Black Sails, Season 1: Episode 5 – “V.”
Written by Doris Egan
Directed by Marc Munden
Airs Saturday nights at 9 on Starz
Much of Black Sails‘ first season has been methodical character-building, and while “V.” doesn’t let up on putting effort into constructing these people and their lives, its centerpiece is something the season has been needing since its opening moments – a battle on the open seas. This is a series about pirates, after all, and the payoff for waiting for a sequence like this is surprisingly effective. Just on the technical level, this is something that a lot of viewers will have been waiting to see. The strategy that Flint executes to get his ship in position to board another is the kind of risk-reward move that fits with the captain, who is constantly in danger of losing everything. Using a pirate prototype of a sniper, the crew weathers a hail of cannon fire and makes their move.
Amid the chaos is Dufrense (Jannes Eiselen), who is clearly not cut out for this aspect of the pirate life. He is a man more versed in text and logging. But Billy Bones needs every man to do his part, and as soon as he hands over a pistol to Dufrense, Black Sails takes a wonderful turn. Much more of an audience stand-in than John Silver has been, Dufrense in our entry point for “V.” Eiselen plays each shade of it perfectly, from the shock and horror to that moment when you just shut down completely and your body operates involuntarily. Billy’s pep talk before the fight is essentially telling Dufrense that no first-timer has died in a boarding, which is both a humorous attempt at calming his nerves and an admirable example of Billy’s lead-by-favor nature. Other quartermasters might not have bothered to give anyone the time of day if they were getting cold feet. In fact, some might have killed Dufrense for acting cowardly. The camaraderie is here, though, and the whole episode works so well because of how flawlessly its climax is put together.
Things back on the island are just as rocky. Eleanor finds herself in a difficult situation when her father announces he’ll be pulling out, leaving the responsibility of debts and such in the hands of his daughter. This is definitely not the strongest B-story Black Sails has used in an episode, and part of the problem might be that the two characters originally associated with Eleanor – Max and Mr. Scott – don’t interact with her. The people she seeks out haven’t been much of a part of the series thus far, so Eleanor is mostly left adrift in a series of scenes that do, unfortunately, drag down what is otherwise a fantastic episode.
Team Vane get the better half of the island scenes, as Jack runs around trying to devise a plan to keep their position afloat. Vane mostly stews, but both of his sidekicks get some great material, including the development of Anne’s interest in Max as a sympathetic figure. Anne winds up blaming Max for being in such a horrible situation, but both this and last week’s episode have turned Anne from a flat character with an interesting design into someone who has ideals and is willing to openly disagree with her superiors.
How “V.” ends suggests that the action isn’t over, either. It would be difficult for this series to have the weighty kind of fight sequence of “V.” all the time without it seeming contrived, but getting a two-part attack over two episodes and at a time when the story has really built up to it shows how much of an understanding the writers of Black Sails have of structure and delivering payoffs. It’s been a rocky start for the new Starz series, but things are really picking up, making it a perfect time for viewers to tune back in or to drop in for the first time.
– Sean Colletti