Series: Black Sails

A pirate's life for me.

Black Sails is a historical drama airing on Starz, produced by Michael Bay (but don't let that deter you) and created by Jon Steinberg and Robert Levine. A prequel to Treasure Island, the series focuses on Captain Flint, his allies and his rivals during the Golden Age of piracy. It's meant to be a good deal Darker and Edgier than Pirates of the Caribbean and its like, and take up the mantle of Starz's signature show after Spartacus reached its end.

The series became extremely buzzy after the airing of the pilot at Comic Con, and thus was given a second season order well before the first began. A third season is expected to air in January, 2016.


Tropes:

  • Action Girl: Eleanor Guthrie is not a fighter, but she's not afraid to threaten seasoned pirates with a shotgun.
  • Anti-Hero: It's a show about pirates, so there's no traditional hero. Our protagonists are all morally questionable at best.
  • Apologetic Attacker:
    • Flint kills Gates, whispering his apologies and looking genuinely distraught while he does it.
    • A variant. When the bulk of his crew is taken from him and his influence is all but destroyed, Charles Vane seeks out his one-time captor Albinus, who has retired from piracy and set his own crew to work harvesting and selling timber. He convinces Albinus to loan him a dozen men, and then plays on the crew's discontent in an attempt to shame the rest into joining him as well. Albinus administers a terrible beating and, just before dealing the coup-de-grace, leans down and tells Vane "I'm proud of you."
  • Artistic Licence History: The show is based on stories of real pirates in and around the real pirate federation in Nassau, but only loosely.
    • The Historical Domain Characters have their backgrounds and stories modified to suit the plot of the show.
    • Some liberties are taken with chronology.
      • Benjamin Hornigold is portrayed as a grizzled old veteran sailor, when in reality, at the time of his death he was just 39 years old.
      • Hornigold apparently knows about the collapse of the Jacobite rebellion and James' flight to France approximately nine months before James even got to Scotland in the first place.
      • Anne Bonny is a key member of Charles Vane's crew, and the lover of his quartermaster Jack Rackham, in 1715. Historically Rackham and Bonny didn't meet until 1718, by which time he was a captain in his own right. She may never have met Vane.
      • The pirate colony seems well established and even beginning to decay in 1715, when in fact it was just getting started.
      • Season 2 features Captain Ned Low as an antagonist; Low's pirating career didn't begin until 1721, and he didn't become a captain until 1722. He also wasn't killed by Charles Vane.
    • Jack Rackham's sunglasses, which he sports in a single scene, are an obvious Rule of Cool.
  • Badass Beard:
    • Flint wouldn't be the same without his waxed 'stache and beard, whereas in Season 2 flashbacks he is a clean-shaven Royal Navy officer
    • Albinus, Vane's former captain, sports a huge one.
  • Bald Black Leader Guy: Mosiah, who seems to speak for a sizable number of the black members of Flint's crew until Captain Vane murders him.
  • Badass Bookworm: Dufresne is the Walrus's nerdy accountant who never participates in combat until he's forced to by Billy. During the fight, he chews through a sailor's neck. Afterwards, he cuts his hair and starts taking a more proactive role in piracy.
  • Batman Gambit: At the end of the pilot, Flint devises such a plan to stop Singleton's attempt to seize captaincy. He notices that someone was in his quarters and must have fiddled with Vazquez's log, so he presents Singleton as the culprit before his crew. He knows that Singleton will choose a duel rather than a trial by the crew. After he kills Singleton, he pretends to find the missing log page on the corpse and hands a blank page to Billy Bones as 'proof'. At this moment, he has no guarantee that Bones will support him since Bones, over the course of a night, has pulled a gun on him, called him out on his crap and openly wondered if Singleton shouldn't be captain. Flint hopes that with Singleton dead, Bones will see no other choice but to lie for him. Flint is correct.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Characters are often seen with scabs and bruises from recent battles, but they all fade eventually, leaving no scars.
  • Birds of a Feather: Flint and Eleanor. Both proud, driven and (most likely) unhinged given their obsession with achieving their goals. They're also The Not-Love Interest to each other, as their reliance on each other makes up the crux of the storyline.
  • Bi the Way: Eleanor, Max, Anne Bonny, Flint and Hamilton. It's getting to the point where Everyone Is Bi
  • Body Horror: The syphilitic pirate whose face is rotting away...
