Thursday, October 19, 2023

REVIEW: 'Our Flag Means Death' - The Republic of Pirates Views Ed and Stede Differently Upon Their Return in 'Man on Fire'

Max's Our Flag Means Death - Episode 2.07 "Man on Fire"

On a visit to the Republic of Pirates, Blackbeard sifts through plans for his future and his relationship with a newly infamous Stede. As Jim schemes to reunite Oluwande with a hesitant Zheng, the world of piracy gets upended.

"Man on Fire" was written by Jes Tom & Natalie Torres and directed by Fernando Frias

Stede and Ed were apart physically at the start of the season. Now, they are separated by their aspirations. They are closer than they have ever been intimately. They had sex for the first time. It was an enjoyable experience. It was life-affirming in so many ways. However, that didn't suddenly mend Ed's existential crisis about his purpose in life. He's still drifting. It's more than letting go of his leather as well. He seeks transformational change. He's inspired to completely alter his life. That arrives at the same time Stede has become infamous for killing Ned Low. He too represented a change. He grows more confident as the Gentleman Pirate. The community celebrates his actions. They accept him as one of their own who deserves respect. If they don't have each other though, Stede and Ed feel completely lost. That tragedy strikes once more. That's true before the entire pirate community comes under attack.

When fans come up to Stede and Ed, they admire Stede's fame. It's no longer Blackbeard at the forefront. He has shifted to the background. He's no longer recognizable. His actions don't seem relevant any more. Sure, Ned Low was furious over his record being broken. No one really cares about that. It was something Blackbeard did out of boredom. He wanted to escape the despair of life. He thought doing so at sea was the answer. It wasn't. His desire to stay at the Republic of Pirates and become a fisherman probably isn't the solution either. It's the path he seeks out. Stede celebrated Ed for catching a fish. It was a skill Ed didn't know he had. However, he did it mostly to prove a point to Fang. He now views it as if it is his true purpose. He idolizes the fish and sees the power in exacting command over the creature. He must explore these feelings further. It simply leads to the destruction of Stede and Ed as a couple.

Everyone is willing to declare Blackbeard as a complicated man. No one can ever truly know what he's feeling or why he does things. No one should take anything personally. He's never beyond redemption. He's capable of being forgiven no matter what he does. The crew is a prime example of that. He tortured them. They now act as one. They enjoy their adventures together. They are still tempted to explore other possibilities as pirates. They don't feel tied down to the Revenge or have a sense of loyalty to Stede. They are simply exploring what feels right in the moment. They are all committed to this profession. This is the life for them. They have no doubts. That falls squarely onto Ed. Spanish Jackie has seen it before. She identifies it immediately with Ed. She accepts it. This is something he needs to do even though it will be difficult to explain to Stede. Ed doesn't even really try. He simply pushes Stede away with false claims that their relationship was moving too fast. Stede calls him out for being a coward. It's heartbreaking. They bring out the best in each other. But now, Stede has so many pirates willing to rally around him and show their support. The fame goes to his head.

Stede is a mediocre pirate who believes he's extraordinary. That's the pronouncement Zheng makes when they face off in battle. Stede refuses to let her poach his crew away. The conversation was driven entirely by Olu missing Zheng and wanting to make things up to her. Jim and Archie help make that a reality. They are all capable of being happy together aboard Zheng's ship. They won't have any awkwardness over their prior sexual exploits together. It's a free expression of identity where no one has any ownership over another person. Each is free to live their lives. Olu was loyal to the crew that became family. He couldn't let Zheng kill them. He still missed what it felt like being around her. She yearned for that too. She can't stay angry. This life is full of opportunities. They shouldn't linger over the past. Zheng has the biggest aspirations. She has her eyes set on conquering the entire Caribbean. Her fleet has arrived to make that a reality. She has the partnerships to further boost her power. She is recruiting throughout the Republic of Pirates. And then, Stede flexes his newly believed superiority. He thinks he's this amazing, conquering hero. In reality, he's just a small inconvenience Zheng has to deal with.

The tragic irony is that Zheng also believes she's extraordinary. She projects that confidence everywhere she goes. She has earned her title as the Pirate Queen. She came to the Caribbean seeking to conquer more lands after already doing so in China. She believes it will be easy. The plan is all mapped out. She just has to defeat the British navy. The connections are already there to exploit. It's the same tactic she has done many times before. This time though she's betrayed. She experienced that with the crew of the Revenge. That was relatively small in the grand scheme of things. It was personal. The latest action is completely devastating. Her fleet is destroyed. The ships were invaded by an object that didn't belong. Zheng appeased the gift for a little while. That was enough to completely damn her future. Everything goes away. It's not just her livelihood though. It's the fate of all pirates. The British are trying to wipe out their existence completely. They believe order must be restored. The Republic of Pirates is under attack. The citizens will have to stop fighting amongst themselves to unite against this common enemy. That may be impossible given their divisions over petty deeds. It may also affirm this as the right place and profession for them to be in. It's all about how they handle themselves next. This refuge provided sanctuary and a place to belong. Now, it's under attack by forces in the world seeking to enact their own order across the land and seas.