Amazon UK TV review: Black Sails Season 2, Episode 1
Heist on a boat7
Ivan Radford | On 25, Jan 2015
“There is simply no way of stealing that gold.”
The strength of Black Sails has always been its complexity. Rather than settle for being a Pirates of the Caribbean knock-off, it strives to plunder waters with more depth. And so, Season 1 gave us the impending mutiny of Captain Flint’s crew and the beginnings of a civilised shipping port in Nassau, under the eye of Eleanor Guthrie (Hannah New). On the plus side, nautical antics and a slippery John Silver. On the down side, the most detailed on-screen trade disputes since Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
Season 2 finds us back in those same waters – but with some promising new land in sight. Shot with the usual eye for beautiful, Caribbean landscapes, Episode 1 begins where last season left off, with Flint cast out and his boat sunk by a Spanish ship just off the island where the golden horde of the legendary Urca de Lima lies. Stranded on dry land with no loyal followers, Flint’s (Toby Stephens) only ally is John Silver (Luke Arnold). Oh yes, he’s in a bit of a briny pickle.
“There is simply no way of stealing that gold,” says Flint, a sign that another harebrained scheme is already on the tip of his tongue: steal that Spanish boat instead. After the long, drawn-out quest to track down the infamous, gold-stuffed vessel, it’s a refreshing wind change to have a simple, achievable goal.
Arnold and Stephens revel in their roles as the odd couple, with Silver constantly weaselling his way out of trouble with a boy band-worthy grin. After eight episodes in their company, they make a likeable pair: the serious Stephens is still treating his pirate as an ‘ard man rather than an “arrr”-d man, while Arnold has repeatedly demonstrated to us that his cook is not to be trusted.
Together, they bring some much-needed laughs to the action; if Black Sails has impressed with its ambitions, it has suffered from not always embracing its light-hearted side. (After The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, you wonder why Captain Flint and his crew never celebrate Ham Night.)
But the darkness of Season 2 is at least aiming to develop from the first run, with the immediate introduction of a new pirate: the nefarious Ned Low. Played by Tadhg Murphy with a menacing nonchalance, he wastes an entire crew without blinking, before strolling into Nassau and confronting Eleanor. “I make my men feel better about killing,” he smiles, propping up her bar with a direct stare. After Season 1’s flitting about between brothels and mercantile barters, it’s a treat to get a straight-forward villain with no window dressing: a bad guy who isn’t afraid to shiver some timbers.
Compare him to Zane McGowan, who returns as the bitter, vengeful Captain Vane, and one appears sinister while the other is more snivelling: Vane’s reappearance in Nassau, with his own play for power, becomes far more interesting now that Ned’s on the scene, carrying his own valuable booty.
We’re also given some insight into Flint’s past. Last season, Miranda Barlow kept popping up with talk of pardons and what-not, a scandal that unsettled the locals back on Guthrie’s grounds. But for all the writers’ attempts to bridge Flint’s back-story with the bigger piratical picture, the sailing was never smooth. Here, we actually glimpse Flint as a Royal Navy Officer years ago in London. It’s nice to see Stephens out of his usual, scowling outfit, but also a sign that the show is taking real steps to flesh out its central players; we already know that Flint is a tough man to cross – and that he will kill men without mercy – but after an eight-hour overthrow of his captaincy by whispering crewmen, we’re getting answers rather than rumours.
Indeed, for all its promise elsewhere, the opener’s suspense still lies with Flint, as he attempts to win back his shipmates’ trust. It’s a different proposition for him; after lots of negotiations and uneasy truces, he find himself on the underside of authority for once. Most importantly, the way out for him and Silver lies through some fast-paced violence and quick-witted double-crosses – a swift reminder of how much fun Black Sails can have, even when it’s setting course for grander, more brooding territory. Complexity can be a commendable thing, but sometimes, you just want to enjoy a sea-faring romp. Hang the politics; give us a good old heist any day.
Black Sails Season 2 is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription. New episodes will arrive every Sunday, within 24 hours of their US premiere.