Thursday, March 10, 2022

REVIEW: 'Our Flag Means Death' - Blackbeard Fears Nothing Except the Introspection Stede Provokes in 'The Art of F**kery'

HBO Max's Our Flag Means Death - Episode 1.06 "The Art of F**kery"

Stede and crew stage a spectacle. Blackbeard struggles to carry out his plan.

"The Art of F**kery" was written by Simone Nathan and directed by Fernando Frias

Blackbeard fears nothing. That's part of the legend. And so, he must continually project that image. He knows how to play into others fears. That's part of his success as a pirate. It can be quite pleasing to mess with people. It's more fun than the typical raid. Blackbeard and his crew are experts at it. They can make it seem like he is in multiple locations at once covered in a thick fog that signals death. Stede's crew can only aspire for that greatness. They can't quite achieve it. They do succeed in some body horror. The show has a way of ensuring each joke has value later on. At times, it can feel like it is setting too much up for the future. That was apparent with the tease of Captain Badminton's brother coming to hunt down Stede. It's also clear with Izzy returning to Spanish Jackie with a plan for his own revenge. The show is built around subverting expectations of what is means to be a pirate. It's using the most famed pirate to do so. It's aware of the legend. It plays into it. However, it also wants to dig deeper. Blackbeard set out to kill Stede and assume his identity. That would allow him to escape from this life for good. Izzy supported it because it meant he could become the captain of the ship. He would be the one making the orders. Of course, that was undercut by the fact no one respects him. Even when he assumes the role for a little bit, no one takes him seriously. They don't do what he asks. That only further frustrates him. He has put in the work for years. He has protected Blackbeard. That has been his priority above all else. And now, Stede has come in and offered something that is ruining all of those plans. It sickens Izzy. He expects this raid to go horribly. That's the expectation whenever Stede is running the show. His crew put something together that's conditioned on people not looking too close. They don't have the budget or skills to do anything truly eerie and effective. However, they terrify Blackbeard. They force him to confront the monster he has long blamed for his father's death. He did so in order to deflect from the reality that he truly killed him. That was his first murder. He did so to defend his mother from his rage. It's the most personal kill he's ever done. It's traumatized him in a way. No one has ever confronted him about that before. No one has demanded that he be the one to do the killings. And so, Blackbeard may be nothing more than an elaborate persona.

Stede helps Blackbeard come to that realization. As such, he can't kill the one friend he has in this world. He told his crew that it would happen. They are starting to question his leadership. He is revered as a tactician. He has survived incredible odds. He was bored and wanted something new in life. Stede offered that. And yet, they remain on the ocean. They continue to learn things from each other. The basic premise of their relationship is done. Blackbeard can't follow through on killing Stede. His friend means too much to him. Izzy has no problem challenging Stede to a duel. It's the only way to make things right. The universe has to be set once more. He's more impressive with a sword. Stede wins on a technicality. That's insane to Izzy. He can't believe his fellow pirates hold him accountable to the deal that was struck. The match doesn't end in death. That allows these concerning teases to continue. The show may be building to some massive confrontation. Various forces out there are targeting the Revenge. Stede is lucky and survives so much. Of course, his crew can't immediately free him after being impaled onto the strongest wood in the world. In fact, that may suggest this ship is indestructible. It can endure so much. People may laugh at its design and the various functions Stede had to have. But it offers salvation to its crew. It protects Stede even when he's outmatched. That's genuinely heartwarming. It's a nice mix of absurd comedy and legitimate stakes. No one should truly be concerned about the new injuries sustained by the crew. Blackbeard and Stede are both impaled. They think nothing of it because they believe the vital organs are all on the right side of the body. That's silly. It plays into the overall ignorance of the time. When Lucius has a flesh wound that gets infected, the solution is to cut it off. He does that in his own hysteria. He has to before anyone else has the chance. That brings him closer to Black Pete. In the context of that relationship, the payoff is worth it. However, the show does appear to be struggling in knowing what to do with its expansive cast. So much of the narrative is driven by Stede and Blackbeard. They are the leads. The supporting ensemble has to be reliably funny for storytelling purposes as well. That's still rather hit or miss with some characters barely existing as background noise despite the prominence they are suppose to have.