10 reasons why Black Sails didn’t deserve to sail through obscurity


Get ready for a period drama about pirates that’s rife with LGBTQIA+ characters, formidable female leaders, and brilliant Shakespearean-esque dialogue.

Black Sails took to the seven seas in 2014, living out its tenure on Starz. I stumbled upon it in 2017, shortly before its final season premiered. Initially, I was skeptical. I took note of Michael Bay being given a producer credit. I started having unpleasant flashbacks of the one Transformers movie I watched that one time in some theater 10 years ago. However, after delving into research (the due diligence of any writer) and digging up a plethora of positive reviews, I decided to give Black Sails a shot.

Now, I was far from disappointed. I was enthralled by the story that unfolded before me. I was captivated by the visceral and heart-wrenching performances from the series’ leads. Black Sails is a pirate tale at face value, but if you peel back the layers, you’ll uncover more priceless treasure: a story about grappling with one’s inner darkness. A story about the world wagging its finger in judgement…a world that still discriminates to this day. A story that poses a question: Is it possible for a person’s environment to shape them or vice versa?

And, as if the aforementioned isn’t incentive enough for you to watch a show about pirates, perhaps the following reasons will win you over.

LGBTQIA+ representation 

A large portion of the main characters in Black Sails belong to the LGBTQIA+ community. This is a rarity in costume dramas. Now, I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot, but the two top-billed leads play a gay man and a bisexual woman. How awesome is that? Seeing that kind of representation in a story that takes place 300 years ago is gratifying.

And that’s not to mention the fact that they bend all sorts of gender norms. A gay man who’s a pirate is still a formidable pirate. His inherent “masculinity” is unaffected by who he loves. There’s women who love women, and women who love both men and women. Here’s to hoping representation continues to climb in not only period dramas, but the scope of television as a whole.

The acting 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t gush over the award-worthy performances in Black Sails — namely, its leading man, Toby Stephens. Fun fact: He is the son of Dame Maggie Smith and Sir Robert Stephens, so he’s acting royalty. He brings the convoluted Captain Flint to life with equal parts ferocity and vulnerability. He is the personification of the duality of man. Your heart breaks for him, and with him. Luke Arnold and Toby Schmitz are exceptionally talented folks as well, and I hope their stars continue to rise.

Women rule in Nassau 

Seriously, every single female player in this story is ruthless, tenacious, and immensely clever. That includes major and minor players alike. Essentially, men are the “face” of their respective endeavors, while women pull the strings behind the scenes. So many instances occurred where a woman is purposefully ignored by a man to his detriment. Later, he learns the hard way that the woman was right all along.

We see women physically duel aboard pirate ships, women running commerce in Nassau, women running brothels, and women essentially governing Nassau while a man takes the credit. The latter might not be ideal, but it’s a harsh reality that women have had to face. In short, the ladies rule. They’re unapologetic and unstoppable.

A story of minorities uniting against their oppressors 

At one point (again, not to give too much away), Nassau’s pirates team up with slaves to fend off England’s oppressive rule. We see slaves stand tall and say “enough is enough.” We see them break free of their chains and remind the New World that they’re human. Their worth is priceless. One remote colony comprised of people of color is led by a powerful woman and her brilliant daughter who play a vital role in the fight against England. It’s inspirational. It’s crucial. It paints a raw portrait of the turmoil faced by minorities then and now.

The action 

If you’re a fan of sword fights and hand-to-hand combat, then Black Sails is right up your alley. The fight choreography for this show deserves a heaping helping of awards. Of course, a show about pirates wouldn’t be complete without some swashbuckling action. Not to mention, there are some pretty gory death scenes. One in particular made my skin crawl so much that I had to look away, and I’m not one easily perturbed by graphic imagery. Game of Thrones who?

The score 

Bear McCreary, the composer for Black Sails, is easily one of my favorite contemporary composers for TV and film. From Battlestar Galactica to Da Vinci’s Demons, McCreary has a knack for crafting musical numbers that tug at the heartstrings and stir one to riot in equal measure. In my humble opinion, Black Sails has a better opening credits sequence than Game of Thrones, and that’s saying a lot. Of course, McCreary’s rollicking theme song plays a vital part in that.

Exploration of important themes 

I touched on this earlier, but this series is a wellspring of metaphor and crucial themes. You really get the best of both worlds: action/adventure and philosophical thinking. Flint spends the majority of the series struggling to satiate the “beast” within, especially when the world turns its back on him over and over again. He loses his grip on humanity, and finds it easier to feed the devil inside him than maintain a moral code.

Grappling with inner darkness is something most of the characters struggle with throughout the show’s tenure. It’s a relevant issue that we all face to this day. Secondly, the show delves into whether we allow our environment to shape us, or if we shape the world around us. For example: Does Flint become a product of Nassau, or is Nassau the result of Flint’s struggle to quell his beast? Watch the show and find out for yourselves, folks!

Real-life pirates on the show 

The most notable of the real-life pirates that appear on Black Sails is Edward Teach aka Blackbeard. Yes, they brought out the big guns. Other major players include main characters John “Calico Jack” Rackham and Anne Bonny. The latter is based off the real Anne Bonny, who was an Irish pirate and one of the most formidable fighters in the Golden Age of Piracy.

Charles Vane, Woodes Rogers, and Benjamin Hornigold also existed in real life. Meanwhile, Captain Flint, John Silver, and Billy Bones are characters from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Fun fact: The series takes place two decades prior to the events in Treasure Island.

Shakespearean-esque dialogue 

If you’re a writer, then you have an Achilles’ heel: good writing. For me, it’s poignant dialogue in a well-written TV show. Black Sails delivers on the brilliant lines and then some. Captain Flint reminds me of a Shakespearean villain, and his monologues are definitely reminiscent of the Bard’s works.

"They paint the world full of shadows, and then tell their children to stay close to the light. Their light. Their reasons, their judgments. Because in the darkness, there be dragons. But it isn’t true. We can prove that it isn’t true. In the dark there is discovery. There is possibility. There is freedom in the dark when someone has illuminated it. And who has been so close as we are right now?"

The above quote is from the series finale, courtesy of Flint. To me, it encapsulates the heart of Black Sails — not to mention, it’s a beautifully crafted piece of dialogue delivered by the incomparable Toby Stephens. It’s also a stark reminder that the world wishes to craft us in its image, but we must stand resolute in who we are. Be who we are.

The story lines 

Don’t worry, Black Sails isn’t all heavy-handed imagery and fight sequences. There’s a story arc about chasing gold. There’s another thread about the rise of Long John Silver, and how he loses his leg. And there’s another about a harlot’s rise to power and how she shapes Nassau’s future. The series includes plenty of rolls in the hay and romantic entanglements, if that’s your thing. Essentially, this series has something for everyone to enjoy.

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Black Sails Seasons 1-4 are now streaming on Hulu. Sound off in the comments below with your reason for watching Black Sails, or if you’re just a die-hard fan wanting to express your love. We’re all fans here, after all.