Mar 14 2015

Black Sails  – “XVI” Retrospective. Monsters or Men?

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Flint and Billy set their sights on the Carolina colony, and there's no turning back.

Flint and Billy set their sights on the Carolina colony, and there’s no turning back.

Season 2, Episode 8

Airdate: Saturday, March 14, 2015, 9/8c on Starz

Rating:

Never underestimate the kind of punch Black Sails can deliver in an episode, especially if it is anything like “XVI.” As the latest installment of the dramatic pirate series, “XVI” is methodical with its storytelling; it begins gradually but escalates quickly to a series of violent and disturbing conclusions. The main plot points from “XV” still apply in regards to Captain Flint’s (Toby Stephens) journey to the Carolina colony, Eleanor’s (Hannah New) dilemma in Nassau, and the plans to retrieve the Urca de Lima’s gold. But it is the little nuances in character development, and continuity of the story lines that add a nice contrast to the many somber moments in the latter half of ”XVI.”

This Girl’s Life

One of the immediate differences in “XVI” is the narrative structure. As viewers, we don’t often receive an internal monologue or insight on how each character truly perceives the others. In “XVI,” Abigail uses a diary to recount her experience while on board the Spanish Man O’ War with Flint and Miranda (Louise Barnes). I love the way director Steve Boyum and the episode’s writers construct the perspective of the episode so we can observe Flint’s crew in different contexts from unexpected sources like Abigail. The longer she sails with the pirates, realizing they are not as monstrous as she was led to believe, the more I get the feeling she may have an even larger role to play in whether Flint and his men leave the Carolina colony.

Flint and Miranda do their best to make Abigail comfortable. It’s interesting seeing the three of them in a room together. I wonder if this is the sort of family Miranda once envisioned for herself. As Abigail adjusts to her surroundings, she and Billy Bones (Tom Hopper) exchange an awkward and bashful glance. Miranda and Flint immediately notice Abigail’s interest in Billy and finally tell her his sad tale of woe. It’s about time, don’t you think? The story surprises Abigail, leading me to believe more will happen between these two. In Black Sails, there is no such thing as coincidence.

Treasure Trouble

Will Max's best laid plans lead to riches or ruin?

Will Max’s best laid plans lead to riches or ruin?

I don’t know how time works on Black Sails but it would be helpful if the writers would drop a line every now and then letting us know when certain things happen. When we turn to the events in New Providence, not only is Eleanor still a nervous wreck, but Captain Jack Rackham (Toby Schmitz) is back.  I know he was absent in “XV,” but has it really been that long? He must have one fast ship! In the case of Anne Bonny (Clara Plaget), she is nowhere to be seen, which could be a good thing. Although Max (Jessica Parker Kennedy) admits to Rackham she made Anne an offer as a partner, I’m still unsure whether Anne accepts it. What remains certain is the scheme John Silver (Luke Arnold) has going to secure the Urca’s gold, along with Max’s help. The upside is that Max and Rackham are some of the slickest and savviest power players in Nassau. The downside is Eleanor’s influence in the port of Nassau; if Silver’s deceptions become known, Max and Rackham’s lives will be at stake. Making matters worse for Max and Rackham is the involvement of the former madam  of the brothel, Mrs. Mapleton (Fiona Ramsey). You can bet it won’t be long before Eleanor discovers the Urca’s gold is hers for the taking! Will Eleanor’s alliances shift?

Reap and Sow

Sometimes, certain events must hit close to home in order for a person to fully understand the consequences of their actions. In the aftermath of what transpires in “XVI,” Eleanor is quickly learning.

In “XV,” we last saw Richard Guthrie (Sean Michael Cameron) traveling at night with plans to leave the island until a group of men block the road. It isn’t until the end of “XVI” that we finally discover Richard’s fate. I truly appreciate seeing the change in Richard’s conduct from his selfish behavior in season one to a concerned father in season two. Cameron does a remarkable job of portraying Richard with more dignity and tact this season. Through small details, like the tone in his voice and expressive look in his eyes, Cameron shows a gentler side of Richard. It’s hard to remember why he frustrated me so much in the first season.

Final Thoughts

Eleanor learns the cost for her dreams may have been to high of a stake.

Eleanor learns the cost for her dreams may have been to high of a stake.

It’s amazing how the last five to ten minutes can turn the whole tone of an episode upside down. Director Steve Boyum’s use of Eleanor’s reaction to her father’s situation mixed with Vane’s scenes provide the most heightened level of suspense in “XVI.” They add such weight to the moment, and you can see Eleanor’s devastation, realizing her obsession plays a part in what happens in “XVI.” How will this tragic event shape her in the future? As much as Vane underestimates Eleanor, she does the same. Vane and Eleanor seem to have an ongoing dueling battle between their desires and obsessions; the two have a very compulsive nature that often rises to the surface when they are around each other. As much as they will destroy everything around them to reach their goals, Vane and Eleanor have a disturbing connection, so much so, they know they’ll betray each other.

Overall, “XVI” is an essential episode, needed in order to push the characters to where they need to be by the season finale. That doesn’t mean it’s always fun seeing characters you like die or endure pain. What stands out are the performances, mainly Young and New’s, who, when needed, have the best expressive reactions in their scenes. Mark Berezenski and Maria Melnik, who developed the story, and Jonathan E. Steinberg and Robert Levine, who scripted the teleplay, come up with some wonderful dialogue that adds the exact amount of tension in the right moments. With so many unexpected turns, I cannot wait to see, nor can I fathom what will happen next.

 

What did you think of “XVI?” Post your comment below or on Twitter @conallen.

Follow the series on its official sites: http://www.starz.com/originals/blacksails/, where you can also watch videos and clips of the episodes.

Follow Black Sails on its official twitter: @BlkSails_Starz, and don’t forget the cast and crew:

@BlkSailsCreatrs@mfernandezLA@TobyStephensInV (Captain James Flint/Toby Stephens), @ScrambledLuke (Luke Arnold/John Silver), @ClaraPaget (Clara Paget/Anne Bonny), @hannahnewuk (Hannah New/Eleanor Guthrie), @JParkerK (Jessica P Kenned/Max), @Zach_McGowan (Zach McGowan/Captain Vane), @fallofasparrow (Toby Schmitz/Jack Rackham), @seancmichael (Sean Cameron Michael/Richard Guthrie), and @hakeemkaekazim (Hakeem Kae-Kazim/Mr. Scott). @youngmeganne_(Meganne Young/ Abigail Ashe).

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Photos: ©2015 STARZ Network. All Rights Reserved.

 

© 2015, Connie Allen. All rights reserved.

Connie Allen

I'm a writer, cinephile, avid reader, and pop culture enthusiast. I love historical dramas, and fantasy/sci-fi series. Currently living in SoCal.

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