Thursday, March 10, 2022

REVIEW: 'Our Flag Means Death' - Blackbeard Joins the Adventure and Makes a Deal with Stede in 'Discomfort in a Married State'

HBO Max's Our Flag Means Death - Episode 1.04 "Discomfort in a Married State"

As the threat of attack looms, Blackbeard and Stede finally meet. Jim fields questions from an overly curious crew.

"Discomfort in a Married State" was written by Eliza Jiménez Cossio and directed by Nacho Vigalondo

Until this point, Blackbeard has existed solely as a myth. He is the greatest pirate who has ever lived. The crew of the Revenge aspire to work for him. Instead, they are stuck in a lifestyle under a captain completely different than what they've imagined. Stede doesn't cultivate the life they were expecting as pirates. Blackbeard continues to be that absolute ideal. The man himself is actually quite different. He envies the life Stede has. That's how he factors into the comedic universe the show has established in its first three episodes. Sure, it feels like it has taken awhile for the creative thrust of the season to come into focus. Stede and Blackbeard plan on both learning some things from the other. They make a deal. Blackbeard intends on using Stede to fake his own death so he can retire comfortably. That crazy plan has already been concocted in his head. He needs Izzy to remain loyal. He can't abandon ship now. He's close to achieving his own crew. He can dependably serve the crew as Blackbeard's inevitable replacement. For so much of this episode, Izzy questions Blackbeard's antics. That's hardly the position he should be in given the years of service he's already given to the great pirate. The storytelling needs him to function that way. He needs to be the one always seeing and commenting on the danger. The Spanish ships that lurk on the horizon are bond to catch up to the Revenge eventually. That will ensure even more bloodshed. Blackbeard acts like he doesn't care about that threat at all. Instead, he's focused on being by Stede's bedside as he recovers. When he finally does emerge, he showcases how he has achieved such greatness. He sees things in the environment that others ignore. He's not distracted. He sees exactly how circumstances will play out. It still requires him to think quick on his feet. He accomplishes that goal even when he wants to give up. That's a part of his personality now too. He is willing to go down with the ship. This will be the end of Blackbeard because he got the date wrong. That's a detail only a few even recognize. It doesn't matter to many pirates what day it is. Blackbeard knows the conditions at sea change. He counts on that in order to always plot his escapes. Here, he is overjoyed by seeing the life Stede has cultivated. He is envious of the life of an aristocrat. He is still always a feared and loathsome pirate. That complexity requires a delicate touch. One that relies a little too much deception. But it suggests a character that will be well-utilized amongst this ensemble.

Similarly, Stede's family has been merely a reflection of his guilt over what his life has become. He believes he was destined to be a pirate. He was forced into marriage with a woman who hates the ocean. As he recovers though, he calls out her name. He feels like a coward for abandoning Mary and their children. He thought his life was monotonous. It had no excitement to it whatsoever. He yearned for more. Mary was willing to engage in that conversation. She understands they barely tolerate each other. However, they should strive to make it work. They only have one life. They should at least try to find the happiness within their circumstances. Stede took that to mean he needed to run away. He had to abandon his family because maintaining that connection wasn't as important as life out at sea. His children are taught that pirates are bad and must be killed. Stede even contributes to that lesson. He still desires that path. He wants more. He believes this life can offer it to him. And yet, he doesn't recognize Blackbeard. He knows the stories. He can't comprehend the man being in front of him. That confusion provides some introspection for Blackbeard as well. He sees himself as a man working for this alter ego. It's him being expected to act a certain way. It's not him doing whatever he wants. The life of a pirate has gotten too easy. He can't leave. He only learns about retirement from Stede. That provides him with the resources of knowing another life is potentially out there for him. He enjoys trading personas. They work together to fool the Spanish fleet. It takes creative thinking from both of them. That makes them a strong pair. They desire what the other has. They can make a good arrangement out of this. But again, it's all fueled by deception. No circumstances can be trusted to stay the same for very long. That unpredictability has to run rampant it seems. Of course, Jim still wants to be called Jim. Nothing has to change even though she is revealed as a woman who can speak. That's the only depth that comes from the ensemble here. It's mostly just clarifying identity and pronouns. That's necessary given the shocking reveal. Now, the narrative can hopefully move on to tell more exciting stories with these characters in addition to the bond between Stede and Blackbeard.