Black Sails, Season 1: Episode 6 – “VI.”
Written by Heather Bellson
Directed by T. J. Scott
Airs Saturday nights at 9 on Starz
After an excellent episode last week, Black Sails picks up right where it left off. Following a beautifully-shot ship battle, Flint and his crew find themselves in a bit of a stalemate after boarding the ship they’ve attacked. Most of the action here takes place a night, giving the scenes an appropriately dark atmosphere as Gates tries to come up with some kind of plan to infiltrate the holding without getting his men killed. Meanwhile, Billy is becoming more and more skeptical of Flint’s intentions, creating both a physical and verbal tension in much of the episode. By the end, Billy winds up overboard, and though not seeing a dead body in an episode of television is a good indication that a character is still alive, it’s a good indication of just how far Flint is willing to go and how low his moral compass swings. There’s an obstacle? Great. Overcome it. Even if that obstacle is an ally who is universally liked by the rest of the crew? A goal is a goal. Gates raises an eyebrow at the whole situation, especially after Flint takes the sword to drop in the water during the nautical funeral service held for the fallen pirates. Flint is crafty and a solid actor when he wants to be; but his shipmates aren’t as dumb as he thinks they are, so some sort of reckoning is certainly on the horizon.
Getting back to the attack that eventually concludes the boarding of the ship, though, we see Mr. Scott in the middle of a wonderfully complicated situation. Technically a slave chained up the hold, he’s found himself in such a dire position by trying to be a good man and protector. Eventually, though, he’s forced to take up arms and assist Flint in retrieving the ship’s guns. It’s hardly a failure – moral or any other kind – for Scott, though, who retains complete agency in the face of someone and something that is indisputably corrupt and wrong. The slaves fighting back against the masters isn’t quite as visually and aurally stunning as seeing last week’s battle through the eyes of Dufrense, but it’s even more thematically weighty despite the fact that the theme is one pretty familiar to us. Still, it’s another great use of a secondary character, building up an already strong ensemble.
Contributing to that ensemble is Anne Bonny, who devises a plan to get Max free. The biggest plus here is that the plan works. If this season had spent any more time describing how crappy Max’s situation was, it would have been too repetitive and tiresome. Setting her free with a couple episodes left in the season will definitely work to the show’s benefit in retrospect, so that those episodes aren’t tied down by her captivity as a plot point. How her reunion with Eleanor goes will hopefully be the thing that punctuates Max’s storyline for this season. And, to touch on that, I was much more involved with Eleanor’s parts in “VI.,” not just because they were easier to follow (Black Sails can get a little dense at times) but also due to her pairing with John Silver, who has really come around for me after being kind of annoying at first. His refusal to offer her any kind of help compared to his realization that no one messes with her (that’s a G-version paraphrase) is a great little journey to witness in his facial expressions and tones. It would be great if we could see Eleanor hold her own in a sword fight with her opponents, but Black Sails has gone the extra mile to give its female characters strength wherever possible.
There’s still plenty of loose ends at this point, some of which conjure a fair bit of intrigue – Vane visiting the mountainous man creates a whole bunch of foreboding – and others of which are not all that interesting – Ms. Barlow has sex with some guy as a form of manipulation and self-preservation in the episode’s only jarring scene. Yet, this first season has, overall, picked up a lot of steam (or wind, rather; harrrrr!) in these last two episodes. Whether or not it sticks the landing is actually less of a concern to me now, since I was mainly hoping to see some reasons to come back for a second season. Those reasons are already there.
– Sean Colletti