Thursday, March 3, 2022

REVIEW: 'Our Flag Means Death' - Stede's Decision to Become a Pirate Captain Reaches a Lethal Turning Point in 'Pilot'

HBO Max's Our Flag Means Death - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

Aristocrat-turned-pirate captain Stede Bonnet is put to the test when his crew encounters a British naval vessel.

"Pilot" was written by David Jenkins and directed by Taika Waititi

Stede Bonnet believes he was born to be a pirate. Yet, he's actually terrible at the job. That only dawns on him once he's confronted with his first true act of piracy. A massive ship approaches. His crew prepares for their first raid. It's going to be a bloody, murderous mess. They are excited by the prospect. Meanwhile, Stede hides out in his cabin. He has no idea how to fight. He believes he offers a unique experience to his crew. He treats them differently than other pirates in the area. He wants them to be open with their emotions. He sees the benefits of crafts in bringing them together. The show is titled Our Flag Means Death yet Stede's ship literally doesn't have a flag. It's a vessel waiting for its identity. Stede escaped a perfectly comfortable life. Sure, it may have offered him nothing notable. He was a forgotten man who happened to have a perfectly fine family. He abandoned them in pursuit of this vocation. He believes he's meant to be on the high seas. As a wealthy aristocrat, he has no idea how to interact with the crew and conduct himself on the ship. It's impractical to have his library aboard. He is the only person on the ship who knows how to read. He uses it as an example for how accessible he is. His space is free for the rest of the crew to use whenever they want. Again, he wants a ship that is totally unique. Not everyone in the crew appreciates that. They joined this lifestyle under the belief that they could die at any time. That was an invigorating prospect. Of course, that too is a privilege bestowed on those who chose this life. Not everyone had opportunities elsewhere. It was either this or slavery for the pirates of color. They are treated with respect by their fellow crew members. They are just as fearsome and dangerous as anyone else. The condemnation from the royal army is striking though. That's used as a way to endear Stede to the rest of the crew. Once a mission presents itself, he does have a vested stake in its outcome. He may have his own way of conducting business. However, he does end this premiere accomplishing an impressive feat. Sure, it's murder. That's what has to happen in order for Stede to succeed as a pirate. This is the life he chose. He can't escape it now. He's too far away from any civilization but the reminders of his past are staring him right in the face.

Captain Badminton operates with pure arrogance upon learning Stede is commanding the ship charging them. They are outgunned but still approaching. It creates an opportunity for civility to emerge for once. It's more than the typical interaction of ships fighting with one another and killing those who wish to play by their own rules. It's exhausting and no longer fun for Badminton. Instead, he is amused by the idea that Stede has ruined his life. He remains a coward who is weak and incapable of doing anything right. In truth, Stede never intended on killing Badminton. That's what happens. That's the story that must be told. Stede receives that guidance from Oluwande. He is a sensible member of the crew. He knows this isn't as bad as it seems. He is going to die eventually. This way he is at least treated fairly and paid equitably. He doesn't even have to do anything. That makes it the perfect job. He doesn't think anyone else can do any better as captain. Talk of mutiny has already formed amongst the crew. They await the action. That's what they want. They want to be like other pirates - especially Blackbeard's notable crew. That's not the life they have. Instead, they bicker over which flag is more intimidating. In the end, the cat is the one held the highest. It does so with the rest of the submissions. It truly is the participation trophy of piracy. That's how Stede leads. That cements this as a show that wants to have fun with its concept. It enjoys placing a character in an extreme situation they have no business being in. Of course, this premiere is mostly devoted to Stede. The other characters don't really have distinct personalities. They exist as a group. That's not inherently bad. They support Stede after everything that happens. That still might change in the future. Every day holds the new promise of bloodshed. At night, they get to enjoy the simple pleasure of their captain reading to them. That's not bad. It bonds them together while being just absurd enough to lure the viewer in. This crew has achieved its first success. Stede's leadership will be determined by what happens next. The success of the show itself will follow the same path.