Friday, February 3, 2017

The True Conflict Emerges on “Black Sails”

The final season of Black Sails on Starz looks to be as good as its predecessors, though I was struck by how quickly the fortunes turned for our favorite pirates.

At the end of Season 3, Silver and Flint had pulled off a massacre of Woodes Rogers’ British fleet with the help of Madi’s legion of freed slaves. Meanwhile, they had hidden the chest with the Urca’s treasure, with only Flint, Silver, and Jack Rackham knowing were it’s buried. While in Nassau, Billy Bones stoked the fearsome legend of Long John Silver to cow the rest of the pirates into opposing Rogers and the Brits. 

Yet twenty minutes in the premiere of Season 4, everything goes to hell. The Walrus is destroyed, Flint, Madi, and what remains of their crew are forced to flee in longboats, and Billy’s warning about the ambush that awaited Flint in Nassau somehow never was delivered. By the episode’s end, Silver is left for dead on the beach, and Black Beard is willing to abandon the pirates’ cause so long as Rogers surrenders Eleanor, whom Black Beard blames for the death of Charles Vane. All of which throws a huge wrench in Jack’s and Anne Bonny’s plans to make a new home in reclaimed Nassau.

While I was surprised at how quickly things deteriorated, the episode did a fantastic job of setting up the fundamental conflict that should lead to the series’ end and the beginning of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. It’s all about the secret location of the buried Urca treasure. Yes, the same treasure, I believe, that Doctor Livesey, Squire Trelawny, and young Jim Hawkins set out to search for in Stevenson’s classic tale.

The conflict emerges in the scene where Billy warns Flint that he’s no longer in charge of the pirates of Nassau:
“I prepared these men to follow Long John Silver upon his return,” Billy tells Flint. “Now if you assume in his absence that role reverts to you, then you assume wrong. See, my men know your name, but you’re not the one that recruited them into this. You weren’t the one that led them into those midnight raids in the western plantations. You weren’t the one who has lived with them, and drank with them, and bled with them. So in the absence of Long John Silver, the men will look to me, not you, for answers to what happens next. And I will be the one to give them those answers. Not you.”
In response, Flint plays the only card he has: “You’re forgetting one thing. Somewhere on an island a few days journey from here is a chest filled with treasure buried in a secret place. And of the three men who know of that place, I may be the last one alive after today.”
That’s when Billy reveals how important that treasure is: “Are you threatening to withhold the location of the chest that every man here has counted upon to provide for Nassau’s treasury once we secure it? Solely so you can maintain your status here?”
Which is exactly what Flint is doing: “There is an unthinkable victory within reach. And I will see this through with whatever means I have at my disposal.”
But that’s when Madi drops a bomb: Silver entrusted her with the treasure’s secret too. And so long as she know this, she vows: “There will be no pirate king here. Of that much, I am certain.”
This fundamental conflict promises to grow throughout the season, and consume most of the main characters before it’s done. After all, Black Sails began as a prequel to Treasure Island, and has slowly been moving toward the beginning of that novel. Somehow, Billy Bones is going to get his hands on that secret. And I won’t be surprised if we see him shuffling up to the common room of The Admiral Benbow before season’s end.

* Images courtesy of Starz and Rotten Tomatoes.


Bill said...

So would you think Black Sails will become a new take on Treasure Island or just end?

Joseph Finley said...

Bill, thanks for the comments. I've been travelling, so I apologize for the late response. Starz has announced that this is the final season of Black Sails, so I predict the show will end with Billy Bones heading to the Admiral Benbow . . .