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Jodie: Anchors away for discussion!

Jenny: For those of you following along at home, the third episode of Black Sails is the nadir of the wannabe-HBO-writing bullshit that I try to warn people about when they begin watching the show. Content note for on-screen rape. In this episode, Richard Guthrie's attempted arrest by the British begins to have consequences. To prevent the rest of Nassau from finding out that the Guthries' business will no longer be winked at by the Crown, Flint stashes a wounded Richard at Miranda's place. Eleanor searches for a way to keep her business running without her father, and Gates and Flint work to put a team together to go after the Urca.

The episode opens with Flint waking up at Miranda's house, and I tell you what, when they do these extreme close-ups on Toby Stephens's eyes, I am completely destroyed by them. In order for us to do these recaps, you have had to dig me out of a shallow grave where I have been laid following death by this opening scene. One of the weird things about rewatching Black Sails after seeing seasons 2 and 3 is that your perspective on Miranda as an individual and on Miranda and Flint's relationship is completely different. I am heartbroken by this opening scene where Miranda talks about being spied on, and the tiny smile Flint has on his face because he knows that he's one step closer to giving her a new life. But I know that when I first watched it, I didn't feel any way at all. Any thoughts on Miranda, early on?

(NB: Friends watching Black Sails at my instigation have one and all had the experience of me trying to talk them into Miranda, which means I have experienced many iterations of polite people trying to let me down easy about a character they don't love. You and the other Black Sails newbies will just have to trust me that your feelings about her are going to change.)

Jodie: At this point I'd have to say I'm intrigued. All the hints about 'Mrs Barlow' make it pretty clear that she has a past; possibly a sad one. And she's also got a lot about her: she barely blinks when Flint enters her house and collapses; she takes looking after an injured Guthrie in her stride (and is quick to school him in the importance of the classics); and she manages the local priest with ease. There is definitely something about Miranda, and I look forward to finding out more about her.

Jenny: Last episode, we talked about the treasure hunt not working tremendously well as a plot organizer. This episode is far more effective, because the writers are doing a better job of linking the plot elements with character beats. For instance, we get to see Jack Rackham wheeling and dealing in the way that he does best: He appeals to Gates's fear that he's too old to be a successful captain; to Vane's desire to have Eleanor back; and to Eleanor's desperation to see the Urca plan succeed so that Nassau can be stable again. When Eleanor appeals to Scott and her father for their help in a risky plan, we see again how much it means to her to be able to maintain her grip on the island -- and how little her father supports or believes in her.

Plus, then we get to enjoy the greatest meeting of all time ever: Charles Vane and Jack Rackham sit down with Flint and Mr. Gates to talk about a potential partnership between their two crews as they launch into a pursuit of the Urca gold. Did you love it?

Jodie: OMG the meeting scene is pure uncomfortable joy! The second time Bates pulls Flint out of the meeting, and yells at him off-screen is such a great instance of comedy timing. And I always love seeing enemies have to compromise when their usual negotiation strategy is 'demand everything and shoot them if they disagree'. The whole meeting is a study in ego; two men, who both need each other, are determined to piss each other off, almost to the point of breaking. Any other form of negotiation would both be unacceptable to their pride, and probably lose them the respect, and the cooperation, of the other man. What a great reminder that the patriarchy is EXHAUSTING.

And after every testing exchange, their seconds exasperatedly correct the course of the meeting to get it back on a useful track. Full props to Jack Rackham for setting up that meeting with his skillful political sense by the way. Although, I kind of loved how by the end of this episode all his careful manoeuvring, and undermining of Bates, is undone. I love Bates' character type, and the fact that he really wants what is best for his crew, so I had a lot of emotions about Rackham's needling comments getting under his skin.

Jenny: "The patriarchy is exhausting" is a perfect sum-up of the meeting between Flint and Vane (and also, this hellscape of a world we occupy). By contrast, if I were asked to sum up the meeting as it impacts Eleanor and Vane's relationship, or indeed if I were asked to sum up any interaction he ever has with Eleanor, I would do so in a rhymed couplet: Charles Vane, horny on main. My dude's thirst for Eleanor is even more palpable than it was in episode two, except that instead of trying to talk to her about Feelings and their Relationship, Charles Vane plays it smart by agreeing that Eleanor can be the guarantor of his bargain with Flint. Perhaps by now he has learned that Eleanor only cares about him if he's helping her get with her true love, COMMERCE.

