The second to last cluster of episodes of HBO Max’s Our Flag Means Death has officially dropped. Now down to two episodes instead of the usual three, episode 7, “This Is Happening,” unfortunately slumps a bit in advancing the main narrative of the series, though episode 8 quickly steers the show back to its usual high level just in time for the season finale next week.
The most interesting parallel between these two new episodes of Our Flag Means Death is its continuing exploration of Stede and Blackbeard’s relationship—unsurprisingly, the main focus of the show at this point. In last week’s episodes, we saw Blackbeard get better acquainted with Stede and his crew, with the two men clearly admiring and drawn to one another’s lifestyles.
It wasn’t very long before the two grew close, becoming the best of friends and helping each other better adapt to their completely different ways of living (Blackbeard teaching Stede how to become a pirate, Stede teaching Blackbeard basic means of gentlemanly etiquette). By the end of episode 6, it’s fair to say the two had practically become inseparable, with Blackbeard deciding to remain with Stede even at the cost of alienating his old crew, including his overbearing first mate, Izzy Hands.
In episodes 7 to 8 of Our Flag Means Death, the series shifts away from the initial infatuation Blackbeard and Stede had for one another, beginning to show the end of their “honeymoon phase” together.
In episode 7, “This Is Happening,” Blackbeard admits to feeling a little unsure about how much longer he’ll stay with The Revenge—not necessarily because his relationship with Stede has soured or that he’s tired of being with the crew, but rather because he prefers to be constantly on the move rather than staying in one place for too long. To keep his interest piqued and to give them something to do, Stede purchases a treasure map, embarking with Blackbeard and Lucius in the hopes of spending time together.
The main storyline of episode 7, admittedly, is a minor one—it really does nothing to set up the events of the coming season finale. It’s merely a short one-off side-adventure that’s most important contribution to the overall series was showing that Blackbeard’s friendship with Stede was starting to wane a bit (something that would be more fully explored in episode 8), and also started teasing that Blackbeard and Stede’s friendship may actually be more romantic than they—and we—initially thought (more on this later).
Perhaps the best thing episode 7 does is switching the narrative focus of the show away from Stede and Blackbeard (who the previous three episodes have almost exclusively focused on) back to Jim’s story—a subplot we haven’t seen or heard much about since episode 3.
Though they’ve been featured in every episode of Our Flag Means Death, Jim’s storyline has been relatively stagnant for the time being, as has the romantic subplot between Jim and Oluwande. In episode 7, Jim’s story is laid out in more complete detail, including their tragic past, providing more context for Jim killing one of Spanish Jackie’s husbands—Alfeo De La Vaca—before the events of the series.
As we see in episode 7, as a young child, Jim saw their brother and father killed by De La Vaca and his gang—the Siete Gallos (translated to the “seven roosters”)—on their Saint Augustine orange farm. Raised by a strict, vengeful nun, Jim is then turned into a merciless killing machine in order to exact Kill Bill-style revenge against those who wronged their family.
Facing shame from this maternal nun at having only killed a single member of the gang, Jim resolves to leave The Revenge until they’ve dispatched every remaining member of the Gallos out there, leading to an emotional goodbye between them and Oluwande, who finally admits his romantic feelings towards Jim.
Episode 7’s focus on Jim is what makes it worth watching (if it were just Stede and Blackbeard’s treasure hunt alone, I would honestly say the episode was just filler). The series has hinted that Jim would play a fairly prominent role in the overall series, though the introduction and emphasis on Blackbeard’s storyline relegated Jim to a minor supporting role.
This episode does a great job bringing them back to the forefront, explaining their motivations, what their life was like before the events of the show, the complicated relationship they have with Oluwande, and what they plan to do in the future—all elements that give Jim’s character more depth.
The episode’s ending also helps set up the events of the coming season finale, as we see Spanish Jackie and Izzy Hands meet with Admiral Badminton, all three antagonists collaborating on how to best capture The Revenge and/or kill Stede.
