Episode Title: “I”
Writers: Robert Levine, Jonathan E. Steinberg, Robert Louis Stevenson
Director: Neil Marshall
STARZ is at it again with this new original television series, “Black Sails.” As with their other original series, this is a period piece, but this time around they take things to the ocean instead of just keeping it on land. “I” marks the year as 1715, a time where there were ten pirates for every non-pirate, and these hooligans ran amok all across the seven seas, pillaging and thieving to their black hearts’ contents.
Anyone who expects to see filthy, animalistic men with hooks for hands and pegs for legs ravaging any boat they cross will be sorely disappointed by this first episode. STARZ portrays a milder, perhaps more accurate, picture of pirates, although they do have some clever nods to the typical romanticized picture of these sea dogs. “I” opens with a great action sequence when a pirate ship attacks a group of regular people. When we finally get a good look at the pirates, they’re like the most nightmarish stereotypes imaginable- yelling incoherently, covered in face-paint, teeth so mangled that Goofy told them to go to the doctor. But, when the battle ends, they take off their disguises with a laugh to reveal their not-so hideous faces. Turns out they were just trying to keep up appearances. Touche, “Black Sails.”
When done right, opening your show with a big, intense sequence can draw people in quickly (I mean, “Lost” banked a lot of goodwill with its fan base by having such an awesome opening to its first episode). “I” finds a good balance between great action and establishing its plot. We’ve got stunts, explosions to keep you excited, and some realistic bits of gore and flowing blood to keep your blood flowing as you watch.
During the pirate’s attack, we find John Silver hiding out below deck in the hopes that, if he’s found, he can just join the pirate’s crew. They call him a coward, but I applaud the man’s survival instincts. While he’s hiding out, he meets a cook who’s hiding the Captain’s schedule. Silver doesn’t know anything about it, only that it must be really important if this cook is trying to hide it from the pirates, so he kills the cook, takes his identity and the schedule, and asks to join the pirates’ crew after they take over the ship. Bastard move, Silver, but if you’re going to be a pirate you’ll fit right in.
After that dramatic opening sequence, “I” slows down to focus on introducing all the important characters, and then slows down even further to delve into Pirate Politics. Captain Flint’s raids haven’t been turning up much treasure for his crew as of late, and his crew’s getting tired of it. They want to call a vote to politely mutiny him out of office, but what they don’t know is the reason he’s been raiding so many seemingly valueless boats lately- he’s searching for a particular ship that’s carrying five million dollars worth of treasure. The only thing he needs to pinpoint the location of this magical ship is the schedule that’s missing from the Captain’s Log, the same schedule that lies in the pocket of Mr. Silver.
Overall, way too much time gets spent on the whole “overthrow the Captain” plot. Flint’s second hand man, Gates, runs around trying to rally votes for Flint as Captain while Singleton, the Captain-elect, rallies votes for himself. So much time is spent on this that you’d think it might be really important and be something Flint struggles with throughout multiple episodes, but nope.
After watching probably a half hour of them trying to rally up votes, Flint comes up with a brilliant plan to confess to his crew about the five million dollar treasure ship and accuse Singleton of stealing the missing schedule. On their ship, when someone is accused of thievery, the person can either go to trial (what savages!) or sword fight the accuser. Singleton chooses the sword. After an incredibly bloody fight that ends with Captain Flint punching Singleton’s face until it sounds like he’s punching ground beef, he tells his crew to stick with him and they’ll be paid handsomely, which they agree to.
Sounds like everything should be peachy now, except for the fact that Captain Flint still has no idea how to find the magic schedule or the boat it leads him to. When he kills Singleton, he pulls a piece of paper from his clothes and hands it to a crew member, Billy. Billy sees that it’s blank, but lies for his Captain and tells everyone that it is indeed the missing schedule. John Silver, however, knows the truth, what with him actually having the schedule and all. Lies and deceit are afoot, and it won’t take too long before people start getting suspicious as to why they aren’t going to this magical ship straightaway. If they find out their Captain has lied to them, I doubt it’ll be a pretty sight.
Being a show about pirate’s, “Black Sails” is a bit of a sausage-fest, but there are a few important female characters here and there, one of whom being Eleanor Guthrie, a tough, but pragmatic, woman who owns a shop on Providence Island. Then we have Max, a prostitute who teams up with Silver to help find a buyer for the highly-sought after schedule. Lastly, Anne Bonny makes an appearance, who is based on a real-life famous pirate. I’m looking forward to seeing more of these fierce ladies and how they mix into everything.
Despite all the time spent on gathering votes for an election that never happens, the end result creates some promise that there will be some great action and complicated threads of story interwoven in all the lies. “Black Sails” looks great; it’s authentic and vibrant-looking, but not so authentic that everyone looks disgusting all the time. Though the middle of “I” sags, it opens and closes with strength, so here’s hoping that this pirating series will continue to impress as it moves on into its next episodes.