Sunday, 18 January 2015

Review: Black Sails First Season

Black Sails is a Starz produced series telling the story of events leading up to Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Treasure Island. The protagonist is Captain Flint, the year is 1715 and the setting is mainly Nassau on the New Providence Island of the Bahamas - the historical pirate haven from 1713-1718. In addition to Stevenson's pirate captain, the show stars historical figures such as Anne Bonny, Benjamin Hornigold, Jack Rackham, and Charles Vane.

The story of the series is manifold: Captain Flint is in search of a treasure; John Silver, a slippery sort of sailor, is in possession of important information relating to the treasure and he tries to use it to his own advantage; Eleanor Guthrie is trying to keep Nassau under her rule while her father is gone; other pirate captains, such as Charles Vane, have their own ideas for the future of Nassau.

From the beginning, the series is weighed down by the numerous plots and characters with their numerous desires. This would not be a problem in itself, but when the viewer is kept in the dark as of what the characters want and why they do what they do, they all end up being distant and bland. Captain Flint is supposedly the central character, but for several episodes the viewer is not allowed a chance to actually get to know him. When his story is finally revealed - to an extent - the viewer cannot be sure if it is the real story or just another web of lies and untruths told to confound the other characters (and viewers).

With no one to relate to, the story regresses to the level of politics and power plays between pirates and their henchmen. While some of this is entertaining enough to keep the viewer following the series, one cannot shed the feeling that there should be something more to make you care for the outcome.

Insofar as historical detail is concerned, the series is top-notch despite the fact that it mixes historical characters with fictional ones (and rewrites the stories of the historical ones). Nassau is a town of shacks and tents, whores and whoremongers, where you don't even expect to find a person that you could become actual friends with. Thus, the fact that you end up disliking pretty much every character in the show is a testament to this realism, even though it is a bad thing for the show in general. The people are always sweaty and dirty, moustaches don't stay in shape and clothes rip and tear.

Overall, during the first season, it was the historical detail and depiction of life that kept me interested in the series, rather than the characters. I hope that the characters will get more depth during the second season and that we get at least one that we can relate to - even a little bit. Nevertheless, for any lover of historical fiction and pirates, this series is something that you should check out.