Black Sails – 4×09: “XXXVII” or The Penultimate Adventure

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With only two more episodes remaining, I just want to start off by appreciating the Black Sails title sequence and I also like to imagine that whoever created it saw Tom Hopper’s arms and was like, “One of my little figurines is definitely going to be as ripped as Billy Bones.”

Now that’s out of the way, this is clearly where the show has intended to end forever. It’s stunning to watch it unfold. The conversation and sword-fighting lessons between Flint and Silver is interwoven between the action on Skeleton Island, calling back to the fireside chat they had while Flint relayed his history with Thomas Hamilton, but Silver refusing to reveal his background is a true metaphor for the episode and the season itself. I have to applaud the series on building a true and deep friendship between Flint and Silver, which makes it all the more tragic that it is destined to dissolve.

The Silver/Flint dynamic is perhaps the most successful thing the show has done and that’s saying something. This episode in particular highlights just how masterful Toby Stephens and Luke Arnold are in their roles. When Treasure Island begins, Flint is dead and Silver is an aging pirate bent on recovering what he believes to be his. In this episode, they are two men in their prime who want the same thing but disagree on the price they are willing to pay for it. It is also a story repeated over and over again in Flint’s quest for first revenge and then freedom. The key though is that Flint is at his best when he’s NOT one-half of a partnership, rather he succeeds most fully when he is alone, back against the wall and fighting impossible odds.

When Woodes Rogers asks Billy Bones, “Which one of them is going to prevail?” Billy, the best judge of character in the entire series (despite his spiral into heretofore unknown “Season Four Billy” is not well on his way back to the man we loved for three seasons), knows that Flint will be the one to win the day. Flint, always, finds a way. It’s likely why when Treasure Island begins, Flint is dead, or at the least the show’s explanation for it.

Silver knew it would be impossible to retrieve the treasure if his rival were still alive. Billy is again correct when he warns Rogers that Madi will never accept his offer of Silver’s life for the end of their rebellion. Flint referenced it in the last episode. Madi and Silver are the true partnership that would have to endure to bring about a full victory for the pirates, not Flint and Silver, but it’s Madi’s dedication to the cause – a dedication that Silver does not share – that mirrors Flint’s.

It’s almost a mirror of the Eleanor/Flint/Vane circle of trust and distrust that played out in the first two seasons and we all know how that story ended.As Silver and his six men chase Flint into the jungle, it’s clear the show is trying to reinforce to us just how similar they are at this crux in the story. In fact, Silver’s dialogue and thought process feels exactly like Flint’s when the path splits and thus his men have to divide their forces. “How in the fuck would I know which way he decided to go?” sounds exactly as exasperated as Flint periodically did with his crew over the years. The point is hammered home when Hand says to Silver only moments later, “I wonder if he knows just how much you learned from him.”

It’s a mark of the fact that Silver now cares about something, beyond gold or even his own survival, but that of Madi’s. It took him being truly devoted to a cause to make the transition and that hasn’t been something we’ve seen until now. Flint has always had a cause. So has Billy and Eleanor and Vane and Rodgers and Max, but Silver? Not until now has he been at his most dangerous, not until Madi have we seen Long John Silver. That being said, Silver’s dedication to Madi is perhaps less interesting that Madi’s dedication to Flint’s cause. He loves her above everything. She loves him, yes, but not at the expense of victory. I wonder if Eleanor and Madi had teamed up from the start rather than relying on all of these men, if Nassau would have fallen out of colonial rule long ago. (Fanfic writers, I urge you, GET WRITING!)

I won’t spend much time on Woodes’s decision to betray his agreement with Silver and take out the pirates before he has a chance to retrieve the cache other than to talk about the best part of it, when Billy (he’s a necessary evil, but somehow is allowed to go on the mission?) levels his gun at Ben Gunn, but does not pull the trigger.

I’m sure this is 100% not what the writers intended, but I’m choosing to interpret that moment as an apology for the rushed, convenient to the plot so we’re doing it, characterization of Billy in this season as they led up to these last two episodes. However if they really want to apologize, Billy will eventually ride off into the sunset, find Abigail Ashe (who obviously escaped Charles Town before Flint and Vane destroyed it) and they live Happily Ever After, because after all of this, if anyone deserves a happy ending, it’s Billy Bones. (Sorry, but not sorry, I’m part of the S.S. AsheBones, a small rowboat with a skeleton crew, but I mean, come on, look at them!)

One more episode to go and we know how it ends, but on Black Sails, it has and always been about the journey rather than the destination.

Black Sails airs Sundays at 9/8c on Starz.

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