New Providence Island, and Nassau especially, are changing so quickly that it’s no wonder power shifts so dramatically. After last week’s debacle with Billy turning on Flint at the Underhill plantation, “XXXI” gave viewers some semblance that order is being restored. This episode comes at us hard and fast with very few moments to let our heart rates slow down. High tension on the high seas and overblown egos ashore provide the most memorable episode since Charles Vane’s death.
While the entire episode is filled with realizations, lines being drawn, heart wrenching “justice”, and non-stop action, we’ve narrowed it down to three phenomenal moments that really got our blood pumping. There’s no way to cover these without spoilers, so turn back now if you’ve yet to catch the episode.
The Rise and Fall of Captain Berringer
“Good men are not what the moment requires. Right now, the time calls for dark men to do dark things. Do not be afraid to lead them to it.”
Captain Berringer’s advice to Woodes Rogers is foreboding and even more ominous as the whole conversation unfolds in flashbacks spaced throughout the episode. In the three episodes of this fourth season, we’ve come to know Berringer as a vengeful man in a lawless land. His actions up to this point have set him on a path that is all too familiar and a tad too predictable; both in the context of the show and for viewers watching. He’s obviously too proud to accept a loss and move on, and he also believes himself to be the smartest man in the room.
However, watching him peel back Rogers’ layers and stoke the darkness within was such a treat. The vinegar in his veins has soured him to logic and reason, and now the rogue Captain rules Nassau with a heavy hand in the Governor’s absence. Neither Max nor Eleanor are able to make him see reason.
Previously, we’ve seen him cut off Mr. DeGroot’s ear in a display of bravado in front of the prisoners that were captured from the bay and to put on a show for the crowd. Above all else, Berringer is a showman. The problem with that is he does not have the cunning to know when to pull back. It is one thing to rule with fear, but even the oppressed have a breaking point. Despite Eleanor’s pleas for discretion, Berringer continues his spectacle for all to see.
And when that arrogance is met with Long John Silver at the head of some of those angry and oppressed, things do not end well for the Captain. Smile as he might, he is clearly outnumbered, out gunned, and out classed as his reign is cut short. The battle that ensues shows pirates and former slaves with a renewed sense of purpose, united against a common enemy. Newcomer to the Flint/Silver/Billy fray, Israel Hands finds himself in a familiar position. The tip of the spear still has to be wielded by its holder. Yet at Silver’s nod of approval, Hands, again, slits the throat of those who stand in the way of his cause. The omen from the beginning of the episode falls to Silver as he leads his army of dark men to carry out dark things.
Long John Silver Returns, A Living Legend
The silver tongued devil talked his way out of chains last week, and now the very man who held him captive is ready to follow his former prisoner into battle. There is only one other person on this island that could pull off something similar, and he (Flint) is already following Silver. It’s good to see the two of them shoulder to shoulder again. Some of what Flint said to Madi after they thought Silver was dead may have come across as patronizing, but he is genuinely happy to see Silver alive. We could even go so far as to say that for a fleeting moment, it also looked like Flint was happy to see Silver and Madi reunited as well.
Now that the two masterminds are together again, they can get back to tactical planning. With their numbers severely dwindled after the Underhill Plantation incident, they have no choice but to first get back to sowing seeds of dissent among those who still remain in town. Despite people living in fear of the noose, the message they sent on one of the dead redcoats was still heard by all. As noted above, Berringer sabotaged himself by antagonizing the crowd.
It really felt like Charles Vane’s ghost still hung heavy in the square. “These men that brought me here today do not fear me. They brought me here today because they fear you… We are many, they are few. To fear death is a choice… And they can’t hang us all.” Those were the last words of the man in whose name those aboard Blackbeard’s ship still fight. To see townspeople step up to the plate and choose to stand with Flint, Silver, and Madi was enough to fill us with the hope that a pirate victory is possible. Billy’s splinter cell showing up with their firepower didn’t hurt either.
Townsfolk, Billy and his numbers, Israel Hands back in action and with a new sense of purpose — all of these things are possible because of one name, one man. Long John Silver, who was once uncomfortable in the spotlight, has finally risen to the occasion. Riding into battle on a horse; using a gun, sword, and his crutch as weapons; doling out commands with a slight nod of his head; this kind of power looks good on Silver. Now that the legend has returned, will he live up to expectations?
Blackbeard Incurs Rogers’ Wrath
When Rogers was introduced at the beginning of season three, he was fresh faced and merciful. In fact, he was very reminiscent of a young and ambitious Flint before he was exiled from London. He came into Nassau, ruled with a light hand, and spoke fairly to pirate and townsfolk alike. It wasn’t until the conversation between Rogers and Rackham in the carriage that we began to see there was far more just beneath the surface. Like any annoyance, Nassau and the pirates got under his skin and that facade has slowly given way to a man who is just as frightening and the ones he hunts.
The exchange on the boat between Teach’s crew and Rogers was an unexpected treat. Watching Jack surrender hurt to watch just as much as watching Rogers win. Tragic? Absolutely. Gut-wrenching? Most definitely. Both Rogers and Teach are the kind of men that refuse to be tossed aside; as if they’re driven by sheer will.
The Black Sails writers have a deft hand when it comes to blending fact and fiction. History has told us that Blackbeard dies bloody, but how bold must one be to drag the most feared man in Caribbean across the bottom of a barnacle laden boat (three times)? Even that wasn’t enough to kill a legend. Further proof that Rogers is once again forced to bring himself to a new level in order to stay on the same playing field as his foes.
So when his torture fails to rattle the crew — fails to stop Teach’s insurrection — Rogers’ hand is forced to more direct and less showy means. Even when the Governor was trying to have his grand, legend building moment, it was squashed by a singularly willful pirate. Simply not dying turned into an unintentional act of resistance. We’ve seen how the death of Charles Vane spurred the island to action. What kind of retaliation will we see after the death Edward Teach?
Before everything went to hell, Anne had doubts about Jack’s allegiance to Teach, saying, “You always want to stand next to giants. And I’m wondering how it is you and I are ever going to move on from this.” Black Sails has never shied away from killing titans. Pulling influences from both historical fact and Treasure Island, yet choosing when to comply with either is one part of what makes this show so great. Each time we think we have an angle figured out, we’re proven wrong.
“XXXI” feels like a major turning point in this fourth and final season. The pirates narrowly escape tearing themselves apart, and another legend is removed from the picture. Though Teach’s death was hard to watch, the sequence was a brilliant piece of film making. The only noises for a few minutes were the sounds of Rogers’ commands and the gurgling of Teach trying to breathe. Viscerally affecting as it was, it was hard to focus on anything other than the crew that watched as their captain remained defiant. From the redcoat vomiting in the background at the spectacle, to the twitch of an arm as unease creeps in, the nuance in Black Sails grips viewers so tightly that it becomes easy to get lost in this world.
Black Sails is back next Sunday, February 19th, with “XXXII”at 9/8c on Starz.
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