The premiere episode of Starz’ Black Sails Season 4 sees Eleanor Guthrie’s reinvention as Woodes Rogers’ proper wife and her betrayal of the pirate class she once bartered with.
Meanwhile the new bad actors of the island who carry out Rogers’ iron-fisted rule make the remaining alpha pirates — Flint, Teach, Silver and Bones — each work with and against each other.
No expense was spared in the visceral and bombastic premiere of the final season of Black Sails.
One of the finest dramas on the smallscreen ever lensed, we have been introduced to a rich array of historical characters reimagined in ripped-from-the-history-book headlines. Last night was an indicator that this series will not slink off the air without making a brash and fantastic impression.
In the episode the expected pirate invasion of Nassau meets with catastrophe as in the opening scene we see a great sea battle from the POV of a drowning man tangled up in a web of sail netting. Who this man is will not be revealed until the end scenes.
The pirates raise the black and have their asses kicked by Woodes Rogers and company as Flint and John call to abandon ship.
Madi is with them as they try to regain a foothold in Nassau and get that buried Urqa Spanish gold, but the upper hand is with Rogers and the new villain of the season, a sadist named Captain Berringer (Chris Larkin).
The chaos was pure Black Sails spectacle, cinematic and bloody, with stunning shots that made you feel the lurch of the sea.
Each character is bathed in various degrees of regret and guilt, beginning with Jack Rackham, sailing with Teach aka Blackbeard (Ray Stevenson, the only actor who could have pulled this off).
Meanwhile the pragmatic and cunning Anne Bonny (Clara Paget) lurks and acts as his consigliere, cautioning Jack to stop beating himself up over Charles Vane’s death and worrying about what Charles would have thought of him — as he is dead.
Initially, we think this will be the season of Flint vs. Silver. But as the episode progresses and we believe we have lost Silver in that opening battle scene, it is apparent Billy is feeling his oats and faces off against Flint in a test of wills — as a grieving Madi reminds them she too knows where the gold is (pillow talk with lover Silver) which compounds the crowded race for the riches.
Guess what? Woodes Rogers finally confesses to Eleanor — his newly domesticated, ladylike, needlepoint hobbyist wifey — that his ex-wife Sarah has put the financial screws into him as retribution for their split.
It becomes very clear that Woodes’ motivation and subsequent harsh breaking of his handshake “partnership” deal with Max is over his frantic desire to get his hands on that chest of gold to pay off his creditors who are breathing down his neck.
After learning this truth while dressing him down for turning on Max, Eleanor gives him reassurance that her family is rich and influential too, so that makes Rogers the fortunate man who knows how to pick ’em.
One thing we know is true from this series, and from actual history, is that the British Royal Navy rarely takes a beating without hitting back ten times harder.
Such is the case now as the stakes and the need for that gold are so very important to all the parties involved. Spain and England may be involved in a war over in Europe, but Nassau is a deadly rope-pulling contest between rule of law and the lawless who liked the old status quo.
These island-dotted West Indies are a hotbed of pirates whose collaborative efforts made with slaves to strike back at The Man (the British and even American forces) is a full-time gig, as New Providence Island is full of scallywags who sell out their brother for favors, rum, or money.
The fluid arrival and disappearance of these wandering criminals make governing Nassau a royal headache for Woodes and mother England.
Captain Flint tries to keep his hold on these pirates who will switch allegiances in a flash. In a show of support for Flint, Teach, with Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny draw the Royal Navy sloops after them and away from Flint’s longboats which peeled off the main ship during the skirmish with Rogers and the Navy.
Flint and Madi with their surviving men head to the beaches to hide out with Billy and his men.
The wild card, of course, will be dealt next week when Flint and Bones learn that Silver survived, and the scurvy dogs of the Nassau hoi polloi learn that the Billy Bones’ lore of the Pirate King does, in fact, live, and the gold is still there for the taking.
Episode observations of note:
- Absolutely brilliant underwater camera work as we have the POV looking upwards from the ocean floor with the battle raging above. We see Silver caught in the mesh, free himself and them swim with him while his lungs are bursting, navigating up into the breached ship for air. The entire battle scene was incredible to watch and owes a great debt to the camera team and cinematographer who lensed this epic moment. This is cinema-level craft and it should be noted and lauded.
- The turning of Bones from agreeable cast deckhand hunk to kind of a spoiler and a dick. His palpable resentment of Flint has created a mythology platform he created for Silver to step in and steal the thunder and win the fickle men of Nassau.
- The new female character of note, Madi (Zethu Dlomo) is not letting her cards show for her allegiances, mourning Silver (until she learns he survives) and armed with her knowledge of the treasure chest, she is one to watch.
- Ray Stevenson as Blackbeard/Edward Teach remains as a wonderful addition to this cast and adds an edge of danger that is subtle but present.
This video shows the bond Flint has with Silver who says: “I haven’t considered killing you in months…”
And Jack Rackham becomes a warrior…
Black Sails Season 4 Episode 1, titled XXIX, aired Sunday, January 29th at 9 PM ET/PT on STARZ