The final two episodes of Our Flag Means Death arrived this morning on HBO Max, and I can’t think of a more satisfactory ending to what has continuously been such an unexpectedly enjoyable story, complete with so many plot twists and character developments. The epic conclusion to season one was meditative, somber, at times shocking, and probably contained some of the funniest moments on the show so far—as well as some of the most serious.
It was, in short, everything you might hope a season finale to a comedy series would be: ending on a cliffhanger, concluding several plotlines, and illustrating just how dramatically nearly every main character on the show has changed in the course of the show thus far.
Perhaps the biggest, best plot thread that is finally addressed is Stede and Blackbeard’s feelings for one another. Over the past few episodes, the show has been gradually hinting at a potential romance existing between the two rather than a simple platonic friendship.
By episode nine, “Act of Grace,” we see that it’s official—Blackbeard and Stede do indeed love each other, and are far more than just simple friends. After Blackbeard saves Stede’s life in the opening moments of episode nine, invoking King George I’s Act of Grace policy (an official decree that any pirate who abandons his criminal ways and swears to serve in the Royal Navy will be granted full amnesty by the King), the two men officially join the service as would-be recruits.
Several times during their recruitment process into the Royal Navy, Stede expresses his uncertainty about their actions, asking Blackbeard if he has any plans on how to escape. Blackbeard, however, appears unwilling to leave the camp at first, saying that joining the Navy is really their only option.
While it may seem that Blackbeard is giving into a defeatist viewpoint at first, in actuality, he’s only doing this for Stede’s sake—without his joining the Navy alongside Stede, Stede would’ve been shot. He doesn’t want to endanger Stede’s life anymore by running away and having the Navy chasing after them, appearing content to stay with Stede and form a new life for themselves in the Royal Navy (he even shaves off his signature beard to show how serious he is about starting fresh with Stede in a telling act of commitment for their future together).
It may seem that Blackbeard is only doing this because he cares for Stede as a friend, but the reveal comes midway through “Act of Grace,” when Stede and Blackbeard sit on a beach, discussing how much fun they’ve had over the past several weeks together before eventually sharing a passionate kiss.
The gradual build to this reveal was made all the more sweet when you look back and consider how long it’s taken these two to admit their feelings for one another. Initially, you’re led to believe they simply admire one another for their vastly different lifestyles and personalities, not even considering the fact that they are actually attracted to each other on a deeper, more romantic level.
But looking back at all the interactions they’ve shared, you begin to realize the romance has always been there—no matter how subtle—making their kiss in episode nine feel organic and natural—not forced or out-of-left-field at all. It’s a relationship that’s been building since even before Blackbeard’s introduction, and I really can’t compliment the show enough for how well it pulled the entire thing off. (For that, I say well done to the showrunners at Our Flag Means Death, and also to Rhys Darby and Taika Waititi for their amazing onscreen chemistry together.)
Though Blackbeard and Stede admitting their feelings for one another is the biggest focal point of these new episodes, how they react and come to terms with those feelings on an individual basis is more fully explored in episodes nine and ten of Our Flag Means Death.
When Blackbeard queues Stede into his idea that they run away together, living in anonymity and under assumed alias far from the Caribbean, Stede appears receptive to the idea at first. However, his old life (the aristocratic one he shared with Mary, and his guilt over leaving her behind) prevents him from completely moving on. Because of this, Stede decides to venture back to Barbados, reuniting with Mary and his kids. And just as he had done previously when he left Mary, he avoids telling Blackbeard of this plan, leaving the pirate on his own, waiting anxiously but excitedly for Stede so that they can begin their new life together.
It’s the fallout from Stede’s actions that is the main focus of the series finale, “Wherever You Go, There You Are.” Divided into two storylines—Stede in Barbados with Mary, Blackbeard with the remainder of the crew aboard The Revenge—the episode details their differing reactions to Stede’s running away, as well as the consequences of his abandoning Mary and his family to become a pirate in the first place.
As we see in the opening moments of the episode, Mary has almost completely moved on from her marriage with Stede. She’s worked hard building a successful and artistically rewarding career as a painter (something Stede was never very supportive of), her relationship with her kids has improved, she is part of a close-knit community of friends (fellow widows who believe in carrying along and enjoying life rather than wallowing in grief), and has even found a new lover in the form of Doug (Tim Heidecker), her painting instructor.
In many ways, she couldn’t be happier being “The Widow Bonnet,” which is of course threatened by the reappearance of Stede, who almost instantly tries slipping back into Mary’s life as though he never left, causing an instant and obvious rift between the two.
To be fair, Mary has absolutely every right to be upset with Stede, both by his abandonment and his sudden return. Unlike Stede, she actually tried to make their marriage work, even though they clearly didn’t love each other. And then, instead of facing Mary with his intention to leave, Stede simply left in the middle of the night, leaving a simple, unsentimental letter behind as a way of explanation.
That right there is a just enough cause for anyone to be rightfully pissed, but Mary’s worked hard to move on and make the best of a bad situation, creating a life she’s always dreamed of having but would never have achieved with Stede. And now that Stede’s back, this current, personally satisfying life is threatened.