  • Bowdlerize: The preview version has all of the swearing muted and all of the nudity and blood blurred out.
  • Boom, Headshot: A pretty surprising one takes out Miranda.
  • Call Forward: As a prequel to Treasure Island, it has several to the book.
    • John Silver's job on the ship is as ship's cook, much like his position in the novel. In the second season, he loses his leg.
    • Billy Bones is the pirate whom Jim Hawkins gets the treasure map from at the beginning of the book.
  • Camp Straight: Jack Rackham is foppish, not very good in a fight, and more cultured than normal for a pirate, but he's completely straight.
  • Cool Boat: Walrus and Ranger are two major boats in the show. The oddly unnamed Spanish Man o' War is another one, with nearly 100 guns.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Brawls between pirates are all very dirty affairs.
  • Cradling Your Kill: Flint snaps Gates's neck when he goes to reveal Flint's deception to the crew, possibly costing him the Urca. Flint clearly didn't want to kill Gates, but felt he had to. Afterwards, he holds Gates's body and cries because of how much the treasure is costing him.
  • Cruel Mercy: In the first season finale, Vane decides to let Rackham and Bonny live rather than have them killed for killing their own crew-mates. Instead, he'll tell everyone what they did, ensuring no one will ever sail with them again. They'll simply have to run a whorehouse, and never be pirates again.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: In the first season finale. Flint manipulates the Spanish Man o' War into a perfect position to take several volleys of cannon-fire from both the front and aft by the Walrus and the Ranger. The Man o' War takes everything they have, and then simply turns around and blasts both of them to pieces in seconds. Flint knew this would happen, and was trying to disable its rudder to prevent it.
  • Dark Action Girl: Anne Bonny is a pirate who fights alongside her male counterparts.
  • Darker and Edgier: Than more recent pirate fare.
  • Dead Guy on Display: Miranda's corpse is displayed during Flint's trial. The crowd pelts her with rotten fruit.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Jack Rackham, particularly during the negotiation between Flint and Vane.
  • Democracy Is Flawed: Pirate culture is much more liberal and democratic than the authoritarian societies of the civilized world. Pirate crews operate as a democracy, with their leaders elected and any major decisions voted on by all crew members openly. A running theme shows the complications that arise from this. Pirate captains are constantly worried about how to sell their grand plans to their short-sighted and selfish crews. Many schemes are hamstrung or outright ruined because the captains must campaign for the crew's votes. However, the system also prevents captains from becoming tyrannical and forces them to operate within the crew's best interest.
  • Didn't See That Coming/Out-Gambitted: Eleanor Guthrie manages to masterfully create her own empire, with a consortium of captains as her allies. Then in the finale, Vane storms the fort with a consortium of psychos no one even knew about, and manages to ensure he is her top partner.
  • Dirty Coward: The cook on the merchant ship in the beginning episode obviously thinks of John Silver like this, although Silver sees himself as an opportunist. The cook is a hypocrite because he himself is hiding and abstaining from the fighting on the pretext that he is a cook and thus it is not his job to fight.
  • Doomed by Canon: The fates of Historical Domain characters Charles Vane, "Calico" Jack Rackham, and Anne Bonny, assuming the show stays true to history. note  Averted with Ned Low, who was last heard of in 1724 rather than decapitated by Vane in episode "XI."
  • The Dreaded: Charles Vane, captain of the Ranger. Dropping his name and that of his ship provokes an Oh Crap! reaction from another pirate captain.
  • End of an Era: The time for the pirates of New Providence Island is running out. A British warship has arrived in the Caribbean with an arrest warrant for Robert Guthrie. Without a safe haven on the island and the ability to sell their loot through the Guthries, the pirates will not be able to maintain their ships or pay the crews. Flint has predicted this long ago and is pursuing the treasure galleon as a way to raise enough funds to avert or at least manage the coming disaster. Gates supports the plan as One Last Job before he has to give up piracy. Eleanor is about to lose her freedom and independence so she does not hesitate to throw her support behind them.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Anne is introduced carving someone up with her sword and dagger, establishing her as a Dark Action Girl
    • Charles Vane is established in his first scene as a badass pirate captain, but we don't learn how badass he is until a later scene when simply dropping his name makes another captain run away.
