Thursday, March 17, 2022

REVIEW: 'Our Flag Means Death' - An Old Friend Pulls Blackbeard Back Into His Former Life in 'We Gull Way Back'

HBO Max's Our Flag Means Death - Episode 1.08 "We Gull Way Back"

The arrival of Blackbeard's old buddy leaves Stede feeling like the odd man out. As Oluwande mourns a loss, Jim seeks answers from Spanish Jackie.

"We Gull Way Back" was written by Alex Sherman & Alyssa Lane and directed by Bert & Bertie

Blackbeard is a pirate. That can never change. His friendship with Stede can't make him a better man. That was desirable at one time. The season has presented this friendship as mutually beneficial and transformational. Blackbeard and Stede are better off having known each other. This episode would like to make the argument that Blackbeard has been denied who he truly is as a result of caring for Stede. He can't conduct himself like a proper pirate on the Revenge. It takes the return of a man who once saved his life for him to achieve that clarity. Blackbeard enjoys Jack. They embark on many different activities that excite the crew but leave Stede alienated. It's all built around the central jealousy Stede feels. He can't believe someone else is vying for Blackbeard's attention. That was the space he occupied. It hasn't been acted upon in a sexual way. That's how everyone assumes this will develop. Stede acts as if he is annoyed by what his boyfriend is doing. Relationships can fall apart if one hopes they can change the other to be a better version of themselves. That's completely subjective and based on what one person believes better to be. Blackbeard has shown a willingness to seek out other avenues of fun. Stede presented an entirely new world. As such, it has been joyous to get close with him. Jack offers the more traditional pirate adventures. It's easy for Blackbeard to fall back in that routine. He loves it. The episode concludes with it all being a long con. Jack steered the Revenge to a cove with no way to escape the British Navy when they arrived. He wanted Blackbeard to escape and avoid the vicious fate coming for Stede and his crew. He always believed it would be an easy choice. Jack isn't a good man to be around though. Stede is annoyed right away. It takes awhile but the rest of the crew turns against him as well. They are sad by his story of being mutinied by his former crew. They wanted to kill him. He survived. He has made his way back to Blackbeard. He no longer has any responsibilities or even an ability to survive on his own. Instead, he has heavy drinking. That depression runs deep. Blackbeard gets sucked into that world. He believes he must remain strong for Jack which alienates Stede in the process. He sees it as the necessary tradeoff. He must betray one friend to support another. Choices like that don't have to be so binary. But again, it's all built around the idea of deception.

The episode aspires to trick the audience into believing Blackbeard can be fooled by those he has already bested before. In his grand debut, Blackbeard showcased his ability to see the landscape around him in a way others could not. He could always prevail in battle because he was creative and observant. Those qualities don't always mesh well with the crew of the Revenge. However, they have bonded. Stede has tried to bring out that deeper, more sensitive side to Blackbeard. That's done with the expectation of dulling the keen awareness that has always aided him in battle. He is a pirate for a reason. This change could be dangerous the longer he stays at sea. He doesn't see the threat coming from Jack. Instead, he's distracted by the promise of a good time. Blackbeard winks at Stede in the end. That suggests he knew all of this was coming. It was better to be taken into the trap and forced to surrender to the ships under Admiral Badminton's command. They can fight on for another day instead of having the ship destroyed and lives lost in battle. It's the smart move. That's all suggested by Blackbeard's apparent ability to foresee all of this. But again, that's built on the assumption he could predict this. That just comes across as a cruel twist of fate for Stede. He deals with all the pain of this betrayal. He is sad and depressed over the notion of Blackbeard leaving him for good. He expects that completely. He is ready to set sail for greener pastures. Not everything is at it seems. The show wants to deconstruct the notion of what it means to be a pirate. This episode plays into those conventions hoping it can fool everyone in the end. However, it needed to be much tighter in its presentation to work. All of this has value. And then, Spanish Jackie and Jim sit down to talk about the damage done as a result of holding onto animosity. It's a frank conversation about the struggles of this life. They are always fighting to survive. They are constantly betrayed. People die around them. However, they don't have to carry those burdens by themselves. They can do more than deflect from the issues actually plaguing them. They may never find satisfaction if they only pursue vengeance for every given slight. Spanish Jackie and Jim impress each other with their skills. A camaraderie is formed that is genuinely exciting. Too bad that isn't a focus of the episode for very long. But hey, at least the hex Buttons put on Jack for killing Karl worked.