(This will prove to be a disastrous decision for Vane, but we'll get to that in the UGH portion of this recap.)

Across town (I actually never can remember where Miranda's house is, in relation to the rest of the action on Nassau), the Puritan pastor is experiencing similar ups and downs in his relationship with Miranda. Things are going swimmingly as long as they're talking about the saucy bits of the Bible, but when Pastor Lambrick tries to meddle in Miranda's personal business -- and particularly in her situation with Flint -- she is ten thousand percent done with him. This is one of those scenes that means so much more to you as a viewer once you know the full arc of Miranda and Flint's history together. For now -- as you say -- it's just a reminder that there's more to Miranda than we yet know.

UGH. I guess at this point, I have to admit that I've talked around the shitty parts of this episode as much as possible. So let's get into it. I hate the way this show treats Max at the beginning, particularly since she's one of only two significant characters of color at this point. After the meeting at which Charles Vane endears himself to Eleanor, we discover that Max hasn't made a clean escape. After Eleanor finishes having that-was-a-successful-meeting sex with Charles Vane, she hears cries from outside the tent and finds Vane's crew raping Max on the beach.

This is bad enough, but the subsequent thing is arguably worse: Eleanor tells Vane's crew that none of them will be permitted to partake of food or drink or brothels in Nassau ever again, unless they depose Vane as captain and become part of Flint's crew. (That's not the worse thing.) She goes to Max and Max says it's Eleanor's fault this has happened. (That's not the worse thing either.) And then Max tells Vane that she owes him a debt and she'll stay with his crew until the debt is paid.

That is the worst thing. Maybe the worst thing, in terms of how much it makes me want to punch the writers, that happens in this show. It is awful. I don't have much to add here except that I wouldn't blame anyone who bounced off Black Sails at this point. It's the worst plotline in an otherwise terrific show, and it's a deep disservice to Max’s character and every other storyline she or any other character has. How are you feeling about Black Sails after this nonsense, Jodie?

Jodie: I really, really hate this plot development. It's yet another example of visual media using violence against women to try to establish itself as "historically accurate" (blargh), "unflinching" (again, blargh), and "serious" (ho ho ho). Why is 'let's make this show historically accurate' so often code for 'let's hurt some women'? Oh wait, we know why.

Anyway, it's a lazy move, and also totally unnecessary from a character development point of view. We already saw Max get completely wrecked by Eleanor selling her out in the last episode. For real, that scene just broke me. We understand that she's suffering because of her previous choice to trust Eleanor with her heart and to try to make a new life for herself, which, just by the way, is not a great choice from the Black Sails team either. We don't need a rape scene to underline that idea. And it's not like it's a thoughtful, female-centred treatment of rape - it's a standard voyeuristic, male-gaze rape scene.

And as you say, Max is one of two main chromatic characters at this point in the show & the only chromatic woman. She's a lesbian. And she's a prostitute. With all this character context in mind, this scene looks like textual punishment to me. Max has fled sexual control to try and make a life on her own terms. And, although her life up until now clearly hasn't been perfect, as we know because she's taken the first opportunity to escape it, she has been in a happy, safe relationship with a woman. When she's raped by several men this serves as a sub-textual warning about "the dangers" of women having agency, taking control of their bodies, and moving outside the frame of heterosexual sex. Place a chromatic female character into that kind of narrative and, even if the creative team doesn't make it explicitly, textually about race, it's about also race.

I will say that, from a character point of view, I understand how Max reacts after Eleanor rescues her from Vane's crew. I totally get her urge to spite Eleanor by hurting herself. And, as I may have mentioned before, while I am into people learning and developing, I'm also really into proud ladies being unbending even if it destroys them. I mean, I'd rather it didn't destroy them but we live with the media we have.