Interestingly, the romance between Jim and Oluwande isn’t the only one depicted in the two new episodes of Our Flag Means Death. As mentioned previously, the show has begun to hint at a potential romance existing between Stede and Blackbeard. In episode 7, as they briefly camp in the midst of their treasure hunt, Stede helps Blackbeard pick food out of his beard, prompting Lucius to incredulously say, “Oh my god, this is happening.”
It may seem a mere comical throwaway line at first—Lucius mistaking Blackbeard and Stede’s interactions for something more than it is—but in episode 8, the possibility of a budding romantic angle between the two becomes more and more likely.
In episode 8, “We Gull Way Back,” viewers are introduced to an old shipmate and close friend of Blackbeard’s, “Calico” Jack Rackham (another historical buccaneer active during the Golden Age of Piracy, played here by Will Arnett). Arnett has always been great playing a jerk—having made his career playing the same kinds of awkward, idiotic, selfish characters who is too egocentric to realize or even care how much everyone hates him (BoJack Horseman, Arrested Development)—and here, he’s no different.
Arnett’s Jack appears in a role we've seen in other series before: the old friend from a character’s more rebellious past who brings out the worst in others (he’s like the Todd Packer of the 1700s’ Caribbean). Almost instantly upon his arrival, Jack immediately drives a wedge between Stede and Blackbeard, testing their friendship by generally being a poor influence on Blackbeard and the other Revenge crew members.
After days of heavy drinking, blowing things up, and performing either cruel or dangerous activities (whipping one another for fun, hurling cocoanuts full force at each other’s heads, jumping from the main masts of the ship, even forcing a turtle to fight a crab to the death), Stede finally has enough of Jack’s presence on board, ordering him to leave after he kills Buttons’ close friend, an intelligent seagull named Karl.
Jack departs from the ship, joined by a reluctant Blackbeard, who admits to owing Jack his life. Near the end of the episode, however, Jack’s presence on The Revenge is revealed to have been orchestrated by Izzy Hands, who wanted Blackbeard at a safe distance away from the ship when Admiral Badminton’s fleet attacked Stede and the crew. Hearing this and realizing his old friend’s betrayal, Blackbeard swims back to The Revenge just as Badminton arrives and captures the ship.
I wouldn’t be mentioning all of this if it weren’t important for two key reasons: one, it shows the kind of person Blackbeard was before meeting Stede (the same reckless, dangerous, uncaring, selfish drunk as Jack), showing how much he’s changed for the better with Stede; and two, Jack’s role in the series helps illustrate the continuing possibility that Blackbeard and Stede may have romantic feelings for each other.
As we’ve seen so far in the series, Stede and Blackbeard clearly care for one another—with Stede notably concerned with the negative influence Jack is having on Blackbeard. The arguments they have in the episode, though, resemble more closely the kind of argument a couple would have than a casual spat between friends.
After Blackbeard leaves with Jack, his falling out with Stede is depicted more as a breakup than as the platonic loss of a friend. A devastated Stede watches Blackbeard from afar with his spyglass, much like a person looking at an ex’s social media account right after a breakup, with Lucius helping Stede recoup from the loss and make a clean break from the relationship.
Again, this could be more played out for laughs than it is hinting at a more serious relationship between Stede and Blackbeard. However, the show sprinkles in a few more serious hints here and there teasing a romantic angle between the two. At one point, Jack even says to Stede that he and Blackbeard “had our dalliances” together. Did Jack say this just to get inside Stede’s head, or did he and Blackbeard actually have a sexual relationship sometime in the past?
The answer may be unknown, but with how inclusive and sensitive the show has been in its depiction of LGBTQIA+ characters and relationships, there’s no doubt that—should a romance actually exist between Blackbeard and Stede—the series will handle it appropriately and in good taste.
Hopefully (and very likely) this will be answered next week, along with the reveal regarding what Admiral Badminton has in store for the captured Stede, Blackbeard, and the crew of The Revenge who are now under his control.
The season finale of Our Flag Means Death will air on HBO Max next Thursday, March 24.
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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Image Credit: HBO Max.