Hopeful Analysis of the One Compelling Thing. Or Something.


Toby Stephens as Captain Flint on Black Sails

Tonight we had a meet up with our local NaNoWriMo group. We haven’t seen several people since our wrap up party at the beginning of December, so it was awfully good to see and chat with them. Lots of topics were discussed, but I’ll admit that I specifically brought up a question that’s been puzzling me lately, no more so than today, and that is—why on earth am I rewatching Black Sails?

For those unfamiliar with it, Black Sails is a Starz show about the heyday of piracy in the Caribbean at the beginning of the 18th Century. But it’s not a light-hearted Johnny Depp kind of thing. It’s a violent, unromantic view of this life, featuring early versions of characters we know from stories such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, including Captain James Flint, Billy Bones, and John Silver. But trust me, this isn’t your father’s RLS. The show stars Toby Stephens as Captain Flint, and Season 3 just started last night on Starz. In order to catch viewers up, the first two seasons are currently free to stream on the Starz website, so I’m watching them again. Even though I had huge problems with the show on my first viewing. So, again, I wonder, why am I doing this?

UPDATE: The free offer seems to have ended. Sorry folks!


One of my friends at the NaNo meeting suggested that I’m watching in hope that it is better than I remember, that something will strike me differently this time, and I will enjoy it more. I think this is absolutely part of the impetus. Many secrets are revealed in Season 2, and I will admit that I pretty immediately wanted to go back and rewatch Season 1 with this new knowledge, because so many hints had been dropped, and I was eager to see how certain people (particularly Flint and Miranda) reacted to each other in Season 1 knowing the things I learned in Season 2.

I also read a quite good 138K word fanfic after finishing up Season 2, and that made me extremely excited to revisit the characters that story focused on. (Those characters would be Flint and Thomas.) However, since the fanfic is set in the period after Season 2 and its storyline will never be canonical for several reasons, it didn’t necessarily excite me for Season 3 as much as a reevaluation of what I’d already seen. (Also, so far, I haven’t subscribed to Starz, so I couldn’t watch Season 3 even if I wanted to.)

I was also hoping that on this rewatch, the elements that bothered me (namely how much I dislike every female character on the show except Miranda), might not be as bad as I thought. Lots of people enjoy the show. And I know lots of smart women who like the show, so I could be wrong. It was worth another look, especially since Starz was offering it for free. Right?


Another dear friend at the NaNo meeting attributed a much more intellectual explanation for my desire to rewatch—I obviously want to analyze the show more closely. And it’s true, I do. What works about the show really works—once again I cite Flint and his relationships with Miranda and Thomas, but I can also cite the development over the two seasons of characters like Billy Bones, John Silver, and Charles Vane. But what doesn’t work—unnecessarily complex plotting involving characters I just don’t give a crap about, such as Max, Anne, and Jack, and anytime Eleanor is on screen—really doesn’t work for me. Why is that? How a show can hit the mark so accurately in some areas and miss the target so egregiously in others is something definitely worth contemplating. And a second, closer inspection is needed to do that.

One Compelling Thing (SPOILERS COMING!!!!!)

But when discussing my reasons for rewatching with J on our way to the meeting, I suggested my primary motive might be the fact that it has One Compelling Thing. Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I watched One Life to Live for 25 years, and no one watches a daytime soap for that long without being able to overlook and forgive some questionable storytelling and unlikable characters. But for 25 years I could never quite make myself stop watching, because there was always at least one storyline I was invested in and couldn’t let go.

The same theory applies to regular TV series, and in the case of Black Sails, it has a very strong One Compelling Thing—Flint. Of course, he’s most compelling with—say it with me again—Miranda and/or Thomas. Since Miranda and Thomas won’t be in Season 3 (unless there are some flashbacks planned—it’s hard to know which actors and characters are still on the show, because IMDB doesn’t have accurate cast info), I’m not terribly interested in seeing Season 3. But I can still see them altogether in Seasons 1 and 2. To be honest, there have been moments I’ve been tempted to fast forward and just watch their scenes, although I haven’t so far. The storyline that unites these three characters is fascinating, and all three actors are fantastic and have great chemistry. (I mentioned earlier that Flint is played by Toby Stephens, and I should probably mention now that Miranda is played by Louise Barnes and Thomas is played by Rupert Penry-Jones, an actor I’m always thrilled to see.) Why wouldn’t I want to see them again?


A third noveling buddy at the meeting suggested I write this blog in an attempt to figure out just why I’m rewatching Black Sails. I have to say that having now written the post, I still don’t know for sure. There’s so much good TV, and so much of it I haven’t seen even once, that watching a show I’ve enjoyed, disliked, and found extremely frustrating by turns is not the best use of my time. But, at least for now, I think I need to keep spending my time this way. I feel utterly compelled to continue my rewatch. Is it simply my shipper feelings? After all, after having read an extremely long fanfic dedicated to characters from this show, maybe I’m just so in love with them I’ll put up with anything in order to spend more time with them. Perhaps. Maybe I’ll know when I’ve finished Season 2 again. For now, I need to get back to it—Season 1 Episode 5 awaits. Time and tide, what, what.


2 comments on “Hopeful Analysis of the One Compelling Thing. Or Something.

  1. kimkra says:

    Do you have a link for show streaming?


  2. jsmawdsley says:

    Oh no! It looks like the free offer ended yesterday! And I was only through episode 5 of Season 1. May I suggest doing what I’ll likely do now–get the DVDs from your local library.


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