Black Sails 1.3 - "III" Review

Black Sails continues an upward trend after a sleepy pilot two weeks ago, and "III" contains some of the most promising material we've seen from the pirate drama. Last week's episode (read the review here) saw development in several of the major characters, especially Luke Arnold's John Silver and Tom Hopper's Billy Bones - those characters continue to gain momentum and personality in the third installment, while Toby Stephens's Captain Flint still operates behind a veil of mystery. Spoilers follow for the third episode "III." After committing the entire schedule of the Urca d'Lima to memory, John Silver showed this week that he's one of the more cunning scoundrels on an island full of, well, cunning scoundrels. By refusing to give up the ultimate destination of the treasure-laden galleon, Flint and his crew are forced to take Silver along on their quest, ensuring his safety at least for a few more weeks. Billy Bones, a seeming quartermaster-in-training and the only crewmember who just wants what's best for everyone, argues against the Captain putting any trust in Silver at all. While Silver eventually proceeds to sneak around and report findings of a mutiny back to Billy in order to gain his trust, I predict that Billy's mistrust may be justified. Silver, out of everyone we've seen on the show so far, has his survival as his highest motivation - and out of everyone we've seen on the show so far, Silver has the audacity and the mind to slither out of the stickiest situations. The rocky relationship between Eleanor Guthrie (Hannah New) and Captain Vane (Zach McGowan) provided a large part of the third episode, and the latter has proven himself more than a stiff, snarling tough guy. He articulates his own surprise when he's the only one at a meeting "behaving himself", and he's right. Eleanor goes the other way over the course of the episode, from cool and collected to loud and wrathful, and though the two did have a brief time together again they now stand opposed once more as we enter the fourth hour of the series.
We'll return to that back-and-forthness in a moment, but some questions about Captain Flint need to be posed first. Toby Stephens is ostensibly set to play the role of the main character in Black Sails, with characters like John Silver playing closely behind. Yet we know very little about the Flint - the main question raised this week regards his relationship with Mrs. Miranda Barlow (Louise Barnes), whom Flint uses as a nurse/jailer/confidant after arriving at her secluded home at the end of last week's episode. A suspicious comment by a mutinous crewman to Billy Barnes leads one to believe that Flint and Mrs. Barlow have history, and this much was to be suspected from the exchange between the Captain and his ladyfriend wound-dresser - but is that history one of love or tragedy? Is that history public record or known by a select few? Does that history stand to come to light in a way that will effect the current plot lines? And, most importantly - what does it tell us about the as-of-yet unmasked character of Captain Flint? It's interesting to keep your main character at arm's length like this, but until this week it didn't seem intentional. I've mentioned before that Black Sails could suffer from introducing so many characters at once, and the stunted development of one or two characters is always the challenge in such a series - but you'd never expect that out of all them, the main character would be the one leaving us wanting more. It seems now that this was part of the plan, and hopefully the secrets of Captain Flint are worth the wait. The other problem with so many characters is that involving all of them in a single thread of plot can at times feel contrived. Case in point, during this week's episode: Captain Flint mentions to his crew that another ship will be needed in order to take the Urca d'Lima, and so they'll need to find partners. The second he mentions this, we know that Captain Vane and his crew are going to be the option, despite the animosity between these two crews. And when Vane's sleazy quartermaster Rackham (Toby Schmitz) mentions the need for an impartial moderator between these crews, it is of course Eleanor Guthrie who happens to be sitting directly across from him. This kind of device is predictable and boring, and it's something an ensemble show should do its best to avoid.
That being said, everyone is positioned nicely for next week's episode - Vane, Rackham, and the mute hatted lady have been banished from their own ship and now stand to lose nothing from an open fight with Captain Flint; Billy could be learning Flint's secrets, which in turn may align his loyalty away from his Captain and make him vulnerable to Vane; Silver is still in the middle of all of this, but Vane is aware of his existence and may make a play for his knowledge of the Urca d'Lima. I predict at least one more landlocked episode to see all of this play out, but I do hope that Black Sails takes to the high seas again after that - as it is, after all, a show about pirates. What did you think of "III"? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to read next week's review of Black Sails 1.4 - "IV."
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Matt is a writer and musician living in Boston. Read his film reviews at http://motionstatereview.wordpress.com.