    • John Silver is established hiding from a pirate attack and admitting freely that he'd do just about anything to save his own skin.
  • Everyone Is Bi: So far there's Eleanor Guthrie, Max, Anne Bonny, Captain Flint, and Lord Thomas Hamilton.
  • Eye-Obscuring Hat: Anne wears a hat that generally covers half of her face. Because she hardly ever takes it off, it's several episodes before her whole face is shown on screen.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Referenced almost by name. When Captain Vane discovers that his former quartermaster's lover dragged him into a plot to kill the last remaining members of Vane's crew, he decides to let the quartermaster live. After all, everyone already knows he betrayed his sworn brothers because of a woman; the quartermaster will never sail beneath the black again, which Vane reckons will "sting worse than death."
  • Friend in the Black Market: The Guthrie family run the black market in Nassau. Pirates rely on them to fence their stolen bounties.
  • Follow the Leader: Despite its grittier aspirations, it probably wouldn't have been greenlit without the success of Pirates of the Caribbean, which was the first production in a long time to escape the famous curse on pirate-themed films.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The plot of the first season revolves around the crew of the Walrus trying to track down and capture an extremely rich Spanish treasure vessel. This is the same treasure that Treasure Island revolves around, so we know where it's going to end up.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Charles Vane is mercilessly beaten, buried alive, and left for dead. He climbs out of his hole in the dead of night and, naked and covered in mud, stabs Albinus to death and assumes command of his crew.
  • Gambit Roulette: The scheme to capture the treasure galleon is dependent on dozens of different things going right and a single failure can derail everything. Flint lampshades this to Billy when they are chasing the Andromache and he tells him that there is a one-in-three chance at best that they find their prey on the open sea and if they do find it, they have to catch it and then defeat its crew. If they cannot do so, the rest of the plan becomes moot since they need the Andromache's guns.
  • Godzilla Threshold:
    • When Eleanor discovers just how dangerous Ned Low is, she goes to Vance for help even though she knows that his help would come with a large personal and political cost.
    • After being captured and tortured by the captain of the British warship, Billy becomes Flint's biggest supporter. He still despises Flint for his duplicity and causing so many deaths, but he sees Flint's plan as the only way to keep the British from forcefully retaking Nassau and hunting down the pirates.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Anne helps Max induce an abortion after she's impregnated due to being repeatedly raped. It's portrayed sympathetically, even as a touching gesture from Anne, who up to this point hadn't shown a soft side.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Mosiah's black crew mates all seem to have extensive ritual scarring, and support Flint (at least after being bribed by Gates). Singleton challenges Flint's authority and wants to be voted in as captain, and also has many terrible scars across his face. Of course, since they're all pirates (and supporting or opposing Flint doesn't necessarily make one good or evil) this is all rather ambiguous.
  • Guile Hero: John Silver's method of operation.
  • Historical Badass Upgrade:
    • Anne Bonny reportedly held her own in ship combat, but was not accounted as being otherwise special. In the show, however, she's upgraded to a badass, Dual Wielding killing machine.
    • Jack Rackham. In reality he was an infamous drunk who was captured easily by the British because he happened to be passed out in the hold of his ship when the British came upon his ship. His portrayal as a refined, man of cunning is a far cry from the actual man.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Charles Vane, Benjamin Hornigold, "Calico" Jack Rackham, and Anne Bonny. Season 3 adds Blackbeard.
  • Honesty Is the Best Policy: In the season 2 premiere, when Silver and Flint are caught in their attempt to capture the Spanish warship, the officer of the watch offers a reward of gold to whichever one of them will tell him who they are, what they hoped to accomplish, and how many more of them there are. Silver immediately answers all of the above truthfully, collects his gold... and brains the officer with a large bottle as soon as his back is turned.
  • I Owe You My Life: Jack saved Anne from her abusive husband, and since then she's felt that she owes her life to him.
  • Important Haircut: Dufresne crops his tussled hair short to coincide with his general toughening up.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: In episode five, the Walrus's marksman is able to hit with two out of three shots using a black powder rifle, at a range of several hundred yards, from one moving ship to another.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: The Japanese member of the Walrus crew is introduced observing his katana being sharpened. It's implied that his standards of sword sharpness are far beyond standard.
