BLACK SAILS 1.08 ‘VIII’
Episode Title: “VIII”
Writers: Robert Levine & Jonathan E. Steinberg
Director: T.J. Scott
“Black Sails” season one has come to an end with “VIII,” and with it we get a bag of both gold and crap, just like the entire season. The gold must have outweighed the crap in STARZ's eyes because season two is already on its way, helping any "Black Sails" fans feel less slapped in the face by "VIII"s ending.
Before diving into the important stuff of the episode, let's pause to really appreciate what a great character Randall has become. A man of such few words has risen to be just as compelling of a character as Captain Flint in these last few episodes, with the high point easily being when he manipulates Silver into being his protector… or did he? After Randall saves Silver's life by bashing his attacker over the head with the prosthetic leg he gave him earlier, Silver comes to believe that Randall is the cleverest guy on the seven seas to which Randall answers with a fart. Yes, “Black Sails” went the sophisticated route with a fart joke, but it works. I couldn't help but laugh, and it helps keep us guessing as to what's happening under Randall's vacant, crazy mask of a face. Is he really a genius, or is Silver giving him too much credit?
As usual, the episode has two different story lines going- one at sea, and one back on the island. And, as usual, what's happening at sea blows the pants off of what's happening back on the island. Vane's return turns out to be a wet firecracker that produces no excitement and it was just a waste of time. He takes over Hornigold's fort, but it's less intriguing than it is a tease of things that could happen. He also forces Eleanor into partnering up with him to run the island, which I would ordinarily guess could lead to lots of excitement in season two, but so far none of the island politics have resulted in anything exciting.
Case and point, Anne Bonney started the season with a reputation of being a badass, and by the end of the season, after she's spent all that time on the island, she's reduced to nothing more than a jealous girlfriend. It's extremely disappointing that the writers wasted her character like that. Meanwhile, Rackham survives his reunion with Vane without a scratch or seeming to even be bothered by his “punishment.” Vane explains how Rackham will never be Quartermaster again and considers this to be more punishment than death, or torture, or everything in the world. Rackham takes the news well, barely acting like it bothers him since he's finally figuring out how to make a profit off his brothel. Now his life will be living well, sleeping in a comfortable bed, surrounded by prostitutes, instead of fighting for his life out on the sea where each haul may or may not produce enough loot to feed him. Yeah, what a punishment.
The best part of the episode follows Captain Flint and crew on their mission to capture the magical treasure ship, Urca de Lima, a ship that they don't actually end up encountering until the very end of the episode. From episode one the Urca has been on everyone's minds; reaching it was the overall goal of the series, the reason so many people have died, the point of this whole season, and, as payoff to the audience for sticking around for eight episodes, we don't get to see jack-crap. In his greed, Flint decides to engage the Urca, once again confirming his selfishness and willingness to sacrifice his crew.
The actual best part of the episode is their fight with the unknown ship (which I'll get to in a moment), and Flint's scenes with Smee (Gates). We never get actual confirmation that Flint pushed Billy overboard, but I don't think we need it after he kills Smee. We now know that Flint will kill his best friend in the world, a guy he loves like a brother, in order to save his own skin and get what he wants. I'm honestly sorry to see Smee go; not only was he a likeable guy, he was an interesting guy, so the show will be a little more dull without him. We do see, however, that Flint's murderous tendencies stop short of sociopathy. After killing Smee he breaks down into tears and apologizes profusely. You know, Flint, apologies work better if the other person is alive to hear it. If there's one thing this episode makes clear, it's what a despicable bastard Flint is
When Flint and crew throw down against the Unnamed Ship, it's a fantastic display of pirate-y, seafaring action. Flint opens fire on the bigger, stronger vessel, with his measly three cannons only to see it turn around and open three rows of cannons- a definite "oh crap" moment- and then we get a great sequence of Flint's men realizing the end approaches. The whole thing is very tense and melancholy, and then, of course, there's the flying debris and the bloody bodies lying everywhere– the brutal cherries on this brutal sundae.
Later, Flint and his crew are shipwrecked, and what do they find on the shipwrecked shore with them? The demolished Urca! Booooo! Having the Urca pop up this way feels contrived, passive, and unsatisfying. It's a real poke in the butthole to not see this hyped-up legendary ship in combat. For shame, "Black Sails", for shame.
“Black Sails” has its ups and downs, with a lot of boring things mixed with a few exciting things. Hopefully the writers will learn how to even things out a bit better in season two and keep up more of the exciting pirating action rather than the boring politics. “VIII” gives some decent thrills and spills, but ends up marred by a number of glaring weak points.