Welcome to our second week on the Revenge! Captain Bonnet has staved off a mutiny and managed to live another day. This week on Our Flag Means Death, a pesky island gets in the way of our hapless crew, Lucius is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the Gentleman Pirate gets his name.
1. (Blackbeard’s) Reputation
So who is the actual most fearsome pirate to stalk the seas during the Golden Age of Piracy? Well, Blackbeard, of course. Episode two of Our Flag Means Death opens with storytime for Stede and the crew, this time a “true” tale told by Black Pete, who boasted of his manliness in the prior episode and insists he was Blackbeard’s right-hand man. (No one believes him but Stede.) In Pete’s tall tale, Blackbeard’s head is made of smoke, and his eyes glow. He is also said to be a ruthless killer who thinks nothing of murdering men, women, and children alike. Stede, who is constantly beset by anxiety himself, is in awe of this mythical man who can instill fear in others just by the sight of his iconic flag.
In real life, not much is known about Edward Teach, who went by the name of Blackbeard. Our Flag Means Death takes this idea and runs with it, filling the holes in the historical record with its own version of history. The show is also toying with the idea of reputation, and what it can mean to have one. Blackbeard, in real life and in the show, cultivates a fearsome persona so that he can take over ships and be a successful pirate. Stede, on the other hand, is a gentleman who uses charm and fine clothes to make an impression, even if it’s not the one he wants. Both Blackbeard and Stede (and later, Jim) confront the complexity behind having a persona and explore what happens when you strip away the artifice of your reputation to reveal the person underneath. But for now, all we know about Blackbeard is that he’s a half-mad man with smoke for a head and a fearsome stabbing skeleton flag.
2. I did something bad
Distracted by Pete’s stories and with no one at the helm, the Revenge runs aground. Stede, in his typical optimistic (read: naive) way, takes it as an opportunity for a holiday. Of course, since he’s the only upper-class person on the ship, he’s the only person on board who knows what a vacation even is, and much of the humor in the second episode comes from the crew’s various attempts at relaxation. From setting bombs on the beach to whittling and naming sea creatures, the crew takes to holiday like, well, something other than a fish to water.
Throughout this episode, Stede sees the ghost of the man he killed, even while he’s trying to relax on the beach. Badminton speaks to Stede and makes rude gestures, all while having a sword through his head. Rory Kinnear is hilariously smarmy as he torments Stede even after his death, and the visual effect of his sword wound is deliciously gruesome.
Stede has his first mental breakdown when confronted by the island’s indigenous inhabitants, who struggle to parse the actions of murderous British colonizers from those of Stede and his incompetent pirate crew. Instead of showing the indigenous people in a typical way, Our Flag Means Death flips the script and has the white colonizers become the butt of the joke. The show’s jokes punch up at the forces of colonialism and the expectations we have as viewers watching a show set in 1717. This is just one way the show takes viewers in a direction they may not expect, even while watching a show absolutely littered with gleeful pirate tropes and familiar story beats.
3. Dress / It’s Nice to Have a Friend
The header “Dress” doesn’t exactly fit, but I went with Taylor Swift song titles for my theme, so stick with me here. In the first episode, we learned that Jim wears a fake beard and nose. Oluwande is the only one to know Jim’s true identity, and in episode two, we find out that in addition to being Jim’s confidant, he has a bit of a crush. The two are adorably awkward, flirting in a way that seems authentic and sometimes mortifying. When Lucius accidentally discovers Jim’s secret, however, he also experiences firsthand Jim’s ability with knives and homicidal tendencies. Like its take on piracy and colonialism, future episodes of Our Flag Means Death have such a refreshing take on both Jim and Lucius’s identities that it’s not hard to see why the show has been embraced by the LGBTQ+ community. But for now, we’re just getting crumbs of information, such as Jim being in exile for an act of mysterious revenge (while sitting on a ship named the Revenge).Continued below
4. I want (my hostages) back
Stede and his crew lose their hostages by, well, letting them go. Whoops. After the island’s inhabitants determine that Stede’s crew poses no threat, Stede, Oluwande, and Pete hatch a plan to retrieve them from the villainous Izzy Hands. Izzy and his henchmen show up on the island dressed like teenagers who’ve run amok at Hot Topic and ooze the sort of menace you might imagine real pirates would. They look like pirates from another show or movie, transported into the fanciful world of Stede and company. Izzy is played with an undercurrent of simmering rage by the delightful character actor Con O’Neill, who you may have seen recently in The Batman or Chernobyl. But he’s no match for the antics of Stede, who turns the tables and, to Izzy’s chagrin, proposes a compromise. The episode ends with Izzy back on the deck of his own ship, lamenting the lack of murder and being ordered by his captain to follow the Revenge. A slow pan up the mast of Izzy’s ship reveals — you guessed it — Blackbeard’s flag.
5. A place in this world
Like the narrator of the song, Stede is a man trying to find his place in the world. Having run his ship aground, lost his hostages, gotten them back, then set off again, Stede mentally leaves behind the ghostly incarnation of the man he murdered. (For now.) He still clearly feels a lingering sense of guilt for leaving his wife and children, but the Stede Bonnet who ends episode two is more confident and at home with the idea of being an accidental murderer, a gentleman, and a pirate.
The real Stede Bonnet was known as the ‘Gentleman Pirate,’ and our fictional Stede takes a liking to the name as well. Historians debate the cause for the mental breakdown that led the real Stede to turn to a life of piracy, but in Our Flag Means Death, we get a sympathetic, if quite silly, look at the landowner turned pirate captain. In the next episode, as in real life, worlds collide when the aristocratic Bonnet meets the fearsome pirate Blackbeard.