Thursday, March 24, 2022

REVIEW: 'Our Flag Means Death' - Stede and Blackbeard Face Punishment Together While Evading Death in 'Act of Grace'

HBO Max's Our Flag Means Death - Episode 1.09 "Act of Grace"

Captured and facing trial, Stede and Blackbeard face tough choices and an uncertain future.

"Act of Grace" was written by David Jenkins & Yvonne Zima and directed by Bert & Bertie

The life of a pirate is simply staying alive for another day. It's better to surrender to Admiral Badminton than to stage an elaborate battle. The crew don't have the skills to survive. The Revenge has been lured into a trap. It's inevitably going to end in death. That's not the fate that comes for anyone on the crew. They remain incredibly resourceful. Sure, they make foolish mistakes as well. Stede's journal details him killing Nigel. That's all the evidence Chauncey needs to convict him of the crime. That's the entire point of this mission. It's all that he cares about. Capturing Blackbeard is an added bonus. He made a deal with Izzy. He honors that commitment. Killing Stede is all he wants. Again, that doesn't happen. The stakes of this narrative are all about survival. The crew always find themselves in these near death situations where they should die. They always magically survive. In this case, it's Blackbeard simply calling out "act of grace." King George has enacted a new rule where any pirate can be pardoned for their crimes at sea so long as they commit to ten years under his service. It's a way to save both Stede and Blackbeard from the lethal fates that await them. Plus, they continue to survive together. That proves to be the most meaningful thing for both of them. Stede always operates under the belief that Blackbeard can escape any situation. He has good reason to believe that as well. Blackbeard has to ultimately want that. It's easy for him to plot his way to freedom. So much is accessible to him. He hasn't been happy for a long time. He was reinvigorated through his friendship with Stede. It finally takes the romantic turn everyone was awaiting. They confess to being better together. They have now accessed emotions that celebrate who they are. Chauncey ridicules Stede for not being an actual pirate. The crew views him that way though. That's what matters. He has won them over. They too are acting in the hopes of saving his life. They don't have the knowledge Blackbeard possesses. It's validating for Stede though to receive that acknowledgement from his crew. He is taken away from them. They may never reunite. The ship has a new captain now. Meanwhile, Stede has to reckon with the life he abandoned as well as the new opportunity that is available to him.

Stede and Blackbeard could escape to China. They could run far from the reach of the English throne. They can embrace new identities and be happy together. That's the fate they deserve after what they've endured. Life is complicated and always changing. Nothing is ever stable. And yet, they found each other. They should nurture that for as long as they can. It can all be lost. Edward Teach is the man Blackbeard could be. He doesn't have to be the feared, loathsome pirate any more. He confesses to crimes he didn't commit to save his friend. He will leave if that's what Stede wants. They make that plan. And then, it completely goes awry. Chauncey simply can't allow Stede to have this new life. He doesn't deserve it. He abandoned his family and killed Nigel. He must pay for that with his life. Stede doesn't disagree with him either. He has increasingly viewed himself as a coward. He receives a small tease of what life has been like for Mary since he left. He's been declared dead. He's not actually. He still survives. He can make his way back to her. That's exactly what happens. It takes that disruption from Chauncey for Stede to explore happiness away from Blackbeard. He could embrace what was previously arranged for him. It wasn't the life he wanted. He pursued that dream. It was happy and exciting. It was full of death and despair too. He found a world that was cruel and unkind to the various things he loves. He needs those comforts. He always has this place to run back to. Not everyone in the crew has that luxury. Meanwhile, Blackbeard feels like he has been left behind. He makes his escape after realizing Stede isn't coming back. He doesn't know the extent of which Stede was forced into making that choice. It's what happened. And so, Blackbeard is back on the Revenge. The crew quickly embraces him as captain once more. Izzy was never trusted with that leadership. Oluwande doesn't want it when the crew plots mutiny. They want the comfort of what has been lately. They may receive that clarity in the finale. It may also remain elusive because these characters are forever drawn to lives outside of what is known on the ship. They are free on the Revenge. The world around them wants to hunt them down and destroy whatever peace they have. It enrages those who obey the rules of society to such a rigid extent. That's what led to both Nigel and Chauncey accidentally killing themselves. Stede remains haunted. He is at least a free man who will have to atone for his actions in a way that doesn't end in a comedic death. That too is an exciting prospect.