When I first read about Black Sails, the synopsis just said it would follow the adventures of Captain Flint 20 years before the events of Treasure Island (a personal favorite). Its from the same people that brought us Spartacus (another personal favorite) and was advertised very similarly. So the over the top action and gleeful debauchery of Spartacus on the high seas? I was immediately in! The problem after watching it is, we still haven’t quite got around to the adventure. It seems like almost the entire first season was a long setup for the second season. The entire season centers around Flint’s quest to go after the Spanish treasure galleon The Urca. However, almost all of the season is about his quest to start his quest. Not until the final two episodes did they finally set chase. It wasn’t coincidence that they were the two best episodes of the season.
The focus of the show was split in two. Part of the time was spent on the seas. There we got a chance to see the pirates being, well, pirates. The other, and much larger, part took place on Nassau, and follows the efforts to establish the independent pirate nation of New Providence. And at times, the stuff on the island was great. There was just far to much of it. Eleanor is a great character, and certainly has her place in the plot, but her stubbornness and pettiness became tedious to follow at times. I appreciate a show being character driven, and they have spent ample time establishing all the characters, but with a show like this we really just needed more action. The chronicles of the fledgling government really didn’t start getting good until the main pirates were actually away from the island. That gave them much more time to develop the evolution of the whore Max and Rackham. Their storyline saved the New Providence storyline. With Eleanor finally establishing an uneasy alliance with Captain Vane, I look for the island to be much more interesting next season.
Even when Flint was out on the sea, it still took the show a while to ramp up the action to where it should be. Establishing Flint’s back-story and ulterior motives were certainly important, but they just did so at a snail’s pace. The constant threat of mutiny was exciting at first, then got old quickly. Thankfully, by the end they were able to make it interesting once again. I was so excited the first time we were about to get a ship battle. Finally! Then, much to my disappointment, most of the actual action of the battle was skipped over. Budget reasons? It’s the only reason I can think of for why they would do this. With an expanded next season and an expanded budget coming, there will be no excuses for this in the future. To their credit, if they were saving up, they made the most of it in the end. The hunt for The Urca thrilling. And when the cannons started thundering, the action was excellent. If season two can keep the pace of the final two episodes going, we will be in for quite a ride.
One of the most interesting subplots of the season was Captain Charles Vane. Standing as the only real threat to Flint for being the top captain, Vane’s calm ruthlessness is a joy to watch. It surprised me how much I ended up liking him. With much of his early storyline spent bogged down with his relationship with Eleanor, Vane eventually decided to man up and things got really interesting. After losing his ship and crew, Vane sets off on his own. He visits a pirate from his past, that he evidently belonged to. It was weird, they never mentioned the other captain by name, but all signs point to it being Blackbeard. Blackbeard has evidently retired from piracy and now has his men and slaves running a timber operation on a remote island somewhere. Vane’s adventures there, and his fight against the demons of his past and to regain a new crew are some of the best moments of the show. With Vane now controlling the castle, and essentially the entire harbor of New Providence, his storyline has a bright future. From a historical perspective, Vane and Blackbeard actually did have a relationship and I thought it was a great addition to the show.
The acting on Black Sails is good, not great. Passable would probably be the best term. Toby Stephens is great as Flint. His reckless determination and dangerous obsession is a joy to watch. Eleanor is played by Hannah New. In spots, she is truly great. She does a great job of conveying the independent woman holding her own in a man’s world. The problem is that a little of her goes a long way. I was surprised at how much I ended up liking Jessica Parker Kennedy and Toby Smitz as Max and Rackham. I hated them at first. It seemed that Kennedy was only there because she had an exotic accent and looked good naked. But once their characters developed a little bit, both really shined. The supporting cast is where the show really shined thought. Tom Hopper and Mark Ryan as Gates and Billy Bones stole the show. Their dedication to the men and their shaky faith in Flint was really great. I see really great things ahead for Luke Arnold who plays John Silver. Silver took a backseat for most of the season, and I didn’t know what to make of his sketchy character. But I came to love watching him formulate his schemes and always find a way to survive. Arnold does an amazing job making his slimy character come off as charming and someone for us to root for. Even in limited time in the finale, he stole the show. With him poised to be one of the leading characters next season, I’m really excited.I noticed as I was writing I alluded to next season quite a bit. And why shouldn’t I? Despite middling critic reviews, fan reception to Black Sails has been great. It quickly received an order for a second season. The entire first season was nothing but lead up to what should be a great second season, and the left us with one hell of a cliffhanger at the end of the finale. But in the end, a season has to stand on it’s own and not just live off the promise of a great future. The show started off well, but crept along at far too slow of a pace. With only 8 episodes in the first season, you have to make every single one of them count, and unfortunately, they missed on a few. To their credit, it did seem like the show improved every week. The finale is one of my favorite TV episodes I have seen all year. But even with a lot of great stuff sprinkled throughout the season, there were far too many lulls in the action. Starz made it look like we were going to get Spartacus on the seas. So give it to us! In the end, Black Sails proved to be a pretty good show with a massive amount of potential that just hasn’t quite been reached yet. But if they continue with their current pace and build off the finale, greatness is on the horizon.