Black Sails: a Review of the 1st 2 Seasons

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Ever since Spartacus wrapped its epic tale in the spring of 2013, I have been looking for a show to fill the void. What void you ask? Was it the over-the-top adult-oriented premium-cable sex and violence that I missed? No, even I would admit that Spartacus had too much of both at times. I was looking for a serialized historical drama populated by beautiful people, which had a compelling story I hope would keep me guessing. I had tried Vikings but I could not relate to any of the characters. So when I heard that Starz was promoting a new pirate themed TV show called Black Sails and it starred Toby Stephens (my favourite Mr. Rochester from any Jane Eyre Adaptation) I was intrigued. Unfortunately, my cable package didn’t carry it and I waited for the DVD releases. I have just binge-watched the first 2 seasons (8+10 episodes) and I am hooked. Season 3 returns in the US and Canada on January 23, 2016.


Black Sails is set primarily in and around Nassau, New Providence Island in the Bahamas in the early 1700’s. The city is overrun by pirates and corrupt business people trying to remain a step ahead of British rule. Black Sails combines fictional pirates (John Silver, Billy Bones and Captain Flint from R.L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island) with historical figures (Anne Bonny, Jack Rackham, Charles Vane) to create a labyrinthine tale of plotting and plundering. It is somewhat a prequel to the happenings in Treasure Island. It touches many themes such as commerce, sovereignty, power, idealism, pragmatism, stoicism, politics, leadership, hierarchy, corruption, manipulation, loyalty, sexuality (including LGBT portrayals) and gender roles. Season 1 is primarily concerned with local infighting which serves as a backdrop for the main quest, the hunt for a Spanish ship transporting gold.

This show has a terrific ensemble, including Toby Stephens as Captain Flint, Luke Arnold as a young 2-legged John Silver and Hannah New as Eleanor Guthrie, supplier (and chief fence) of the colony. I especially enjoy the chemistry between co-conspirators Toby Schmitz as Rackham, Clara Paget as Anne Bonny and Jessica Parker Kennedy as local madame, Max. The characters are complex and distinctly developed over the course of 18 episodes. We learn more about the backstory of some of the characters, specifically Captain Flint and his companion Mrs Barlow, in Season 2, via flash back and well-crafted expository dialogue.


The South African coast is a sumptuous double for the West Indies. And I guess this is as good a time as any to confess that I do not enjoy sailing; my husband and 2 daughters have gone on 2 sailing vacations without me in the Caribbean. Also I know absolutely nothing about the mechanics of it. Despite this confession, I found the scenes onboard the ships to be spectacular, especially during battles and storms. There are some awesomely gruesome fights done in a realistic style, rather than Spartacus’ over-the-top blood-fests. I had to turn the sound down and avert my eyes on a few occasions.

I am a sucker for underdogs and this show is busting with them. I guess I enjoy Black Sails for the same reasons I love film noir. Although most of the characters exist on the fringes and do horrible things; these egregious acts are often a means to ensure survival in an unjust world. I love when a great scheme is underway, hits a snag and forces clever characters to improvise. Black Sails reminds me of both Spartacus and Deadwood; it is almost as grubby yet sadly, not nearly as poetic. There is a sprinkling of wry dark humour, often delivered by either John Silver or Jack Rackham. Thankfully there is nothing as goofy as Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow (a little of that went a long way; I could not watch beyond the 2nd instalment of that franchise).

I am not sure I can wait another year for season 3 to be released on DVD.


If you like pirates, buff beautiful actors, twisty plots full of double and triple crosses, good fights and beautiful scenery, this might be one to check out. The first episode can be seen embedded below.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Black Sails: a fond Farewell | What is Ann Watching?
  2. Trackback: Umbrella Academy: a review | What is Ann Watching?

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