  • The Lad-ette: Definitely Anne Bonny, and Eleanor to a degree.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: Flint is this to Vane. Vane is this to Ned Low, who exists primarily to show that yes, there are pirates considerably worse than Charles Vane, which helps to swing Vane's growing status as an anti-villain.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: The foppish, intellectual Rackham and the gruff brawler Anne.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Subverted by the Goliath. Jack points out that it's named after the greatest disappointment in the history of warfare.
  • Nerd Glasses: Dufresne wears spectacles, establishing him as the nerdy accountant in the beginning of the show. Subverted when he Took a Level in Badass; he still wears the glasses because he, you know, needs them to see.
  • Not So Safe Harbour: Nassau.
  • Oh Crap!:
    • Flint and the crew of the Walrus as the giant Spanish man'o'war prepares to unleash a fifty-gun broadside on their ship.
    • Rackham and Anne, twice. First when they hear someone has taken over the fort with them very much suspecting who was responsible, and than when Vane shows up in the brothel.
    • A minor pirate who runs afoul of Charles Vane has this reaction upon learning who Vane is.
  • Outlaw Couple: Rackham and Anne, in line with their historical backgrounds.
  • Only Sane Man: Billy Bones and Gates support Flint but think his plan is somewhat crazy. Mr. Scott fills a similar role for Eleanor, trying to discourage her from loaning money to Gates because pirates are a poor investment.
  • Pet the Dog: Anne relates how Jack Rackham killed her abusive husband after watching her being beaten.
  • Plot Armor: As long as the series treats Treasure Island as canon, any characters named in the book will have this until the book says otherwise.
  • Rape as Drama: Max is raped by one of Vane's crewmen, but since it happens when she's being taken away by Rackham to be murdered, this actually saves her life. He rapes her again the next episode.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil:
    • Hamund is established as a particularly horrible bastard by the fact that he makes a point to rape Max, despite having just been told she'll make it more enjoyable if it's consensual.
    • When Vane takes Abigail hostage he warns her guard in veiled but clear terms that she's not to be raped.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Even after escaping Charles Town, Flint continues to shell it in retribution for Ashe's betrayal of him and Miranda.
  • Rule of Cool:
    • Jack Rackham's hipster sunglasses, making him look even more like a pirate Nick Cave.
    • The presence of a samurai on the Walrus crew.
    • Captain Flint's signature, very modern-looking black leather coat.
  • Setting Update: A rare reverse example, in that it pushes the setting of Treasure Island BACK in time. Word of God is that the show begins about twenty years before the timeframe of the novel - which would place the events of Treasure Island about 1735; the book is in fact set in 1760 (it's understandable that they'd want to bring in all the famous pirates who were around in the 1710s, though.)
  • They Really Do Love Each Other: Anne Bonny and Jack Rackham's Odd Couple relationship has its ups and downs, but it always comes back to them declaring their devotion to each other.
  • A Threesome Is Hot: Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny and Max. Given the love triangle, it's apparently a bad idea for all involved. After the first time, Max notes that Jack completely ignored her, since he's only interested in Anne. The second time, Jack and Max start to enjoy each other, which makes Anne jealous, though she quickly admits she shouldn't be.
  • Threesome Subtext: Captain Flint, Miranda and her husband. Each has been intimate with the other two, though not necessarily at the same time.
  • Torture Always Works: Defied. John Silver stats, “Torture won't work. I have an extremely low tolerance for pain. I'll say anything to make it stop.”
  • Twice Told Tale: The show is a prequel to Treasure Island, following the posthumous character Captain Flint and featuring John Silver and Billy Bones as young men.
  • The Voiceless: The Japanese pirate has yet to speak. It's not clear how much English he even knows.
  • Would Hit a Girl: After Eleanor punches him, Vane floors her with a right cross. The conversation that follows makes it clear that this was necessary to maintain his authority with his crew, but he shows absolutely no hesitation or regret.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness:
    • John Silver refuses to tell Flint the Urca's entire course, convinced Flint will kill him if he does. When Flint points out he could do that once they do capture the Urca, Silver comments he's hoping "they'll be friends by that point". Ultimately Silver proves useful to Eleanor, so she tells Flint she expects Silver to survive.
    • As of the end of episode 7, the crew, headed by Dufresne, the new quartermaster, decide to kill Flint after the Urca's prize is captured. This is shared with Mr. Gates, who, in light of his recent misgivings with the captain, consents to the plan.