Tactical trickery reigns supreme in this explosive, yet open ended, season three finale of Black Sails. New leaders have risen, and they mean to usher in a collective force that shapes the future of the whole of the Bahamas. While things may still be uncertain on Nassau, one thing is clear — the pirates steal the show in “XXVIII.”
Great writing above sprawling battle sequences is one of the elements that has always pulled me deeper into Black Sails. That is not to say the action isn’t spectacular, because it most certainly is. But Black Sails has always relied on excellent writing to drive everything forward. “XXVIII” begins with both gut-wrenching action and character depth as we move between flashbacks and the actual fighting.
Jack Rackham has managed to insert himself into the thick of it, and as acting Captain of the Walrus, he’s tasked with disrupting the British line of ships in the bay. But before he can overlook the abysmal odds, Teach’s fleet is spotted just behind them. Here’s an awkward relationship if there ever was one. Vane was like a son to Teach, and like a brother to both Jack and Anne, yet Teach still doesn’t understand what Vane ever saw in Jack. “To be underestimated is an incredible gift,” Jack says to Teach after encouraging him to raise the black against the British.
Jack proves his mettle as his plan to come at the British head first while also sending out a small group to commandeer one of the ships of their line. When the plan works, Jack is not met with the admiration he hoped for from Teach, but instead finds a bit more tolerance and less annoyance. For all his hustling, Jack finally finds himself at the helm (sort of) of a small fleet whose actions actually make a difference. He’s never let himself be counted out, and his perseverance and determination pay off. I could get used to seeing Jack in this position; he brings a different approach to our cast of characters where he can always be counted on to shake up the status quo.
Another earth-mover is Silver, who has spent much of this season trying to ensure that he and Flint are on a level playing field. Getting into the Captain’s headspace has never been easy, but now it finally feels like Flint is ready to acknowledge their equal footing. He speaks candidly with Silver about why things have come to a head and why there can be no reconciliation with the British. Silver, too, explains his fear at becoming too close to Flint. Though what at first appears to be fear turns out to be a warning. Silver does not see himself as another death on Flint’s conscience; instead, he sees himself as Flint’s demise.
What an exchange this is. It takes the full episode to give us all the parts, which serves to build the tension quite well. At a time when treachery is their biggest threat, the thought does come to mind that Flint and Silver might fight it out right then and there over the chest they are burying.
Thankfully, we do not lose one character in favor of a successor. John Silver’s rise as a powerful leader does not come at the fall of Flint. They are in this together, and so they shall remain. Though it is very clear that their tenuous friendship has an expiration date, that end is not this day.
Not only has Silver proven to Flint that he is, indeed, worthy to be a partner, but he’s also solidified his position among the Maroons because he’s the only person they trust that is not among their ranks. Even Flint points out the irony of Silver being the most trusted to ensure the safety and security of a chest full of money.
Silver uses this power to place Dobbs in a position where his success is the hinge upon which their strategy is built. Should he turn, it would mean certain death. And for a while, we are led to believe this is the case. An easy trick to fall for given the juxtaposition of Silver’s storytelling over Dobb’s perceived betrayal. Black Sails leads us in one direction, waiting for the right moment to pull the rug from under the viewers.
“I once thought that to lead men in this world, to be liked was just as good as to be feared. And that may very well be true. But to be both liked AND feared all at once is an entirely different state of being. Of which I believe at this moment, I exist alone. The men need to know they’re in good faith with me — they NEED it. And there is nothing they won’t do to make sure they have it. Mr. Dobbs will do what I ask of him.”
This sort of thinking does not come from a man who is unsure of his position. This is spoken from a place of power, spoken with a seasoned confidence that is earned, not assumed. And in that moment, Flint reasserts himself by telling Silver that he is not worried about any retribution that may find him. A statement that ended with a smirk and sounded eerily like a promise. They’re OK for now, but when the time comes, neither man plans to pull any punches.
While Silver has done a great deal to build his own legend, unbeknownst to him, he is getting quite a lot of help from someone else. It would seem our once meek deck-hand turned First Mate, Billy, is actually a masterful storyteller. The son of “agitators” as he called his parents, Mr. Billy Bones has anarchy in his blood and has put it on full display in this season of Black Sails. His crowning moment comes last in “XXVIII” as he, quite literally, writes Long John Silver into being.
“I was no one. And then you came, and my island fell, and I became something else. For so long as you remain, I will be someone to you… And I will make the remaining cost. On the night I confiscated the Pardon Rolls… The night I started becoming… I made clear my position, that there would be two sorts of men on the island going forward. Those like Captain Vane, determined to stand by their oath to the very end. And those like Captian Throckmorton, happy to be the first to betray it. And last, as always, to traitors… Captain Throckmorton’s black spot will not be the last. Ignore it, and join him. Heed it, and reclaim your place amongst us. Until then, I remain… Long John Silver.”
After following through on the black spot message Billy and his clandestine team sent to Captain Throckmorton, a follow-up was delivered and read to a council, of sorts, with Max as the messenger. What a message; what a messenger! It seems like Billy has managed to usurp the power that Governor Rodgers has amassed by creating a legend the people can both rally behind and fear.
The pirate’s message to England is clear: they will have no part of her reign. With a bit of pomp and circumstance and a heavy dose of sleight of hand, Black Sails brought its third season to a fitting end. Or perhaps beginning would be a better description since they’ve left fans with not so much a cliffhanger as a setup for a new regime. Blackbeard, Silver, Flint, Rackham, and Madi are now part of something greater than they’d originally imagined. Surely with so many voices at the table, there’s bound to be discord. I can’t wait to watch it all play out.
While we have nearly a 10 month wait, Black Sails will return for a fourth season. By the looks of it, there’s still plenty of story to unfold.
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