This second to last episode of the series feels like the writers have wound up a spring loaded sling shot and are just a breath away from letting it loose. It is hard not to get swept up in the momentum of “XXXVII” as we trudge through dense jungle after the chest and Flint while also waiting for Rogers’s trap to spring. We’re given poignant dialogue, explosive action, and largest culling this fandom has ever seen. Woodes Rogers’ descent into madness and uncertainty is a pleasure to watch, and it’s even more gratifying to watch Madi gracefully and defiantly stand between him and the thing he wants most. In a supremely satisfying episode, we’ve narrowed it down to three absolute stand-out moments of goodness.
The locations in Black Sails have always been spectacular, but there’s something special about Skeleton Island. The show spent its four season filming on location in and around Cape Town, South Africa. Bright blue water, lush green jungles, and bright, sandy beaches have been just as much a character to this series as the actors themselves. The mist and fog of the mysterious Skeleton Island further intensifies the mind games it plays with those who visit. Whether the VFX team has a hand in what makes the final cut, or even if some parts (like ship interiors) are filmed on a set/sound stage, the framing of these scenes are stunning.
As the mist rolls off the mountains and down over the water, visibility is greatly reduced, which provides the cover necessary for Rogers’ men to sabotage the Walrus. Flint and Dooley have to fight the land itself as they cut through the brush to find a safe place to store their chest. Watching Flint take on three armed men through a tangle of leaves and vines, there’s something voyeuristic about the way some of the jungle sequences were shot, but it adds to the tension of the scenes.
From the breathtaking cliff views when Flint and Silver are training in the flashbacks to the tight shots in ships’ interiors, every angle provides depth and adds another layer of emotion to already tense scenes. Would there be the same sense of dread without mist coming in and out of frame? Would the flashbacks still have the feeling of being profoundly important without the vast, open ocean full of possibilities as their backdrop? Cinematographer Gavin Struthers has really outdone himself with what is quite possibly, the most beautifully shot episode of Black Sails we’ve seen.
OK, I’ll be honest, this was awfully heart-wrenching. Mr. DeGroot and Joji have been with this series as long as Flint and Silver. For them to have made it so far then be ripped away was painful. Winston Chong has played Joji’s silent but deadly persona flawlessly. He’s been an avid Flint supporter since before the mutiny that Singleton lead in the first season. Which is why it was so surprising to see him take Silver’s side in “XXXVI” when they set off in pursuit of Flint and Dooley after they took the treasure chest. Other than the wayward grunt, Joji doesn’t even speak to Flint with his last breath. Who but Flint could have brought down Joji?
This death was reminiscent of Gates’s death at Flint’s hands. Longevity doesn’t matter to the unshakeable captain. When it comes time for Flint or them, it’s always going to be Flint. Even for the man who risked everything to step up as Flint’s new second, Dooley made the mistake of moving against Flint and paid for his error with his life.
Mr. DeGroot’s death was infuriating. In the chaos of the ambush, it’s impossible to be certain that Billy is the one who killed his former brother, but it’s not a stretch to believe it to be true. There was something deep inside that kept wanting to give Billy the benefit of the doubt, but to see him at the head of the longboat shooting defenseless men in the water was despicable. Not even sparing Ben Gunn was enough to stop the hate that roiled inside for the completely 180 that Billy has taken this season. The only other character in this series that has garnered so much ire from me is Dufrense; but I fear that Billy will not get the punishment he deserves.
Flashbacks of Flint and Silver’s True Friendship
The episode starts with and ends on a flashback, but these are not the poorly done and lazy kind of flashbacks that cheat the viewer by filling in gaps in the story. These flashbacks to Flint teaching Silver how to be a better swordsman are quite literally a peak into this oddly strong relationship they have. At this point, viewers have spent thirty-seven episodes getting to know these characters and watching them grow and change with the world around them. Through that natural progression, there is no question that their friendship, though inexplicable to others, is deep; we didn’t need a flashback to tell us that. What we learned through them was this trek, that has brought them together, actually forged something much deeper. What that something is cannot be explained with a simple relationship status.
The one moment in the flashbacks that jumped out most was when Flint calls Silver on his lie and follows it with, “I’m not angry.” It’s as if he’s saying, “I know you’re lying to me, I don’t understand why you’d feel the need to do so at this point, but I just want you to know I’ve left it all out on the table.” Thomas, Miranda, his time in the Royal Navy… Silver knows Flint as if he were an open book. He admits his true loyalty to Flint in a conversation with Madi, but I believe it is implied that he and Flint know where they stand without Silver needing to be explicit in his intentions.
These two men are masterful orators who are often at odds but never too far apart. The dynamic is interesting, especially since Israel Hands has been in Silver’s ear lately bluntly telling him what he’s refused to admit. Even after Flint has stolen the chest, and killed five great men (six including killing his own ally, Dooley), yet Silver still has reason to pause in their duel. Yes, there is gunfire which causes a distraction; but anyone who really wanted Flint out of the way would have used such a moment to his advantage. Instead, Silver and Flint make their way to a lookout and see that Rogers has completely disregarded their deal and attacked their crew. They have a complex history, yet despite everything actually has come between them, Flint and Silver hold steadfast to the fact that they are better together than they are apart.
“Can’t you see it? It isn’t utility that’s behind his investment in me. Nor necessity, nor dependency. I understand you fear a false motive, but this much is clear to me now. I have earned his respect. After all the tragedies that man has suffered? The loss of Thomas, the events of Charlestown… I have earned his trust. I have his true friendship, so he is going to have mine. And as long as that is true, I cannot imagine what is possible.”
But with only one episode left to close out the series, is that how history will remember the infamous pairing of Captain Flint and Long John Silver?
Black Sails ends a four year run next Sunday, April 2nd, with the series finale at 9/8c on Starz.
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