Stede and Mary’s interactions are a key focus throughout “Wherever You Go, There You Are.” While things are obviously tense between the two at first, eventually they reconcile things, culminating in one of the most touching moments of the show’s first season. Laying their feelings plainly on the table, they share a frank discussion about their failed marriage and why they, as a couple, would’ve never worked—but touchingly, they’re not bitter or angry with each other about their marriage. They’re more remorseful, reflecting that they truly never wanted to cause each other any pain, but, as Mary puts it, “just can’t stop hurting each other” whenever they’re together.
The talk makes Stede realize just how much he misses and cares for Blackbeard, prompting him to leave Barbados for good on amicable, friendly terms with Mary and his children, who help him stage his death so that they’re left behind with his vast wealth and property as inheritance. It’s a cathartic moment, complete with Stede not only fully realizing how strong his feelings for Blackbeard are, but also allowing him to finally move past his guilt over leaving his family behind and begin a new phase in his life (one where he isn’t plagued by shame over his actions, as he was shown to be throughout this first season).
While Stede spends his time on Barbados, Blackbeard languishes over Stede’s abandonment, taking it incredibly hard. He spends his first days at sea hiding in his cabin, crying in his pillow fort, wandering around the decks in Stede’s robes, and writing depressing songs that begin with “Hanging on … by a thread” and end with “Life’s a hard, sad death, and then you’re deadddddddd.”
Blackbeard’s reaction to Stede leaving him ushers in a new version of Blackbeard we’ve never seen before, a man who is vulnerable, emotional, and deeply in pain and with no clear way how to get over it. Like everyone going through a breakup, he is directionless and sorrowful, much to the frustration of Izzy Hands (who’s rejoined the crew by episode 10, having been spared by Blackbeard for his treachery in aiding the British).
Feeling despondent by Stede’s abandonment at first, Blackbeard’s emotions eventually give way to anger—then, pure, unfiltered, chaotic hatred bordering on insanity. Shockingly, he throws Lucius overboard, leaving him for dead (there is a possibility Lucius survived somehow, perhaps by swimming to a nearby island or being picked up by a passing ship), cuts off Izzy’s toe and feeds it to him, and reverts back to the older, near sociopathic version of Blackbeard in lieu of the fun-loving rogue we’d seen paired with Stede.
It’s a character change that is justified (tons of people end up hating their exes, after all), and also illustrates just how deeply Blackbeard cared for Stede. As he tells Stede on the beach, he’s felt truly happy for the first time in years with Stede. He poured his heart out to Stede—the first man he’s ever opened to in such an intimate way—invited him to hold a significant place in his life, and Stede rebuked him. He’s hurt and angry and feels rejected, making his reaction (though extreme) valid and earned.
The finale draws to a close with Stede parting ways with Mary and heading back to sea, searching for Blackbeard and The Revenge. Blackbeard, meanwhile, has rid himself of everything that reminds him of Stede, casting his books and possessions into the ocean, and even leaving most of the crew marooned on a small island, sailing away with Izzy, an unconscious Jim (who’s returned to the ship and has reciprocated their feelings with Oluwande, with the two officially becoming an item), and Frenchie (who Blackbeard keeps aboard as a reluctant crewman/prisoner because he can sew [Blackbeard redesigns his flag to resemble the jolly roger reportedly flown by the real-life Blackbeard—adding in the famous “pierced heart” element shown on the flag).
In all, I really can’t emphasize how enjoyable the season one finale to Our Flag Means Death was. Not only was the comedy on point—no exaggeration, I honestly feel these episodes were the funniest yet, containing plenty of literal laugh-out-loud moments—the episodes were also surprisingly emotional in their depiction of Stede and Blackbeard’s romance and the fallout from their unofficial breakup. It also showed how much their individual characters have changed over the course of the season. (Stede is now a much more hardened, confident, street-savvy pirate who’s able to think quickly on his feet, and Blackbeard has gone from bored pirate, to goofy co-captain/best friend, to Stede’s prospective lover, all the way to the unhinged, demonic, historical version of Blackbeard that haunts maritime history books, coming full circle.)
Even Stede’s crew—who openly voiced their desire to mutiny and kill Stede in episode one and who now go out of their way to protect him from being shot by the British—have changed drastically over the course of the season, as have their feelings towards their captain.
Like any new comedy series, Our Flag Means Death seemed to have taken some time finding its voice a bit in its first season—the earliest episodes may be a tad slow or uneven when you look back, namely regarding Jim’s backstory and mission of revenge against the Sieto Gallos that seemed a main focus in one episode, but was hardly touched upon in the next.
Seeing the finished season as a whole, though, I really can’t compliment Our Flag Means Death enough and express how well executed it’s been—especially that slowly-building romance between Blackbeard and Stede.
There were the occasional slight hiccups here and there, but the end product was enjoyable, fresh, and certainly original in its comedy and narrative possibilities. I only hope it isn’t too long before we receive a second season.
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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.
Image Credit: HBO Max.