The ship hits the fan. Or rather, the beach. Also, secrets are revealed secretly.
Listen up, Black Sails. I’m gonna hit you with some cannonballs of truth. I like you. I like how you take place in a universe where everyone has blue-green eyes that shine like the ocean reflected through a diamond filtered through a watercolor Instagram filter. I like how everyone on this show uses f-bombs as punctuation marks. But when one is watching a show about pirates, one might expect that said pirates will do pirate-y things at some point. One would not expect the pirates to spend whole episodes having long meetings about implementing a plan that will apparently not come to fruition until the season finale.
But treading water was the mission statement of the fourth episode of Black Sails. There was so little plot motion that they actually put the Walrus up on land for repairs. New quartermaster Billy Biceps controversially suggested that, due to the high-speed nature of this furlough, the crew forego the pleasures of the “F— Tent.” This motion was not carried. You get the sense that there aren’t a lot of perks to being a pirate, and taking away the “F— Tent” would be like taking away your employees’ healthcare plan.
For the first time, the show shook up its one-day-per-episode format. We leapt forward a week. Flint and the Lady Barlow were having a lover’s quarrel. He didn’t like to hear her reading that Marcus Aurelius book; apparently, it was something that she shared with her husband, long since dead. (In modern terms, this is like your significant other telling you that Love, Actually always reminds them of their first girlfriend/boyfriend.)
Flint had bigger problems. Some of the captains around Pirate Island were losing their faith in Pradha Mitchell. She shamed Captain Vane in front of his crew, leaving him an opium-addled piece of human wreckage. Captain Hornigold asked Scotty the question on everyone’s lips: Would she become a new tyrant, even worse than England? Pradha Mitchell had a carefully-worded response: “F— Hornigold. F— the Captains. F— anyone else who doesn’t like how I manage this place. F– you, f— you, f— you, you’re cool, and I’m out.”
Flint needed Pradha to focus. The Walrus needed guns, lots of guns. And it could only get guns from a ship commanded by Captain Beardsley, a straight-arrow seaman who works for Pradha’s Father’s Family. In order to convince Beardsley to part with the guns, they needed to get Pradha’s father onboard with this whole “Steal a kamillion dollars from a floating fortress and found a nation of thieves” idea.
It was a stressful situation. And to top it all off, Flint’s current cook is John Silver. A gigantic feast of roast pig was planned; Silver somehow managed to mess up the cooking, even though this was back in the days when “cooking” just meant “throw on the fire for a couple hours and don’t let the whole thing burn.” They had a nice bonding moment. It turns out Captain Flint is a bit of a foodie. (He cooks! He cleans! He kills big bald men with his bare hands! Flint would rock out on Match.com, is what I’m getting at.) Silver tried to befriend Flint. He warned the Captain that Billy Biceps was seen chatting late at night to one of the angry crewmen; the angry man said something about “The Widow Barlow.”
Still, if Flint thinks he has it bad, he should see Max. Poor Fifi LaRue, who seemed back in the premiere like she was going to be the show’s wheeler-dealing double-agent hustler, has now been reduced to trying to teach grungy pirates the pleasures of tantric sex, in the vain hope that they won’t abuse her. This whole plotline is depressing. The one hopeful point is that Zorra Two-Swords — a character who has yet to say more than three words in an episode — seems to feel some tiny amount of sympathy for Fifi’s plight. Could they team up and turn into a wild-card duo in the show’s power schema? Could this whole season just be setting up a spinoff where they set off on a whole series of adventures, basically just Xena: Warrior Princess with more boats? I’d watch that.
NEXT: Betrayal Most Foul
Captain Beardsley arrived on Pirate Island and did not seem particularly excited about the whole “give your cannons to this well-known privateer” idea. Papa Guthrie asked to speak to him alone. Pradha Mitchell had promised her associate Scotty that, if the Captain refused to part with his cannons, she would let him go. Turns out she was lying: Outside of her office, there were several men with guns. Scotty felt betrayed. “I’m f—ing sorry!” said Pradha. “It was the only f—ing thing I could f—ing do, m—-f—-r! F—!”
Fortunately for her, Papa Guthrie appeared to be on her side: Captain Beardsley promised her the guns. But when Papa Guthrie was alone with Scotty, he revealed his true feelings. (Scotty used to be a houseboy for the elder Guthrie, until he rose to his current role as consigliere.) This whole plan was madness: “Attempt to steal treasure from one empire to finance war against another?” It would be like playing that old Pirates game and declaring war on the French, the English, the Spanish, and the Dutch. (You always gotta ally yourself with somebody.)
In the process, Papa Guthrie threw out something that might actually be the central idea of Black Sails. “She’ll do anything to save this place,” he said about his daughter. “A place where she matters. A place where you matter.” In the show’s perspective, Pirate Island is a place where anyone of any gender or race can rise to prominence — the kind of place that existed barely anywhere in that time period. And in Papa Guthrie’s perspective, it’s the kind of place that isn’t supposed to last. Civilization will arrive: To fight against it is madness.
Speaking of madness! Local man-child Randall had a rough day. Due to some poorly-tied knots, the Walrus fell down right on his leg. His Captain ran to his aid…but the only way to save Randall was to sever his limb beneath the knee. Presumably, Randall will just keep on losing limbs and brain cells over the course of the season. But the falling ship had a nice side effect for Flint: It fell right on top of the angry crewman who was filling Billy Biceps’ head with talk about the Widow Barlow. (Or maybe Flint pushed that angry crewman?)
Speaking of the Widow! She was also having a rough day. A local child threw a rock at her face and called her a witch. She wasn’t really feeling the whole “living on a Pirate Island as the unmarried mistress of a homicidal wannabe pirate-king” thing. And then Papa Guthrie started hitting her with truth bombs. He knew who she was: Mrs. Hamilton, wife of Lord Thomas Hamilton. He knew that, long ago, she had an affair with her husband’s friend, a promising young sailor in the Navy; that the shame of the affair led her to flee. (Based on another flashback in the episode, it would appear that at some point Flint hunted down her husband — or someone else connected to her? — and killed them. All explanations TBD.)
Papa Guthrie promised to help her. He told her that Boston was much more forgiving than London. “And it has way more Irish pubs, too!” he said, while noting that on Fridays and Saturdays the social life goes way downhill, stupid college kids. By the end of the episode, she appeared to be on his side: She brought in her local Creepy Pastor. And Papa Guthrie promised to see that all pirates were cast out of Pirate Island. (Personally, I’m betting that the Widow is planning a double-reverse betrayal at some point.)
But I know what you’re thinking: What’s up with Captain Vane? The usual. Opium. Shirtlessness. Dream-visions of Pradha Mitchell, basically serving the same purpose as the Dream-Vision of Michael Rooker way back in season 2 of The Walking Dead. “You could take this whole f—ing island from me,” said Dream-Pradha. So Captain Vane stood up and walked outside and was immediately attacked by the local pimp, who really wanted Max back in his den. The pimp’s accomplice took aim at Vane, fired..and his gun misfired. Vane promptly killed everybody. So he’s back in action now. This concludes your weekly update on Shirtless Captain Vane.
So again I say: Black Sails, whither the piracy? Good news on that front: At the end of the episode, Captain Beardsley and the Andromache took off from port, with the guns still onboard. Captain Flint gave a simple mission statement: “We need to get them back.” Hopefully next week will be a big ship-to-ship chase battle, a la Master and Commander. Or maybe everyone will call a meeting about calling a meeting for planning a ship-to-ship chase battle.
Follow Darren on Twitter: @DarrenFranich