As a lover of film and television, I do try to keep an open mind, and like to explore new genres and settings whenever I can. That being said, however, everybody is entitled to their comfort zones when it comes to entertainment, and Black Sails has effectively imprisoned me in mine. I’ve stated before in my In The Heart Of The Sea review that I have something of a passion for all things pertaining to the Age Of Sail, so when Black Sails was recommended to me, I could not swab my decks fast enough in excitement.
The premise of the show is a very straightforward one and can be neatly encapsulated as ‘Treasure Island: Origins’. The plot follows the exploits of the infamous Captain Flint and the crew of the Walrus, who are in the process of hunting down Urca de Lima; a Spanish treasure galleon whose contents will no doubt become the treasure in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel. Central to this plot are the machinations of Eleanor Guthrie, who manages her father’s somewhat illegal trading company whilst trying to keep order on the island of New Providence, and Charles Vane, a rival captain of historical reality whose brutal methods cause problems for all involved.
Probably the biggest issue I have with Black Sails is that there are far too many plotlines for a show of this genre. The changes of allegiance and power plays are so frequent and numerous that it’s practically impossible to keep up with the motivations of a single character. As a result many of the real-life pirates, such as Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny, feel almost entirely surplus to requirements. The latter of the two is particularly guilty of this, for she is the single most boring, two-dimensional, generic badass action girl who has ever had the misfortune of scowling her way onto the screen. This brings me rather neatly to my second gripe about the show, in that some of the characters are incredibly stock-like. Anne Bonny notwithstanding, Eleanor Guthrie simply comes across as a discounted and more foul-mouthed version of Keira Knightly in Pirates Of The Caribbean, right down to the pouty actress playing her. Captain Vane sounds like Batman after a night on Sailor Jerry and Jack Rackham, whilst mildly entertaining, just wants to be Tyrion Lannister so badly you can practically see him trying to shrink.
Black Sails is in need of focus. It can’t decide if it wants to be Game Of Thrones or Pirates Of The Caribbean and as such fails to match either, which is a pity, because the rip-roaring action on the high seas is where the show really comes alive. Toby Stevens is excellently cast as Captain Flint and John Silver and the rest of the Walrus‘s crew are all well rounded and interesting, but sadly lack the screen time to actually make much headway. The world of Nassau and the West Indies is a very immersive one, but it lacks sharpness at times, and the episodes are often too long to justify their content. That being said, there is a smartness to certain elements of the plot, which I won’t spoil, that bring the narrative up a notch and it is certainly enough to hold ones attention for the duration of a season.
After all this salt, I’m not entirely sure whether to recommend Black Sails. It’s a very flawed show in many ways, but none of these flaws are deal breakers, and there’s certainly enough meat on some of the more interesting character’s bones to keep you absorbed. I do feel, however, that you are well within your rights to look elsewhere for strong and interesting female characters, and look even further for a more coherent plot. Let’s just hope that the upcoming seasons get out to see a bit more, because this is the only way the show will keep moving.