It is perhaps significant that both Vane and Madi live with either an experience or fundamental awareness of slavery – interestingly Vane, being white, is the one who actually experienced it in his youth and Madi, far more likely to end up in its snares, nevertheless manages a fierce understanding of what it means. But both take an absolute disgust with the ways in which human begins abuse and subordinate each other to the grave – and together, they are the only true believers of the entire cast and crew. Billy, despite being raised by egalitarian, Leveler parents, becomes corrupted with bitterness; Jack understands that the game is rigged but is only interested in outwitting it in order to become immortal; Anne understandably doesn’t give a fuck because she’s busy surviving men; Silver believes in whatever cause currently makes his life most bearable and Flint?, well he’s Flint, in a way a mirror of Silver insofar as soon as the love of his life is in range, all will to live by his high-flung rhetoric about creating a new world different from the old drains out of his body. Only Vane and Madi, through all four seasons, show any true commitment to give their lives in solidarity with a vision that gives the Powers That Be the middle finger.
And once again, the truth of history squares more with these inspirational examples than it does with the more Machiavellian maneuverings of well, most everyone else in the show. This is rare – historical investigation usually brings disillusionment, not inspiration. But, there are exceptions, and pirates are one of them. Despite the narrative of almost every pirate-based media production – including Black Sails – pirates did not spend their time at each other throats’, consumed with petty rivalry. On the contrary, pirates were loyal to other pirates – crews would retaliate against governors and cities that executed or persecuted other crews, they would salute each other while sailing by with a cannon blast, they knew each other as “the Brotherhood of the Coast.” They might have not known any socialist lingo, or called themselves anarchists or egalitarians, but in every way they lived their lives, they committed themselves to these values. That in a series entirely dedicated to these very pirates of the Caribbean, only Vane and, especially Madi, embody this spirit is a missed opportunity so large it prevents the show from rising to the level of historical significance it so often loves to contemplate.
But not even a commie like me evaluates everything according to politics. It’s unwitting loyalty to individualism aside, Black Sails provides us with more than just a few endearing and original characters. Anne Bonny, based on the real-life woman pirate, comes most immediately to mind. Played brilliantly by Clara Paget, Anne is a quiet yet intensely fierce character who, when she does speak, is half the time spitting the words out through a snarl and a growl that I’ve never seen any female character even attempt, let alone make compellingly believable. Anne is a loyal but not obedient partner to Jack Rackham – also based on a historical character who was, indeed, the lover of Bonny – which is a lucky thing for him, because while he’s lucky to survive any physical fights, Anne is as kickass as they come, and is constantly saving him from certain death.
But oh, Jack! – Jack is just something special. A personality that combines an awareness of his weaknesses with a basic confidence and self-love, I dare say he is a completely unique character. Jack knows he is scrawny, that he can’t fight, that bigger and braver men think he is a pissant. But instead of becoming bitter, or driven by an insecurity that eats away at his soul and corrupts his better self, or being obnoxiously self-deprecating (the most popular current model for men who Don’t Fit In), Jack just defers to others – usually Anne or, the regrettably-not-discussed-here-because-this-is-getting-too-long, Max – who can help shore him up in realms where he’s not so skilled. He is, of course, obsessed with his legacy; but here as well, his self-awareness allows him to keep his desires from controlling him completely. Jack never denies or hides who he is, with either himself or others – which makes him a needed breath of fresh air while Flint and Silver over-analyze the shit out of everything and other central characters, such as Eleanor, insist on taking themselves Very Seriously. Besides, Flint, Vane, Teach, Silver and Billy provide us with plenty of Rugged Men prototypes – so someone had to wear the dashing eighteenth century dandy clothing.
So, despite the harshness of my tone in most of this post, I do, in fact, love this show. For me, the apex of Black Sails and its very beating heart came in the last episode of Season 2 – when Flint and Vane jointly blow the smitherines out of Charleston. As an historian and a radical, watching the destruction of one of the ports that built, with the blood, lives, and dignity of so many, the awakening beast we know as racialized capitalism – all while Flint takes the time in the chaos to free some slaves! – was satisfying in a way that my heart needs in these sometimes-so-lonely days. FUCK. YEAH.
And, for that if for nothing else, Black Sails will always have my heart.