Anyway, returning to Max, this move means she ends up aligned with Vane & his remaining crew; some of the men who just assaulted her, and the man who, no matter how much the show tries to mitigate it, basically caused her assault. Also, remember, he had already farmed her out to members of his crew for what the show seems to want to imply is a more "civilised" form of rape because it takes place indoors. The mind boggles at the framing of this particular act. And this plot development was crafted by a real life creative team out in the world who have to know that all looks terrible.

And I get that this whole chain of events probably moves the plot in a particular direction, but there are always so many ways to get from plot point A to plot point B without wandering into a rape scene... I just don't think the only possible way for the creative team to move the plot where they needed it to go was to have Max gang-raped. It just looks like another example of a show following common, sexist tropes and patterns because it's easy, or because 'it's historical fiction so at least one female character must get raped' is a story expectation deeply embedded in everyone involved. Thinking more creatively could have resulted in a much more interesting story, and would have avoided alienating fans.

So, yes, I did not enjoy this turn of events, but I was pretty prepared for it thanks to the internet (and y'know experience with historical drama). Sometimes spoilers are very helpful indeed.

Jenny: Phew, I'm glad I haven't lost you. The intensely frustrating thing to me about this scene -- apart from my standard-issue aggravation with the "let's hurt some women" problem you identified -- is that Black Sails as a whole engages deeply with the agency of marginalized people in history. So it's an even more disappointing fuck-up than it would have been in your average premier cable drama.

I think you're correct about Max's intended motive here. I'm guessing that the creators saw this as an important element of her arc, because what we'll see with her going forward is that she becomes very, very determined to have and not to be currency. Arguably that's a motivation that has its origins here, where she uses her body as payment of a financial debt. But the motivation works just as well, and is more interesting and unexpected imho, if it arises purely from Eleanor's betrayal: She has learned that even someone she loves and who loves her will potentially use her as currency, and she decides never to let herself be in that position again. So yeah, this to me smacks of taking the easy/obvious path that's been laid out by many, many prestige dramas before it.

And now, it is time once more for PIRATE FACTS TO TELL YOUR FRIENDS

We meet Benjamin Hornigold in this episode, and he says the following to Gates:

The last I heard, James fled to France. Call him the Pretender now. I promised my men that if they stayed with me, they'd be soldiers again, that they'd be part of a rebel navy fighting a war to restore a rightful king. . . [But] no matter how many lies we tell ourselves or no matter how many stories we convince ourselves we're part of, we're all just thieves awaiting a noose.

Hornigold was a real pirate from history, and we'll get more into his backstory later on (it's pretty interesting!), but for now I want to talk about Jacobites! (I know, you can't wait.) As you probably know, the Glorious Revolution deposed James II in 1688, in favor of his oldest daughter Mary and her husband, William of Orange. The concern about keeping James II as a monarch was that Catholics would get hold of the throne. James II's son, called James III by his supporters and "the Pretender" by his opponents, was patronized by the King of France and made repeated attempts to invade England and take control of the throne. Hornigold is probably referencing a failed uprising in late 1715 (the dates don't exactly match up, but Black Sails gets fuzzy with dates sometimes, as we'll see), after which James fled back to France to enjoy the patronage of various Popes.

Many of the pirates of New Providence Island had previously been privateers commissioned by the (Jacobite-leaning) governor of Jamaica in the War of Spanish Succession, which would have ended shortly before Black Sails begins. After the war was ended, these privateers joined with other sailors in New Providence to form pirate crews, and the DNA of Jacobitism continued to transmit through pirate lineages -- and may even have been used as a piracy recruitment tool for sailors on captured ships. Charles Vane and Blackbeard were among the famous pirates associated with the Jacobite "Flying Gang," and evidence of Jacobite leanings are evident in Blackbeard's ship name, the Queen Anne's Revenge. (Queen Anne was the last of the Stuarts, and if William-and-Mary and Anne were considered illegitimate monarchs, the Hanoverian George I was absolutely beyond the pale)

How much did pirates actually care about who sat on the throne of a country of which they were in active defiance? Eh, probably not a hell of a lot. It's not like they were sailing their ships up to Scotland or France to bolster the Pretender's naval ranks. The Jacobite cause offered a sort of moral buffer: Pirates weren't rebels against the laws of God and man, they were loyalists of a deposed regime. But Hornigold is a practical man, as we'll see, and his grim outlook on his crew is probably exactly right.

