Black Sails Season 1 Review “II.”

The first episode of Black Sails opened with a bang (several, actually), and then devolved into lots of uninteresting land-based issues like bureaucracy, economics, and Spanish treasure galleons. After a second episode, it’s clear the show is using the term “adventure” rather liberally. With Captains Flint and Vane and their respective crews chasing a piece of paper for an hour, it seems the show is intent on being the one thing a pirate “adventure” series should never be: tedious.

But tedious is exactly what the show is through its first two episodes. There appears to be a large disconnect between the marketing of the series and the actual execution of it. Granted, a show with pirates in it is going to be billed as a pirate show. The marketing departments of networks are not in the business of pitching a show’s reality to potential viewers. However, the term pirates is more of a framing device for the show as opposed to any kind of actual descriptor of what’s going on. I understand we’re getting a behind-the-scenes look at the politics and economics of pirating, but it’s such an odd thing to assemble a group of able-bodied men and women, and then have them just sit across from each other the entire time. Regardless of what time period it’s set in, what setting it uses, or what cast the show has, bureaucracy does not make for entertaining television. It’s really that simple.

The embodiment of the show’s tedium is Toby Stephens. The action sequences featuring Stephens in the opening episode hid the fact that he’s carrying himself with all of the enthusiasm of Droopy Dog. The show calls for him to mostly just flop down into chairs and give soliloquies on the nature of pirate life and the desire for a better tomorrow. He recalls Greek literature, forms his convoluted plan to take down the Spanish ship, and never, EVER smiles. It’s exhausting to watch people who take no pleasure or enjoyment out of anything that they do. What’s weird is the show allows members of his crew to take some enjoyment out of their mundane tasks. The scene with Gates and Billy Bones on the balcony of a building is a simple, throwaway scene, but it underscores that the show is aware people can take pleasure in watching or being a part of the simpler moments in life. It makes me even more curious as to why it won’t allow the lead character to do the same.

One performance that does really pop is Zach McGowan’s work as the other pirate captain, Charles Vane. McGowan’s visceral depiction of the pirate captain is a stark contrast to the limp performance of Stephens. Vane is set up as one of the more villainous characters of the series, but I couldn’t help but root for him. He’s the most engaging personality on the show, and it makes me wish the show was about Charles Vane and not Flint. Unfortunately, he’ll mainly play the role of aggressive brute, but he at least has the distinction of being one of the livelier characters on the screen. Piracy is not a burden on Vane; it’s an opportunity to thrive. If only more characters felt the way he does.