Hi all! We’re headed to the Republic of Pirates, where the mixed drinks are flavored with nose jar juice and Spanish Jackie rules with an iron fist. Or, wooden hand, actually. This week on Our Flag Means Death, Jim’s past catches up with them and at long last, Blackbeard appears.
1. Stede Bonnet’s guide to dressing like you own the place.
Fresh from his victory over Izzy Hands, Blackbeard’s right-hand man, Stede decides to embrace his new identity as the “Gentleman Pirate.” He tells the Revenge’s resident musician, Frenchie, who is valiantly standing in for the ship’s usual scribe despite not being able to read or write, that “polite menace” will be his brand. It’s a ridiculous thing for a pirate to say, and yet, over the course of the show, becomes more true than perhaps Stede realizes. The idea that pirates need a “brand” seems like an anachronistic bit, and yet, historically, it’s also very true. Blackbeard, both in real life and in the world of the show, was able to loot and pillage mostly because people were so afraid of him that they give up without a fight. In Our Flag Means Death, appearances and image are important because of the power they hold, not only over other people but also over those who adopt them.
2. I was going here before it was cool.
At the Republic of Pirates, we see the dingy criminal underworld that supports the world of piracy. It was a real place during the Golden Age of Piracy, though it may not have had a gift shop. Stede leans into his gentleman image, wearing a fancy white ensemble into the dingiest of pirate dive bars to fence his remaining British hostage. He has Lucius announce his entry to the surly crowd in a speech that’s so tone-deaf it could’ve been straight out of a PowerPoint given by Michael Scott in The Office. The sequences in which Stede tries to literally sell a man by shouting “Man for sale!” and then sashays into a criminal den with a cheery, “Hi all!” are hilarious line deliveries that underscore how perfect Rhys Darby is as Stede. His accent and talent for oblivious, larger-than-life character voices make for the perfect fish-out-of-water scenes. Stede is a very fancy fish trying desperately to make his way on land, and despite the odds against him, succeeding.
3. Leslie Jones. That’s it, that’s the tweet.
Oluwande tries to keep the crew from entering “Spanish Jackie’z” bar, without success. We learned in the last episode that Oluwande is sweet on Jim, who is wanted for killing Jackie’s husband. One of them, anyway, Jackie has 19 husbands left to spare. Even though Jim should be avoiding the scene of the crime, they just can’t help but go back to taunt Jackie and try to find the dagger they used to kill Jackie’s husband.
Seedy pirate bars are a staple of media about pirates, and it’s always fun to see a depraved menu with gruesome body parts and a good bar brawl. But when Leslie Jones shows up as the proprietor wearing red velvet and sporting a wooden hand, you just know this particular pirate bar is going to get even better. She smokes a cigar and chats menacingly with Oluwande, all while being very cool and very scary. Jones is such fun as Jackie, and when she flirts with Jim it’s so unexpected that I end up smiling whenever she’s on-screen. Leslie Jones! Along with Fred Armisen as yet another one of Jackie’s smarmy, backstabbing husbands, Our Flag Means Death brings top-tier guest stars and lets them loose among an already stellar ensemble cast.
4. This is how we treat pirates.
Izzy Hands shows up with an offer from Blackbeard. Blackbeard is intrigued by the idea of the “Gentleman Pirate” and wants to meet him. But Stede, not knowing or caring who Izzy is, rebuffs him. This further intrigues Blackbeard, the man to whom everyone else surrenders instantly. We get a glimpse of Blackbeard’s ship, which is complete with skulls, buckets of swords, cobwebs, and other pointy things. It’s a very metal ship, which looks very cool but probably isn’t any more functional than Stede’s library. In it, Blackbeard smokes from a long pipe and speaks in a menacing drawl, giving the audience every indication that this guy is a badass pirate.Continued below
Back on shore, Stede and company accept an offer to buy their hostage from one of Jackie’s many husbands. Should they have been suspicious of this offer? Yes. Are they? No. Do they bring tapas with them to a hostage negotiation? Of course. Stede Bonnet wouldn’t dare show up to a business transaction empty-handed. It’s a trap, because of course it is. Geraldo sells Stede out to the Spanish Navy and exposes Jim’s identity as he does it. All appears to be lost when Stede is stabbed, then hanged in front of his crew.
5. A very pirate meet-cute
Just in time to save the day, Blackbeard’s crew attacks. Stede is left hanging, literally, while mayhem erupts around him. As his vision fades and he starts to lose consciousness, Stede sees a vision of his family growing fainter and further away. Mary stares at him with no pity as he starts to die, alone in a sea of violence.
But that’s not how it ends! Our Flag Means Death is a comedy, and, despite zero marketing by HBO as one, it’s a romance. Every romance has a meet-cute, and when Blackbeard appears in Stede’s blurry vision, he utters the words destined to melt the hapless captain’s heart and soothe his ego: “The Gentleman Pirate, I presume.” Stede, half-dead, smiles when he realizes that his reputation has preceded him. It’s all he ever wanted, after all. The audience finally gets a full look at Taika Waititi as Blackbeard, and we see him as Stede does: as a savior, a warrior, and someone who finally takes Stede seriously. “Our Prayer” by The Beach Boys plays as our two pirates finally meet cute, then Stede and the camera both fade to black.
-The crew’s horrified reaction to Jim’s beard and nose coming off cracks me up every time I see it, even though I know it’s coming. Samba Schutte, who plays Roach with an unhinged ferocity, screams in abject terror and I love to see such commitment to the bit.