Jodie: As always - great pirate facts, Jenny! Considering the problems of Episode 3 do you, want to give us a little taste of what we look forward to in Episode 4 of Black Sails in case other readers need some motivation to move forward with the series?

Jenny: I’d love to! Though the Max situation continues to be awful in Episode 4, we’ll start to get a hint of what motivates the laconic and terrifying Anne Bonny; and we’ll get more than a glimpse of Miranda Barlow’s backstory. And not to be shallow, but Billy Bones takes his shirt off and has nothing to be ashamed of, muscles-wise.

Date: 2018-07-25 09:09 am (UTC)
chelseagirl: (Default)
From: [personal profile] chelseagirl
Interesting! We watched the first couple of episodes, then season 1 was pulled from On Demand, and we moved directly to season 2. So there's a lot we missed, but I always liked Miranda, because.

I am also deeply ashamed of how attractive I find Charles Vane.

Date: 2018-07-25 11:29 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Ahahahah never be ashamed of that. Charles Vane is ridic attractive, especially if you never had to see damn episodes damn three and four. Plus he's very simple compared to most of the characters in this show -- he wants Eleanor to love him, and he wants to do violence for money, and that's basically all there is to him. :p

Jenny @ Reading the End

Date: 2018-07-25 12:08 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I completely agree that seeing Max betrayed by Eleanor and in Vane's "camp" is a low point, and the beach scene doesn't add anything. Vane is introduced as such a terrible character. The first time I see any humanity in him is when he helps Max. I was very slow to get to like him at all, and I never really bought his love for Eleanor or hers for him, although it is nice to see a woman acting on what seems to be pure lust. Maybe I was supposed to imagine more back story for the two of them?

Date: 2018-07-25 03:09 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Yes! I totally bought his love for Eleanor -- it's like 90% of what drives him -- but it was overall frustrating that they spent so much of the first season tearing down relationships (Eleanor and Charles, Eleanor and Max) that we'd never cared about in the first place, PLUS doing it in a way that's really gross and objectifying to Max. BAH.

Jenny @ Reading the End

Date: 2018-07-25 02:13 pm (UTC)
sabotabby: (anarcat)
From: [personal profile] sabotabby
Awesome review!

I'm fascinated by the Jacobite element to piracy and the tension between those who became pirates for political reasons, assuming they would be restored to a legitimate life after James took the throne, and those who became pirates for pragmatic reasons or out of desperation. While the show never really addresses the historical background that explicitly, it does play into the dynamics of *spoiler spoiler spoiler* who does what in relation to the authorities.

The Max plot is awful and almost soured me on the show entirely, though, sadly, I expect that kind of thing from historical dramas and I'm pretty hardened to it. I will say that the show made up for it with the way her storyline developed.

I initially hated Vane so much. It's hilarious.

And I did not take to Miranda right away either, which is funny to me because she's one of my absolute favourite characters, not just on this show, but on TV, period. But for some reason I pegged her as the long-suffering love interest of the angsty male antihero who doesn't understand what he's up to and nags him to go straight once she finds out, and I nearly always hate that trope (unless it's subverted, as with Skyler White). Of course, Miranda is—omg, so very much not that, like as far from that as you can get, but that's kind of how she's introduced.

I love her so much. So so much.

Date: 2018-07-25 03:11 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Yeah, the show gives Max a ton of interesting stuff to do later on. I'm rewatching separately with another friend, and we're in Season 3, and Max is just such an active, interesting, plot-driving character now. She's terrific because even though she has relationships that matter to her, the most important thing is securing her future. Also, she looks forking fantastic in every scene.

HUGE YES to the way Miranda's character reads early on. When you know more about her, those early scenes are gut-wrenching, but it takes a while to set up her amazingness. God she's the best.

Jenny @ Reading the End


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