Thursday, October 26, 2023

REVIEW: 'Our Flag Means Death' - Ed and Stede Escape Doing What They've Always Done Best in 'Mermen'

Max's Our Flag Means Death - Episode 2.08 "Mermen"

After watching the Republic of Pirates crumble, Stede and Zheng pursue Prince Ricky Barnes, the Revenge crew schemes to escape imprisonment, and Blackbeard plots a return to piracy... leading to triumph and a devastating loss.

"Mermen" was written by David Jenkins & John Mahone and directed by Fernando Frias

To be good, one can't be a pirate. It's a deplorable life filled with unsavory barbarism. Any person of true quality would aspire for more. Ed was saved by Stede. He came back to life through the promise of that love. And yet, he still thought he had to leave piracy behind because he deserved better. That meant abandoning Stede. Their relationship couldn't last because Stede was committed to being a pirate. It was no longer what Ed needed to pursue. Of course, he's absolutely terrible as a fisherman. Piracy may be the only thing he's actually good at. He has to find peace with that declaration. It's a rather rushed character evolution. One that didn't entirely work over the course of the season because of the truncated episode order. However, the emotions still swell as Ed and Stede fight to reunite. Their love is still powerful and channels so much of the storytelling. That propulsive energy overpowers the inconsistencies. It increases the heartwarming sensation when Ed discovers one of Stede's messages in a bottle he previously wrote declaring his love.

Ed and Stede don't end the season as pirates though. They don't partner with Zheng to avenge the destruction of the Republic of Pirates. They battle their way to safety. The crew reunites under the flag of the Revenge. They have to work together to survive. Ed and Stede become innkeepers. It may not even be a desirable profession. They may not be able to make it work. However, they approach the decision through honesty and communication. Ed is no longer running away believing he needs to explore something else completely by himself. Stede came into his own as a pirate this season. He's still not all that impressive or reliable in battle. Zheng and Ed still do the heavy lifting in that regard. Stede's plans are just crazy enough to work. They baffle the crew who loyally follow him into battle anyway. The future remains uncertain. Ed and Stede choose to settle down in one spot. That seems like a direct contradiction to what could occur. It's also a sweet, sentimental moment that highlights their love.

Moreover, Izzy ultimately delivers the perfect summation of what it means to be a pirate. They are the heroes. They battle the imperialistic British navy that seeks to conquer many lands throughout the world. Zheng shared similar impulses. She was called the Pirate Queen because she conquered China. She's now defeated because of one piece of trickery. She has lost her crew. Her ambitions aren't gone. She still has a lust for revenge. That doesn't make her inferior or less worthy. She has to decide to fight to reclaim what she had. It's all about preserving that sense of found family. Piracy focuses on the love of the crew. They found each other and are free to express themselves as they are. They don't have to fit into the rigid structures of society. They get to serve as a celebration for all that life can be. It's powerful to admit that. They remove ego from the equation and are unburdened by the pressures of the world as a result. Plenty still have their internal struggles. Overall though, piracy is a tale of inner peace and acceptance. This is precisely where all these people want to be despite the constant threat of death.

So much has been physically taken away from Izzy. He was barely clinging to life at various points throughout the season. He saw no reason to go on. The crew rallied around him. They offered their complete support. They provided him with the tools to fully engage with this life again. His body wasn't what it once was. However, he couldn't wallow over the past. He still had a life to steer. He needed to remain in control. He remains just as vibrant. He's more than a first mate who never got his time in the spotlight. He was a remarkable character. He was much more intense than any situation required anyone to be. He took everything so seriously. He also kept a grounded focus on what needed to be done to preserve the sanctity of the crew. He was loyal to them. He would never turn away from Ed. They are family. With Izzy's death, Ed could lose all perspective and hope. He could transform into the loathsome Blackbeard once more. That's not what Izzy wants for his friend. He deserves time as Ed and all that that entails. It offers such a wonderful life. Ed just needs to fully appreciate it. It's a tragic loss for the show. It also effectively tugs on the heartstrings.

Of course, plenty of chaos still reigns. The show has specific images it must create throughout this finale. It needs Ed and Stede running across a beach to be together. That was a fantasy of Stede's that started the season. It needed to occur to offer that narrative symmetry. Izzy needed to confront Prince Ricky so it would be significant later on while delivering the fateful shoot that eventually kills him. Ed and Stede had to step into their new lives as innkeepers. That was the plan Ed outlined when he was trapped in limbo. Moreover, Zheng had to interact with Ed for the first time. That's an amusing observation. She admires his skills. She appreciates what he brings to the battlefield. She doesn't require Stede's help. And yet, everyone has more they can learn from each other. It can sometimes be as simple as the wedding between Lucius and Pete. That's life-affirming in such a major way. It's still a bunch of plot points needing to be hit in order for the creative team to feel confident in how the season resolves. It also leaves the future open to so much potential. Prince Ricky surviving and Zheng needing to hunt him down is pretty anticlimactic. His story didn't particularly need to span across another season. That's just a trivial detail. It doesn't distract from the immense focus on the pirates. They are all growing and learning how to actually provide one another with whatever they need. That realization is just as crucial to make. That also makes the show feel wholesome while still depicting so much murder and violence. That's a unique combination that requires true skill to pull off.