Warning: Spoilers ahead!!
Of all the various shows I follow, BLACK SAILS is the one I am most conflicted about, and while that has lessened a bit with the conclusion of season two, I’m still not sure if this show is becoming everything I hope it can be or if I am just deluding myself. There are four main storylines that make up the second season: Flint and his crew still trying to retrieve the gold from a spanish treasure ship and how the plans for that gold profoundly impact motivations and allegiances, Vane doing everything he can to get ahead and maintain his power, Max, Rackham, and Anne trying to figure out how they work as both business partners and intimates, and the Guthries trying to find some way to maintain profitability while dealing with the island’s chaos while simultaneously trying to find a way to legitimize Nassau. It should go without saying that none of these stories can exist in a vacuum and the clashing of these parties and their ambitions is what drives the drama of this season.
The story this season was actually quite good, but it was plagued by a few bouts of doldrums. BLACK SAILS has long been about two warring ideologies, freedom and piracy or subjugation and legitimacy, and this conflict has dominated and somewhat bogged down the show as it has taken so long to resolve. Thankfully, this ideological battle finally comes to a head and is resolved this season, but you’ll have to watch to see which side wins, as I don’t want to spoil the fun. One of the highlights of this season were the early flashbacks of Flint, as we get a glimpse into the circumstances that led him to a life of piracy. While this arc was initially very intriguing, I was a little disappointed with the big reveal that Flint was ruined over a homosexual relationship. I felt this device as untrue to the literary portrayal the character was based on and that it was just pandering to modern hot button issues in an effort to increase viewership. However, I did love how this flashback and what it revealed played out at the end of the season, giving us the best climax of the series so far. I quite enjoyed the power struggle on the island this season between Vane, Eleanor Guthrie, and Flint, particularly how it had far reaching consequences on variety of character dynamics, which made for some incredibly interesting and engrossing television. As for the other prevailing story, the one featuring Max, Anne, and Rackham, it is a much more personal story and it’s importance doesn’t come to fruition until late in the season, so it was kind of distracting while it was going on, but what it sets up will almost certainly make for great television come season three.
The production values continue to be outstanding on BLACK SAILS. As usual, the sets they use are perfect, from the taverns and bungalows, to the ships and forts, everything evokes the imperial age and gives the show a look that feels authentic. I especially liked the look of the spanish man-of-war, as it has a higher level of wood work and articism that makes it unique and more beautiful than the typical tall ships used by other pirate crews. Another great visual enhancer are the costumes. While pirates have a very distinct image in fiction, the outfits tend to be over glamorized versions of typical sailor wear, and I love that the show sticks to common, functional clothes for the sailors and pirates rather than jazzing them up to a more hollywood standard. That’s not to say there aren’t any nice outfits on the show, for there are plenty of beautiful garments worn by more prominent members of society, and these feature heavily in the flashbacks. From formal suits, to uniforms, and corseted dresses, all variety of period clothes pop up on the show, and they all look spot on and accurate. As this is a Television show it doesn’t have a consistent director, so there usually isn’t any overtly noticeable or fancy camerawork, but that’s not a negative because it’s competent enough to get the job done, but reserved enough to not distract. The only overt exception was the season finale which had great directing and did a wonderful job of portraying the intense action that permeated this season’s epic climax.
I could go on at great lengths about the various characters on Black Sails, but I feel I would start to drone and become boring, so I will merely focus on the best performances and leave the rest unsaid. Toby Stephens continues to deliver a powerful performance as Captain Flint. Flint is a man who has had to harden himself to survive, and Stephens effortless infuses this into every aspect of the character, to the point where that you’re never quite sure if he is truly being sincere or merely putting up a front before sticking a knife in someone’s back. Equally impressive is Luke Arnold, who takes on the role of John Silver. Arnold has a natural charm that is hard to miss, which is perfect for the smarmy Silver, and Arnold skillfully infuses that charm with an underhanded ruthlessness that he is becoming more and more comfortable with, giving us a scene stealing character who we can’t help but love. Continuing on in the role of Eleanor Guthrie is Hannah New and I absolutely love her portrayal. Eleanor runs the gambit of emotions as her heart, head, and temper are constantly clashing with each other, and New does a great job of giving her the strength, expressions, and flawless delivery that a powerful woman needs. I am continually disappointed that her career is not blossoming more quickly, because she certainly deserves far larger roles than she is currently inhabiting. When I started watching Black Sails, I didn’t take a whole lot of notice of Anne Bonny, played by Clara Paget, as she just seemed like another quiet but deadly character. However, the complexity of emotion and broad range she has shown this season caught my eye and had me thoroughly entranced throughout the season. I hope they continue to expand her characters prominence, because she has come out as one of the actors to pay attention to on this show.
Despite some mid-season hiccups, BLACK SAILS has really stepped up its game with the second season. It has a solid story that propels the show in a new directions, boasts terrific production values, and has some impressive performances. If this show continues to improve at this rate, it just might become one of the top shows on premium cable.
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10