Black Sails, Ep. 1.03: “III.” continues to tread lightly

Black Sails - 1.03

Black Sails, Season 1: Episode 3 – “III.”
Written by Jonathan E. Steinberg & Robert Levine
Directed by Neil Marshall
Airs Saturday nights at 9 on Starz

When Black Sails premiered, I welcomed its slow pace and narrative interest. Going the less obvious route, the series has – so far – avoided laying the action on too thick and, instead, has stuck close to its main characters. However, these characters have mostly been conniving and stressing out, wanting to kill certain people but being unable to for whatever reasons (like due to John’s craftiness). At some point, tensions need to be relieved, and the fact that this is a series about pirates makes that very easy to accomplish – throw a sword between two characters and let them go for it. For all its similar kind of quietness in the face of a loud premise, The Walking Dead still manages to have a zombie-based action set-piece in almost every episode. That’s what a lot of the fans tune in to see. And while I appreciate Steinberg and Levine’s confidence in trying to build this story piece-by-piece, it’s not hard to imagine a lot of first-time viewers scratching their heads at Black Sails thus far, thinking something like “But where’s all the pirate stuff?” The obstacle of an eight-episode first season is that there isn’t much time to figure out what the identity of a series is before you need to start worrying about how the first season is going to wrap up, so at least one group of viewers is going to be disappointed in the writing choices. But it’s still strange to see Black Sails stay so docked like this after three hours of material.

This week, we get a little bit of focus on Miranda Barlow (Louise Barnes), Flint’s caretaker. Her scenes with Guthrie provide an interesting distraction from the distress of the stuff going on elsewhere on the island, but the plotline is another one that creates more questions than provides insight. Nevertheless, her narration of Marcus Aurelius over the episode’s final montage is a neat attempt at a thematic tie that may or may not work completely but does so enough to make us wonder about where these characters are at this point and where they might end up in the coming weeks. How far will the rift between Eleanor and Max expand and eat away at them? Where does John place his allegiances and will he start to care about someone or something other than his survival?

The most intriguing figure of “III.,” however, is Toby Schmitz’s Jack Rackham, whose intellect and cunning keeps him one step ahead of the more brutish and physical characters that surround him. When it comes down to it, Jack has to turn Max over to Vane’s men, but otherwise Jack steps into the spotlight here as an important piece-mover who can come off very influential and convincing. I’m hoping Anne Bonny also gets some of these intriguing kinds of tasks, because Jack and Anne are great when paired up, but for now, Schmitz’s charisma is making the Vane side of Black Sails much more fun that it would otherwise be.

What’s less fun is how the rape of Max ends up being used as the device by which Flint gets his second ship. These kinds of things certainly fit in a pirate story, but if it’s depicted in a television series, there’s always going to be some angry people. I don’t think the inclusion of it in the story is in poor taste in and of itself (on the contrary – it’s quite troubling to watch), but using it in this way takes away some of Max’s agency for the sake of convenience. There’s certainly a better way of getting things done and showing how hurt Max is by Eleanor’s betrayal. In any case, it physically puts Max back into the story and in a much different context, so that – along with almost every other plotline – is building steam in a way that will hopefully make us forget in the next couple episodes that not a whole lot is happening on these shores right now.

– Sean Colletti




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