I accidentally stumbled upon Starz’s Black Sails shortly after its first season finished in 2014. The show had a lot of things going for it. First and foremost, pirates. Obviously, late seventeenth-century Caribbean pirates have been a favorite genre for fiction for centuries, but the times they’re done well have been frustratingly few and far between. Obviously, Disney’s take on the subject started out well, even if Johnny Depp and company have decided to beat that horse to death. But this show was different, right from the start. It’s dirty and gritty and bloody, just as living in that time and place would have been.
(I should note here before I get any further: Black Sails is most definitely entertainment for adults. I wouldn’t recommend watching it with your kids, no matter how interested they may be in the the Golden Age of Piracy, any more than I would suggest that you watch Game of Thrones with your dragon-obsessed kids.)
As I watched that first episode, though, I started to notice more than a few names I vaguely recognized. In particular, some small part of my brain was registering the names Captain Flint (played to perfection in the show by Toby Stephens) and Billy Bones (also performed wonderfully by Tom Hopper.) Those two names should have been enough, but it wasn’t until Luke Arnold’s character got introduced as one John Silver that I fully realized that I was watching a prequel to Treasure Island.
The show is essentially the story of how Flint got the treasure in the first place. But that could have been done in a single movie. Instead, the show goes much, much deeper, focusing on the relationships not just between Flint, Silver, and Bones, but also the men and women around them. And it delves quite deeply into what had to have been the extremely complicated relationships between the pirates and the locals living on the islands from which they were based.
The show’s producers have also added into a mix a wealth of historical pirates, firmly placing the events of Treasure Island in the real world. By far the most famous pirate to appear in the show is Edward “Blackbeard” Teach (played by Ray Stevenson), but those more well versed in pirate lore will recognize the names of Anne Bonny (Clara Paget), Charles Vane (Zach McGowan), Benjamin Hornigold (Patrick Lyster), and Jack Rackham (Toby Schmitz). The show also stars Hannah New and Jessica Parker Kennedy in entirely fictional roles.
The fourth and final season of Black Sails premiered on Starz this past Sunday. The premiere, which Starz kindly let me preview, picks up right where season three left off, with Flint, Blackbeard and Rackham attempting to recapture Nassau. They run into a bit of a problem when the governor springs his trap, though, in what is one of the show’s best battles to date. The second episode, which I was also able to preview, finds the pirates struggling to find their footing after the trap. Both episodes show signs that this is going to be one of the best seasons of the show. And while I am sad to see one of my favorite shows sail off into the sunset in just nine more weeks, I am glad that they are choosing to end it on its own terms. Seeing as we’ve known from the start what is going to happen to three of the show’s main characters, it was a series that always had a built-in expiration date.
If you haven’t started watching Black Sails, I’d highly recommend it. (Although, again: not with your kids.) The previous three seasons are available on DVD and Blu-ray. They can also be purchased through Amazon’s streaming (but they are not included in Prime). If you subscribe to Starz through your local cable or satellite provider, or via Amazon, you can watch them all with that subscription.
The current season airs every Sunday night at 9pm Eastern and Pacific on Starz.