Our Flag Means Death (S1)
Fire, blood, sweat, and gentle caresses from pirates falling in love.
Fire, blood, sweat, and gentle caresses from pirates falling in love. If you haven’t added Taika Waititi’s comedy taking the internet by storm to your watchlist yet, you are slacking. The first season dropped March 3, 2022 and has since been praised by critics and fandom alike. Our Flag Means Death would be most appealing for fans of Taika’s other comedy works like What We Do In The Shadows, Jojo Rabbit, and to a lesser extent Thor: Ragnarok; historical satire like The Great and Monty Python; and films that navigate drama or slide between comedy and drama through plot twists like Knives Out. While HBO has been better known for drama shows both historically (The Wire, The Sopranos, Game of Thrones) and recently (Euphoria, Succession, The White Lotus), OFMD could fit easily into their smaller pool of great comedy with Insecure and Sex and the City.
While Our Flag Means Death is known for its unique - though historically accurate - premise of queer pirates, at it's heart the story is driven by the characters. However, the show is stalled a bit by the least interesting character aboard being the lead, Stede Bonnet, a deeply anxious former aristocrat who has abandoned his life for a pirate ship and the open seas. The side characters, such as the secretive Jim, witty Lucius, and sweet Oluwande carry the show forward until the arrival of Taika’s Blackbeard. The characters continue to shine throughout the season and the actors (Vico Ortiz, Nathan Foad, and Samson Kayo, respectively) along with them. The show still packs in plenty of star power through hilarious guest roles by Leslie Jones, Fred Armisen, Kristen Schaal, Nick Kroll, and Will Arnett, some of whom could be recurring.
Warning: Spoilers from this point on..
The first four episodes of the 10-episode series are admittedly a bit slow. There are a couple points that piqued my interest while watching though most of them did not revolve around our main character Stede. Stede spends the majority of the first episodes reliving flashbacks of the life he left behind, from being bullied by father and classmates alike to the arranged marriage and subsequent children he left behind. This, of course, puts him at odds with his rather thrown-together crew of pirates who are more dedicated to a traditional piratey life involving torturing people and general mayhem. Crewmate Jim is of particular interest when it is discovered that they are donning a fake beard and nose to escape a bounty placed on their head. Their secret is kept safe by another crewmate Oluwande who has a decided soft spot for Jim, also known as Bonaficia. Although Stede’s nerves, memories, and guilt over an accidental slaying cause him to be lost in his feelings a bit too deeply for an action-based comedy, ultimately it is necessary to slow down and allow him to set the scene.
The show picks up with the introduction of the suave and worldly Blackbeard who has taken a great interest in Stede, the Gentleman Pirate. The two immediately become drawn together as they strike a deal in which Blackbeard (Edward) will teach Stede to become a proper pirate while Stede teaches Edward how to become proper. The world of the show begins to fill in around these two through their connection. Truthfully, queer romance is rarely this fascinating to watch. There is hardly a coming out scene, they don’t need to speak to each other about it more than just letting it happen, and everything is so loosely defined. It just is. The characters have a clear arc and are both blossoming as individuals and in their newfound emotional intimacy. Soulmates (Soul-mateys?).
Minor characters are not left behind as Jim/Bonafacia is found out by the rest of the crew, and we get the opportunity to explore their identity. Again, the world of OFMD does not address queerness in the way reality tends to. While the disguise reveal leaves some crewmembers a bit confused and they have some questions, in general Jim says they would like to still be called Jim and so it stands. Episode Seven takes a closer look at Jim’s past and explores their mindset deeper, which ends up as one of the best episodes of the season.
As the season draws to a close, the pirates find themselves in some deep trouble from the variety of foes they’ve gathered through the season. The paradise of adventure, exploration, and freedom begins to crumble. In one particular scene, as the metaphorical storm sieges around them, drums from Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain take over all sound and..chills. It has been so long that the combination of music and television has had such a visceral effect for me, I had to make a note of it. The last couple episodes are much more tumultuous for our unlikely band of heroes, and turns heartbreaking when Stede and Edward begin to revert back to old habits and lives which cannot coexist. We are left with a cliffhanger that will demand a season renewal (provided HBO is a real queer ally), and hopes for a season two with more expansion on the rich inner lives of the rest of the crew and a way back home for The Gentleman Pirate and his Blackbeard.