Thursday, October 19, 2023

REVIEW: 'Our Flag Means Death' - A Celebration Brings the Crew of the Revenge Closer to Life and Death in 'Calypso's Birthday'

Max's Our Flag Means Death - Episode 2.06 "Calypso's Birthday"

While the crew celebrates Calypso's birthday, Blackbeard faces a violent party-crasher seeking revenge.

"Calypso's Birthday" was written by Zayre Ferrer and directed by Fernando Frias

Stede offers a very unique style of leadership. Every captain of a pirate ship commands in their own special way. In fact, the show delights in the eccentricities of this life. It plays against expectations and stereotypes. It embraces the pirate life as one of adventure and personal freedom. The crew of the Revenge have the luxury of being exactly who they are. They are celebrated as a crew. Together, they broke the record of most consecutive raids at sea. That was driven by Blackbeard's mania more than anything else. It's still a momentous victory. One that deserves a celebration. The crew deserves a whimsical display of life. That's what they want to embrace more than the trivial treasures they collect. In fact, those only serve as a reminder of the pain Ed caused. He's still in a funk. He seemingly can't get out of it no matter what he does. Everyone aspires to help.

Ned Low offers a much more melodramatic and cliche version of this story. He's a deathly serious pirate who delights in torturing others. The humor comes from how others react to his extremes. He carries the natural musical talents of his brother as a burden that he needed to overcome to achieve greatness. It's a tragic part of his past that informs who he became at sea. And yet, it's just a tortured backstory of his own creation. He was jealous. His murderous impulses took over. It doesn't need to be more complicated than that. Low believes it offers him a unique flair. His legacy was cemented by his status as leading many successful raids consecutively. Ed was simply bored. That's why he broke the record. He was afraid to step onto land once more. Off the ship, he doesn't have the protection that this life provides. He's capable of so much when he has Stede's love and support. They are stronger together than apart. They share that mentality with the crew. That's in contrast to how Low leads. The mercenaries are merely his employees who must follow his orders no matter what.

Low viscerally tortures his captives mostly to enjoy the noises they make as they scream out in pain. It's a symphony to his ears. It's barbaric. It only brings pleasure to him. His crew believes they are doing everything right to create this joyous effect. He criticizes them. It's not good enough. They are wrong. Stede actually offers positive feedback. He only has to offer a few comments to acknowledge their humanity. That's what has always made him an effective leader. He doesn't view the made up celebration of Calypso's birthday as silly or insane. It's something his crew needs right now. So, he indulges in the flair. He celebrates alongside them. They may not be original in their pursuits. However, it's still a valid expression of what brings them joy. That's what this life is meant to be. Low's crew would be much happier without him. They get to explore what they want piracy to be for them. Meanwhile, it requires Stede to fall in line with the greatest expectation of being a pirate captain. He must kill in order to manage the threats that exist out there in the world against him.

Of course, the narrative is much more expansive than the events happening on the Revenge. When the show expands that focus, it loses its immediate appeal of what matters to the main characters. It still showcases a desire for a rich, complex world of ever-changing events. Zheng hasn't been seen in a couple of episodes. It was previously teased that she has big plans for the Caribbean. And now, she forms a new partnership with Prince Richard Banes. Ricky survived his encounter with Spanish Jackie. He's simply missing a nose now. He was inspired to leave his life of nobility and naval service behind after hearing the tale of the Gentleman Pirate. Stede was flattered. And yet, Ricky was left behind to suffer. He has returned to the familiar British navy. He operates with a great deal of stature and respect. He has turned his story of failure into a rallying cry against the savage pirates. It's still relatively easy for Zheng to blackmail him. She doesn't like that word. That's precisely what she's doing. She ensures that her allies have no other choice but to work for her. She is skilled at leadership. She moves with such conviction and certainty. She also places others into a sense of comfort before the inevitable bombshell drops. She may have a convincing argument for the British to work for her. It's not about their fiscal prosperity though. It's all focused on her overall ambition.

That's a daunting prospect for the future as the narrative eventually pivots back to a confrontation between Zheng's fleet and the Revenge. Right now, it's a blast seeing the crew of the Revenge celebrate for no reason whatsoever. It showcases a new side of Wee John and Izzy. The execution of their makeup gives off "first time in drag" energy. It's still absolutely delightful because it provides a shift in energy. It's empowering. Wee John towers over everyone. His presence is even more larger than life when he transforms into Calypso. Similarly, the crew hangs on Izzy's every syllable as he sings. It's so beautiful and moving. It reveals a tenderness that he has never been willing to share before. It was always easier for him to hide beneath bottles of alcohol or false versions of traumatic events. He's surrounded by a loving crew who supports him no matter what. All of this still builds to Stede forcing Low to walk the plank to his death. Everyone worries about Stede's mental well-being afterwards. But it's invigorating. It makes him come alive in a way too. It's a horrifying contrast. It's still a celebration of love and connection. It brings Stede and Ed closer together. They have sex for the first time. It's raw and passionate. It's a combustion of energy that can't be let out any other way. Ed still carries his baggage. The focus is on Stede's journey in this moment. He doesn't take advantage of the man he loves. It's just a willingness to express themselves in a new way that forges a deeper connection moving forward because of what they've faced at sea.