As I write this, iTunes is playing me The Lonely Island’s Jack Sparrow, featuring Michael Bolton. Indeed, this song is but one small part of the massive attention the Pirates of the Caribbean movies have generated over the years. I always thought pirates are infinitely cool— feckless, reckless, adventurous, alternatively hare brained and cunning as the situation required them to be. I was very taken with the idea of being a pirate. In the 2010s, to think anything pirate and not at least fleetingly have your mind name-drop Pirates of the Caribbean, at least to someone as illiterate as me when it comes to pirate literature, would be extraordinary. This is why when Black Sails showed up on number 1 in a list of TV shows with excessive nudity, it was all I could do to not froth out of my mouth at the prospect of Pirates of the Caribbean with breasts— two of my favourite things in the world.
So I went into the first season of Starz’s Black Sails— and was overjoyed when Michael Bay’s name appeared as executive producer toward the end of the beautiful intro (Colossal robots too rank worryingly high on the list of my favourite things in the world)— expecting a Captain Jack Sparrow clone embarking on a foolishly ambitious quest (Because pirate captains begin and end with Captain Jack, of course) along with gratuitous nudity for good measure.
But the first episode hit me much like an enemy ship’s foremast slamming into a starry eyed ensign as his first battle brings him kicking and screaming into gritty reality.
The captain, one Mr Flint, is a a fierce anti-hero with a murky past and still murkier plans for the future. In the first few episodes, he defuses a mutiny by falsely accusing his opponent for the captaincy, Singleton, of stealing vital information pertaining to their hunt of a great prize. The Master Gibbs to his Jack Sparrow is Quartermaster Gates, a docile right-hand man who doesn’t confront the captain until season 2, and my favourite character, Mr Silver, is a handsome, quick-witted stowaway aboard Flint’s ship, the Walrus, whose ability to think on his feet keeps him alive for much of the show. The show revolves around Nassau, a smuggling port which serves as a base to Captain Flint and other pirate captains. Richard Guthrie runs a thriving black-marketing operation in Nassau. Guthrie is a shrewd, loathsome man of dubious character and due to his less than appealing characteristics he has reached the top of the smuggling food-chain. Captain Flint comes to Guthrie with a proposition— to hunt down the Spanish treasure galleon, the Urca de Lima.
Much like the rest of the world, Guthrie’s peace and prosperity are disrupted with the arrival of Great Britain. Captain Hume of the Royal Navy lets Guthrie know that he is suspected of smuggling and that he, Hume, intends to arrest him. Captain Flint and Billy Bones, who suspects Flint of shady dealings, are present and a fight ensues between Hume, Hume’s men, and Flint and Guthrie and Billy Bones, leaving Guthrie with a bullet in his leg. Flint leaves Guthrie with an old friend to convalesce, at which point his daughter Eleanor takes over the family business, eventually outshining her father against all odds that would be stacked against an ambitious woman in the 1700s.
These are all brutally realistic characters, something I never thought I would have an appetite for. Why should anything to do with pirates not be stupidly unrealistic and infinitely fun? Here is a pirate show where people don’t die of clean sword wounds but with cannonballs ripping off their limbs and splinters embedded in their faces. Valiance ends in murder and moral ambiguity is essential to life.
What I stumbled into looking for thrilling fights amongst other carnal pleasures I will always remember as an incredible story filled with characters as clueless as the rest of us in the real world, much, I’d like to think, as Captain Jack Sparrow started out in Curse of the Black Pearl looking to steal a ship and ended by discovering new parts of himself in his surreal experiences and unlikely alliances, plus whatever the fuck he did in the other four films. And, of course, the swashbuckling and the sex is always there.
It’s a great show. I’d love for you, the reader, to watch it.