Does it take fear or respect to command a crew? Episode 2 of Black Sails Season 2 is an interesting exploration of power and politics. The show’s sheer cast size has always attempted to present the seafaring jostle for superiority as something closer to Game of Thrones than Cutthroat Island. If that hasn’t been entirely successful up until now, here, it pays off.
The uneasy balance of authority in Season 1 saw Flint’s crew slowly overthrow their tyrannical leader, as it became clearer that Toby Stephens’ captain would be willing to sacrifice any number of his own men to achieve his aims. Season 2’s opener gave us an interesting new angle, positioning him as the underdog against the mutiny’s head, Mr. Dufresne – an underdog who would have to ally with Silver to get back his captaincy. While you could be forgiven for expecting that ladder-climbing to take all season, though, Black Sails gets it over and done with in an episode.
Flint and Silver’s plans to regain the support of their respective crews couldn’t be more different, but both share the same, calculating streak.
Luke Arnold smiles his usual grin, as he waits for the rest of the crew to fight each other; a resentment that leaves them forgetting how much they despise him. It’s a tactic that Vane adopts as well back on the mainland, leaving Eleanor to duke it out with Ned. The new contender’s violent streak gives their power struggle a nasty brutality that leaves Ms. Guthrie’s respected image increasingly vulnerable, a reminder of how just how much tension Tadhg Murphy brings to the Bahamas sequences.
It’s Flint, though, whose strategy proves the most interesting. Rather than wait for violence to erupt in-house, he sits back and watches Dufresne try to attack another ship. It’s the most crucial part of a hijacking, reveals Flint, when another crew has to obey a stranger. But faced with a vessel of potential victims, Roland Reed’s bespectacled pirate is anything but threatening. The whole hour builds to that moment, one that makes it clear that, even after losing power, Toby Stephens’ manipulative veteran is still willing to sacrifice any number of his own men to achieve his aims. For Flint, it’s not simply fear or respect that commands power: it’s a borderline sociopathic ruthlessness to do what it takes to maintain authority, no matter what.
Glimpses of him and Eleanor’s dad in flashbacks, as he learns the Naval way, show us the other side of Stephens’ well-spoken officer. Was he once honourable and straight-laced? Perhaps. Now, he’s a horrible human, but a good captain. It once took the show’s writers a whole season to sketch out a similar point. Only two episodes into Black Sails’ second season, though, and they draw it confidently in a single hour; an interesting exploration of character and politics told through a riveting set piece.
Black Sails Season 2 is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription. New episodes will arrive every Sunday, within 24 hours of their US premiere.