HBO is no stranger to hit comedies like Barry or The Righteous Gemstones, and their new pirate series Our Flag Means Death is another addition to that great lineup. Created by David Jenkins, the series stars Rhys Darby as 18th century aristocrat Stede Bonnet, who decided to leave his life of luxury and become a pirate. He’s not exactly the best at it, though, but the antics of he and his crew eventually mean they cross paths with Blackbeard, as played by Taika Waititi.
The show is based pretty loosely on Stede’s real life exploits, and has become notable for being having queer representation, with an openly gay pirate in Nathan Foad’s Lucius and Vico Ortiz’s nonbinary pirate, Jim. Much like with Starz’s Black Sails, the representation has helped the show build up a fanbase that’s become enamored with the show as it’s released new episodes over the month of March. In particular, the queerness on display in the finale got everyone’s attention, and Jenkins, along with Darby and Waititi, talked to Entertainment Weekly about the queerness that serves as the backbone of the show.
During the course of the season, Stede and Blackbeard’s relationship grows as the two pirates come to have a mutual respect for the other and their various quirks. If you know your romance tropes, you know exactly where this is going as Stede teaches Blackbeard to use silverware, and Blackbeard teaches Stede how to be a swashbuckling pirate. It all comes to a head in the penultimate episode, “Act of Grace,” where the two pirates confess their feelings for one another and kiss on the beach. For Jenkins, the blooming romance between the two was an initial part of his pitch to HBO, and he called it “the reason to make the show...I first started reading about Stede and how he befriended Blackbeard and we don’t know why. Very quickly, it was like, ‘Oh, it’s a romance.’”
Darby and Waititi, who’ve been friends and worked together for years, were both drawn in by the “opposites attract” energy of their characters. Waititi explained how Blackbeard’s attraction stemmed from Stede’s desire to abandon his upbringing, calling it “a very crazy and adventurous thing to do...Blackbeard’s looking for adventure in his life because he’s seen it all.”
As for Stede, Darby said his character found those feelings straight away, in part because the pirate represented the freedom he couldn’t find in aristocracy with his wife and kids. “Stede is discovering what he’s searching for. It’s not just adventure, it’s to feel something.” He expanded on these thoughts with Decider, saying that the show perfectly captures different levels of being in love. “All you want to wish for is just to be around people that let you be yourself and you let them be themselves...The end of love, I think, is loving oneself. And if you don’t have that, then it is hard to move on from that point.”
Like with any romance, things aren’t as cut and dry for Stede and Blackbeard now that they’ve professed their love for each other. During the finale, “Wherever You Go, There You Are,” Stede travels back home to set things straight (well, not that straight) with his wife Mary (Claudia O’Doherty). But he can’t ignore the call of the sea, and his heart, and wants to go back to Blackbeard, who’s since gone back to being cutthroat and ruthless now that he’s nursing a broken heart.
What remains to be seen about Our Flag Means Death is if it’ll secure a second season to explore the fallout of Blackbeard and Stede’s relationship. If that does happen, Jenkins told Decider that he’s very much interested in the “romcom-ness” of the pairing. “What happens after a breakup between these two people who, one’s realized he’s in love and the other one is hurt in a way that he’s never been hurt before?” asked Jenkins. “What does that do to each of them in an action, pirate world with them trying to find each other again?” Hopefully the show gets plenty of time to let its love story set sail and explore the open seas.
Our Flag Means Death’s full first season is available now on HBO Max.
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