Saturday, March 15, 2014

REVIEW: 'Black Sails' - Flint Faces the Crew's Mutiny as He Heads Into Battle with the Urca in 'VIII'

Starz's Black Sails - Episode 1.08 VIII

As Flint and his crew set sail to hunt the Urca, Eleanor must accept changes to her life. Meanwhile, Bonny and Rackham must face the consequences of their actions.

The series premiere of Black Sails clearly outlined the main plot of the first season - Captain James Flint and his crew will chase the Urca, a Spanish galleon with 5 million dollars worth of gold aboard. Understandably, the season finale should include the climatic battle where the ships face off and the crew either emerge victorious and are showered in gold or they die trying. "VIII" does include that battle sequence - the most stunning and brutal sequence from the first season. And for a brief moment it seems like the second option has come to pass. The Urca unloaded its wrath on Flint's ship and blew them to pieces. Pirates are flying everywhere including Flint as he is flung into the water and starts sinking. The action then cuts back to Nassau - more on that in a bit - then returns to the scene of the battle where Flint, John Silver and company have washed up on shore to discover the ship they were fighting wasn't the Urca and the true ship came aground the evening prior during a storm. Then cut to black. The show goes out with a very open-ended finale. I was expected a climatic battle sequence and closure on the Urca arc. We got that action sequence - which there should fundamentally be more of in season 2 - but the fight for the treasure on the Urca is just getting started.

Part of what made the battle sequence so tragic yet beautiful was the buildup towards it. With the fear of a mutiny growing ever stronger, Flint kills Mr. Gates and then finds his secrets exposed the exact moment before firing on the ship. He's worked so hard to get to this moment but his willingness to abandon the needs of his crew have finally caught up to him. The pirate lifestyle is one where everyone is an equal and entitled to the same knowledge. Flint wanted to be their ruler and his narcissistic planning got the best of him. Fortunately, Silver escaped long enough to fire that first shot and the battle had to rage on as the crew had to fight a cause they weren't completely behind anymore.

And then, there was the stuff happening back at Nassau - which I begrudgingly bring up because the show spends so much time in that setting. As an action-adventure series, I want Black Sails to spend a lot more time on the pirate ship. Those scenes always play wonderfully and have important meanings. But the show is trying to build up a world bigger than just that. Nassau is meant as an entry point into that type of world and lifestyle these people lived in. And I do think Hannah New and Louise Barnes are giving interesting performances as Eleanor Guthrie and Miranda Barlow. But their concerns of building up this town as a big port for trading never really felt that engaging or interesting. Charles Vane's return to the town should feel thematically similar to the mutiny happening on Flint's ship at the same time. But it's also way too civilized and orchestrated by a character who I don't understand what is motivating him to do this. That is a huge problem because Black Sails has a huge ensemble cast but there's only a handful of characters I'm interested in. And most of the time the character I'm most interested in is the one to be killed by episode's end i.e. Billy and Mr. Gates. Here's hoping the next season can do better at outlining what's driving every character to do what they doing.

Some more thoughts:
  • "VIII" was written by Jonathan E. Steinberg & Robert Levine and directed by T.J. Scott.
  • Like everything else he does, Bear McCreary's score was amazing throughout the season.
  • I do wonder if the events of this finale were altered at all after Starz picked up the series for a second season way back in July 2013.
  • Filming on that second season started back in November so it also may take some time for the show to course correct some of its problem areas.