Black Sails is a 4-season show set in the New Providence Island city of Nassau during the pirate era’s prime. It revolves around the story of the people of Nassau, with a particular focus on Captain Flint and John Sliver, who many would know from the famous Treasure Island tale. They are the hearts of the show whose adventures serve as a prequel to the events of Treasure Island, while also being decidedly less kid-friendly. The many other leads on the show all have their own agendas which can only be fulfilled by the immense treasure carried aboard the famed ship the Urca de Lima. At first the motivations for all the main characters vary; some are driven by greed or ambition to get the Urca gold for themselves, while others are driven to obtain it because they think the treasure will help them fight against the forces of England and Spain – countries who want to eradicate high seas piracy. As the show goes on, the true nature of these characters and the intricate themes of the story unravel further.
Season 1 starts off with a bang (literally) in the middle of a pirate attack on a merchant ship by Captain Flint himself. We are introduced in bloody fashion to his crew and the sort of people he surrounds himself with, while at the same time getting an introduction to the not-yet infamous John Silver. In this way, both Flint and Silver become permanently linked to one another in the first scene of the show, though they don’t even meet face-to-face until much later. The season also focuses on each character individually rather than meshing all the plots together, giving each character time to stand out on their own and breathing room so that they don’t overshadow each other. At first, each character takes actions that a viewer may find themselves disagreeing with, and in Flint’s case some may even hate him for it. Silver is shown to be a double-crossing con man who will betray anyone for his own personal gain; many viewers will find very few likable qualities in him except his charm and wit.
The first season also introduces the other major players in the story, such as Charles Vane, Jack Rackham, and Anne Bonny; all three are based on real, historical pirates and work together as a trio throughout the season. Vane instantly establishes himself as one of the most badass characters in the cast, and is the only character on the show that rivals Flint’s fame and prowess. Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny have the closest relationship on the show, Jack working as the brains of the duo and Anne as the muscle, yet both are complex and badass in their own ways. They are inseparable and directly mirror each other. Black Sails also introduces great original characters such as Eleanor and Max, both of whom are really interesting and cunning. Both go through some truly terrible experiences, yet they still manage to be come out all the stronger on the same level as their male counterparts.
Season 1 overall works as a great setup for the larger story. It introduces viewers to the characters and basic motivations while leaving out just enough for them to want more. That being said, I personally think this is weakest season of the show. On its own it is a truly good season, but even so it gets overshadowed by story arcs to come.
Season 2 focuses on the aftermath of the events of the first. Without giving away any spoilers, we also get some surprising revelations about the past of Captain Flint, which adds so many more layers to him as a character and explains his relationship to the mysterious Miss Barlow from season 1. Silver and Flint’s relationship also gets stronger as both slowly grow to respect one another. Continuing his stand-out role from the first season is Captain Vane, and his rivalry with Flint really shines as the main power clash of the season.
Max also comes into her own in a big way and rises to a position of power in a dramatic shift from her poor fortunes in season 1. But while Max’s star is on the rise, characters like Eleanor must try and cope with the loss of power and fight their way through enemies on all sides. The dynamic between Anne and Jack also shifts dramatically as both of them face extremely personal challenges, adding yet another layer of tragedy to a relationship that was once so close.
The season explains a lot of the motivations of characters like Captain Flint, all while providing a ton of excellent payoff for the events of season 1 and setting the stage for future storylines. Season 2 also has an amazing finale which provides a more than satisfying end to the current arc and blows the previous finale out of the water.
Seasons 3 and 4 work as a two-parter in my opinion because they follow the same arc continuously, leading into the events at the start of Treasure Island. They focus on the characters the most, with alliances being made and broken. They also introduce the series’ main antagonist, Woods Rogers, the new governor of Nassau. Season 3 also introduces its version of perhaps the most well-known pirate of all time – Blackbeard, played wonderfully by Ray Stevenson. He is never shown to be as over-the-top as some might expect, but rather as a much calmer and more complex person who ultimately feels very human.
I won’t talk in too much detail about the last two seasons of the show because then I would be spoiling some huge jaw-dropping moments. They are much more violent, personal, and emotional than previous seasons and you will be constantly be on the edge of your seat worrying over which character dies or has their dreams crushed next. Each character gets their own well-developed arc and each arc is wrapped up in a bittersweet finale. The ensemble of amazing characters are all complex and filled with incredible depth – even the antagonists of the show have their tragic moments, so every time you think you know a character you are shown a new layer. It’s a testament to just how well the characters are written by series showrunners Jon Steinberg and Robert Levine (among others) and performed by the actors.
The show is filed with amazing set pieces and great fight scenes, all enhanced by its outstanding production design, rich cinematography, and some of the best writing and acting on TV. In every respect, Black Sails continues to be a show that just gets better and better the more you watch and analyze it. I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a great show about pirates or just a fantastic story overall.