fold. The plan is good on paper, but the pirates are not a cooperative lot. They piss on the pardons and cause Rogers unspeakable losses (especially in the finale).
Meanwhile, Jack Rackham finds out that his self-proclaimed wits and generous pay cannot force people to rebuild the fort for the coming of Rogers. Max takes an active role in securing her future by making an impassioned speech and offering part of her share of the Urca gold to get Rogers’ and Guthrie’s blessing. Anne Bonny and her face lighten up a bit, with her hat situated a little higher atop her head, but for the most part, just sits there to be fawned over by Rackham or Max.
Rackham, aside from the coded message to Bonny and his strategy in the finale, is uninteresting. Given the sacrifices that others make, his seems wanting. Guthrie is right when she says that Rackham’s end goal is his legacy, it is selfish even in the light of his conversation with Rogers about his family. Max is another story – she gets respect for doing everything in her power to be a better version of Guthrie.
Also in Nassau, Vane finally sees the return of mentor and former king of pirates Blackbeard. Vane does not know whether or not Blackbeard forgives him for turning his back on the man for the sake of his love for Guthrie. Thankfully, Blackbeard (and the shrapnel migrating to his heart) is forgiving and hugs his prodigy like the son he never has. That is a tense moment and one steeped with history.
Blackbeard realizes that Vane and Nassau have changed in his absence, less edgy and savage, and he does not like it one bit. Blackbeard spirits his adoptive son out of the island to mold him into his likeness in terms of ferocity and cunning. However, their alliance is short-lived. Vane shuns the loving paternal arms of Blackbeard and returns to the ominous company of Flint. Vane chooses the present over the past for the future of Nassau. And what a choice it is, to give one’s life to plant seeds of resistance in the hardened hearts of pirates to defeat well-armed and disciplined English (and Spanish) navy men ready to invade Vane’s one true love. With his ultimate sacrifice, Vane is the hero that Nassau needs but not what it deserves.
McGowan’s Vane is easy to cheer for, difficult childhood which includes slavery but grows up to be a loyal man, as pirates loyalty goes. His relationship with Blackbeard has signs of father-son love, while it is purely business with Flint, yet one cannot fault Vane for choosing Flint and Nassau over Blackbeard and personal glory. It is just the man that he is or was. His end, even his final words, is fitting for his character. It is a pity that his reunion with Blackbeard is unceremoniously cut short. His gravelly voice and abs will be sorely missed.
The finale is epic, especially with Silver explaining to Flint the plan to win the battle intertwining with the plan unraveling before the audience’s eyes. There is explosion everywhere and grudging bromances between Flint and Silver and Blackbeard and Rackham. It is an apt ending to a season of great acting, brilliant special effects (the storm is breathtaking in its deadly strength) and story arcs that almost always go somewhere worthwhile and characterization that is constant and true.
Black Sails Season 3 has three new strong characters to stand toe to toe with the pirates: Blackbeard, Rogers and Madi. They prove that Black Sails is a show for alpha characters, not sniveling ones. Yes, Flint, Silver, Blackbeard and Guthrie are all evil – some more than most, but they are very good at being evil that it is hard to look away. In Rackham’s words to Rogers, “we’re all villains in Nassau. Don’t think because you’re new, you’re any different.” It will be interesting to find out what will happen in Season 4 of Black Sails, a Nassau without Vane and his utmost loyalty.
Charles Vane > Blackbeard > Max (she is the Daenerys Targaryen of Black Sails, took me a long time to like her)
Favorite Body Parts:
Blackbeard’s black beard > Captain Flint’s hair (or lack thereof) > Woodes’ facial scar that seems to appear and disappear randomly
Introduction of Blackbeard – Just his words at first, then his eyes, and finally three dead men.
Vane’s speech before he dies – His last words* and he walked towards it without a hint of fear, almost embracing it.
Silver and Flint’s conversation in the finale – Silver lays out his plan to win the battle, which depends on the man he commanded to be beaten. So many things could have gone wrong, but did not. Cheers to Silver for his brilliant mind.
Death of Charles Vane – He dies by short-drop hanging. Those few seconds of watching Vane experience excruciatingly slow strangulation was painful.
“I’ve lived long enough to know that any promise made beside the word forever is no more than a lie agreed upon. There is no forever. Everything moves towards its end. The closer we get to ours, the louder that clock ticks, the less a sane man would let a promise deprive him of happiness.” – Blackbeard’s view on forever
“No matter where I was, there was an odor would arrive on my nose, brine and hides and pits and shit. The perfume of this place.” – Blackbeard on Nassau and its heavenly smell
“That fucking chair. To gain it, it demands you win partners, call them friends, make them promises. To keep it, it demands you break them all. One day when all is settled here, we should burn that fucking chair.” – Max to Eleanor Guthrie, talking about the chair of power that once belonged to Guthrie but is now hers.
*“These men who brought me here today do not fear me. They brought me here today because they fear you. Because they know that my voice, the voice that refuses to be enslaved, once lived in you. And may yet still. They brought me here today to show you death, and use it to frighten you into ignoring that voice. But know this: we are many, they are few. To fear death is a choice. And they can’t hang us all. — Get on with it, motherfucker!” – Charles Vane’s last words before he died, spoken while looking at the people of Nassau and at Eleanor Guthrie.
“To be both liked and feared all at once is an entirely different state of being, in which, I believe, at this moment, I exist alone. The men need to know they’re in good favor with me. They need it, and there is nothing they won’t do to make sure they have it.” – John Silver to Captain Flint, and it is so true.