Emerald Specter 105: Black Sails

Starz has had a stellar TV series that I happened across about four years ago and the show was Black Sails. If you like pirates and are interested in HBO level quality of a show about them, then you are in luck.

This is my review of the entire series (as the fourth and final season has long since ended). We (my wife and I) just finished watching the last episode a night or two ago (as you read this).

Black Sails is the story of how Long John Silver got to the point where he’s at in Treasure Island, along with a good mix of actual historical events as well as actual historical pirates.

Yes, Black Sails is a prequel to Treasure Island.

The non-spoiler review is actually pretty short. You get introduced to all of the “main players” right off the bat and some new ones straggle in after a season or two, then you see where the background of Treasure Island gets built, and finally we end up in a place that (for those who have read the book) is more familiar to us.

Starz, as an HBO-like channel, also went and added all the wonderfully adult language as well as plenty of nudity just like one would come to expect from a big budget production like this.

And now, I should move forward into the spoiler review.


Your warning is now, this is the SPOILER section.

Captain Flint (fictional, from Treasure Island), Billy Bones (fictional, from Treasure Island), and the crew of the Walrus (fictional, Treasure Island) end up with a passenger named John Silver (fictional, Treasure Island) who ends up becoming part of the crew.

They are all pirates from Nassau, a city in the Bahamas where the pirates have built their Republic (this is fact). In charge of the island is Eleanor Guthrie, the daughter of a man who organized the pirates into something less random and something more civil. Eleanor, as well as her unseen father, are real.

Among the other pirates that hang out in and around Nassau are Charles Vane (real life pirate) of the Ranger (his real ship was called Lark), Jack Rackham (real life pirate, known as Calico Jack), Anne Bonny (real life pirate), and Benjamin Hornigold (real life pirate and mentor to Edward Teach… Blackbeard).

Nassau has a brothel where a lot of scenes happen (both for the gratuitous nudity and the story development for meetings between characters) and Fort Nassau is under the control of Hornigold, who uses it to fend off ships who aren’t welcome on the island.

There’s a Spanish ship carrying a lot of gold, known as the Urca de Lima (real ship), which is discovered by the pirates and becomes the focus of their attention… because they’re pirates.

While the pirates feud amongst one another, there is an understanding that they are strongest when they are together, so don’t think that feuds will cause irreparable rifts between anyone. That mirrors real life… for more, you may want to read The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down.

The whole while, John Silver is slowly becoming the scary and powerful pirate we know he is in Treasure Island, which is a transformation worth watching as the series goes on.

There are spectacular naval battles, political intrigue, examples of what kinds of things people at sea faced in the 18th century, and for those who need a little nudity, there is some in every season (though, as is typical with HBO shows, the amount decreases as the seasons progress, giving way to the actual story).

As a series, this was surprisingly excellent in a way that I hadn’t expected Starz to produce. HBO has a track record of producing content like this, and I’m sure if I subscribed to Starz I would find more interesting content there (I watched Black Sails through my Hulu subscription). 

If I had to give the series as a whole a star rating, I’d give the series a 5 out of 5. Sure, there were some slow parts and drawn out pieces that took away from the spectacle. Some of the historical stuff isn’t accurate, either (like Blackbeard’s final appearance didn’t actually happen the way they showed us), some of the integral pirates necessary to be more historically based were missing entirely, and after we’re given some examples of what pirates dealt with we’re pushed into pure story instead of noting how those things didn’t go away. Overall, though, I’m still giving the series a 5.

There is so much awesome packed into this series that I can’t even contain my enthusiasm. I wanted more than 4 seasons but I understand that the story didn’t have more story in it… I would have been less happy if there was a season 7 that just sort of padded itself to last to get to the “good stuff” in a finale. 

That’s the one thing I wasn’t disappointed in at all: there is very little stretching of the story for the sake of stretching the story.