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Black Sails, S01E06: VI.; Review by Robin Franson Pruter

black sails season 1Originally aired 1 Mar 2014
Written by Heather Bellson
Directed by T.J. Scott

Starring Toby Stephens, Hannah New, Toby Schmitz, Clara Paget, Tom Hopper, and Hakeem Kae-Kazim

My rating:  ★★1/2 stars

Same stuff, different day.

My criticisms of this episode echo my criticisms of episodes past—the miscasting of Eleanor; the confusion of too many schemes and betrayals; the vague references to backstory that we don’t understand yet; and simply too much story for a single episode.

In this episode, the crew of the Walrus is in control of the Andromache but can’t figure out how to retrieve its guns from the below-deck storage area where that ship’s crew is holed up. A desperate attempt at communication from the slaves who are also below deck leads the pirates to aid them in freeing themselves. Then, both groups attack the Andromache’s crew, one from above, the other from below. This alliance helps the audience view the pirates favorably. They may be violent savages, but their opponents are slavers.

While the pirates are dealing with the Andromache, Billy discovers a letter from Miranda Barlow to Boston officials that suggests that Flint plans to betray his crew. Flint, in fact, knows nothing of this letter. But Billy’s suspicions are aroused, and Flint realizes that Billy may be wavering in his loyalty. The episode doesn’t show us what happens when Billy goes overboard with only Flint around. We’re meant to question whether Flint is so obsessed with his goal that he would sacrifice Billy, the most beloved member of his crew. (We know, however, that Billy is not dead, as Billy Bones appears as an old man in Treasure Island.)

The show challenges us to accept ambiguity. We don’t get an answer as to how Billy fell overboard until the second season. Even then, the explanation is itself ambiguous. We have to accept that we’ll never know if Flint intended for Billy to go overboard.

Back on shore, Anne has had enough of the remainder of the Ranger’s crew abusing Max. She decides to kill Mr. Hammond (Neels Clasen), the worst of the offenders, and goes to Eleanor for help. It’s good to see two of the female characters banding together to help a third, even if it involves murder—in this case, mass murder because Eleanor says that the only way to protect themselves from retaliation is if they kill not just Hammond but the remaining eight members of the Ranger’s crew.

The female alliance in this episode is marred by two instances of clichéd dialogue. When Eleanor rejects Anne’s plan, Anne criticizes her for not wanting to do it because it’s too dangerous. Eleanor replies that it’s “not dangerous enough.” This reply of “not [add adjective here—daring, unorthodox, bold, etc.] enough” has been used far too often—but not as often as Anne’s later comment to Max. Max thanks Anne for what she did for her, to which Anne replies, “I didn’t do it for you.”

Eleanor’s motivation here might be largely to help Max, but Silver suggests that she may also want to show her power to the people of Nassau because she had been forced to give in to Hornigold’s demand that she rescind the embargo on Vane and his crew. Eleanor has a moment savoring her power when Silver first declines to help her ambush the men from the Ranger. She tells him, “I wasn’t asking you to help me. I was granting you the opportunity to help me.” She makes her case persuasively enough that Silver goes along with the plan.

The scheme goes off without a hitch. The moment that Anne murders Hammond is especially well done. Clara Paget, as Anne, looks positively crazed, as if she’s stabbing every man who ever abused women. As clichéd as the line “I didn’t do it for you” is, we believe her.

The third major storyline in this episode involves Miranda and the minister who visits her regularly. Again, as in previous episodes, Miranda talks about her life in London with her husband. But the story she tells doesn’t make any more sense or raise any more interest than the tales she told in the past because she actually reveals very little. Miranda claims that she and her husband were happy and that people wanted to destroy that happiness, which led to Flint, her husband’s best friend, bringing her to Nassau. After this cryptic pronouncement, she seduces the awkward, naïve minister. This incident, however, leads to nothing in terms of story. It just is. And it’s left us to make of it what we will.

This issue is not the same as the ambiguity surrounding Billy’s going overboard. That has direct bearing on the major narrative of the series. The encounter between Miranda and the minister is an unexplained and seemingly pointless digression. It’s certainly one that the audience cannot even begin to make sense of without understanding the nature of Flint and Miranda’s relationship, which we don’t discover until the second season.

When the action of this episode is laid out clearly, it seems strong. For example, the alliances that develop—between the pirates and the slaves and between the women—are enjoyable. But, like too often in this first season, the story gets bogged down in hazy references to a past we don’t understand and to convoluted schemes in the present that we have trouble following.

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