When trying to describe Black Sails to a friend, I ultimately ended up saying it was Game of Thrones with pirates. Of course, the plots are entirely different from each other, but it was an effective way of summing up the tone and content of the series. Blood, violence, sex and swearing – plus literally never knowing which character will die next – seems to be a common trait across the two shows.
It took me two attempts to watch Black Sails. The first time, I spread the episodes out too much so by the time I watched the next, I had become detached from the characters, confused as to who was where and who knew what. Having enjoyed what I had seen, however, I tried again. This time, I watched them in quick succession and found myself gripped.
Flint (Toby Stephens) is a pirate with dreams. He wants to lead his crew to a better place and is prepared to do whatever it takes in order to secure that. Eleanor Guthrie (Hannah New) is the money behind his plans, running a trade for the pirates and shipping their goods for them. But not everyone is convinced by their plan and will stop at nothing in order to ensure they fail. However, Flint is not a man who believes in the word no and will risk everything in order to ensure he gets his prize – even if his reasons aren’t made clear.
At only eight episodes long, the pace moves quickly. So do the characters – no one is safe. While it made it harder to relate to the characters – eight episodes isn’t long to feel for someone when there is every chance they could be the next body – it works effectively. There were a few surprise deaths that left me shocked because I did not see it coming. Anything that can shock you in such a way you gasp out loud has to mean the show is doing something right.
However, it wasn’t all blood and death. Luke Arnold’s portrayal of John Silver is charming and charismatic. He might be one of the biggest troublemakers, but he is easily one of the most likeable characters – mainly due to his way of squirming out of the most impossible situations and his eternal optimism. Zach McGowan as the complex Charles Vane also is effective at manipulating the audience’s sympathy, as is Tom Hooper with providing a refreshing sense of innocence through his character, Billy Bones.
While I wouldn’t recommend it as one to watch over dinner, I would recommend watching if you can stomach some gore and are not offended by nudity or swearing. I wasn’t sure how much I had enjoyed it, until I realised I was looking forward to seeing the next series. If something keeps you gripped, that has to mean they have done it well, even if I can’t put my finger exactly on what is so good. Perhaps the uncertainty – there aren’t many shows where you have no chance of predicting what is next.