Our Flag Means Death, the HBO TV series, is a beautiful comedy that, however, manages to deal with profound issues with maturity, such as the marginalization of queer and non-white people. Let's talk about it better in this article!
Today I would like to dedicate a few words to a television series that has been on everyone's lips in recent weeks.
We are talking about Our Flag Means Death, aired on HBO Max and directed by David Jenkins, a young director with very few works behind him. Filmed with, obviously, a limited budget, Our Flag Means Death probably owes its birth to the involvement of Taika Waititi (Thor Ragnarok, Jojo Rabbit, What We Do In The Shadows, The Mandalorian - The Redemption), with whom Jenkins was immediately confronted on the themes of the series and who convinced HBO to produce the show. Waititi also joined the cast, playing the pirate Blackbeard. But, in that sense, Waititi is pretty much the only known name: the rest of the cast is made up of very little known people, with the exception of Leslie Jones.
Our Flag Means Death he went out with very little advertising e very few expectations. However, in a few weeks the general word of mouth has greatly increased its notoriety, leading Our Flag Means Death to be more watched than even the Marvel series Moon Knight on Disney +. Indeed, the series has undermined The Book of Boba Fett as the most requested series in the US, following the airing of the final episode.
In short, Our Flag Means Death it is a series that on paper was not built for success, but which nevertheless received enormous visibility and appreciation.
But what is it about? And why is this success deserved? We see it better in this article.
ATTENTION: This article contains SPOILERS about Our Flag Means Death
The plot of Our Flag Means Death
In short, Our Flag Means Death is a comedy of ten episodes about 30 minutes each.
The plot revolves around the events of Place Bonnet (Rhys Darby), an English nobleman who used his money to buy a ship and become a pirate captain, so as to experience great adventures and escape a sad and unsatisfying life. Stede, however, evidently has not the slightest idea of how to "pirate": he hates violence, he is not a rude person, he loves his books and his clothes, and in general he is a kind and trusting person. He would like to be a gentleman pirate, in conclusion.
But the world around him disagrees. His crew is made up of a dozen shady and strange guys, but in turn completely incapable as pirates. The inhabitants of the Pirate Republic do not take it seriously at all. The natives of the Caribbean islands feel a little sorry for Stede. Even the British navy laughs at him.
That is, until Stede kills by accident Nigel Badminton (Rory Kinnear), the captain of an English warship and his old childhood bully. It "kills" in the sense that Badminton impales himself on his own sword after Stede hits him with a paperweight.
Lessons of good manners and lessons of piracy
This grabs the attention of the most famous and bloodthirsty pirate around: the infamous Blackbeard (Taika Waititi), who will eventually save Stede from a Spanish ambush.
However, you will soon realize that Blackbeard, aka Edward Teach, is actually a man you are lost in his own legend and who no longer finds anything interesting that is worth living for. This gentleman pirate to Blackbeard is a novelty to liven up the day and soon he will find himself surprisingly in tune with Stede, whose "unusual" interests and kind personality he actually appreciates. Thus, Blackbeard offers to teach Stede how to be a real pirate, and in return the gentleman would teach him the manners of English high society.
But Blackbeard actually has a plan: to wait for Stede to die in a pillage, so as to take his place in English high society. In this way, the pirate could have retired from that unsatisfactory life and would have left the ship and men to his most faithful second-in-command, Israel Hands (With O'Neill), called "Izzy".
Too bad, however, that Blackbeard is seriously attached to Stede and his crew of incapable pirates. Stede can see beyond Blackbeard's mask, managing to re-emerge the man below, Ed. Together, the two manage to face their fears and the traumas of their past.
Steps back and steps forward: confronting the past, for better or for worse
Incarognito of seeing his captain "softened" by the influence of Stede, Izzy will betray Blackbeard to sell the pirate gentleman to the English navy and "save" his captain.
However, Ed will offer to join the British navy as a privateer as long as Stede saves his life, confessing her love to him. Stede would reciprocate too, but he is plagued with guilt and the idea of ruining the lives of those around him. So, he decides to leave the pirate life, and leave Ed without giving him an explanation.
Back home, Stede, however, discovers that his wife, mary (Claudia O'Doherty), has rebuilt a life. A happy and free widow, she has finally dedicated herself to her interests and has met a man who loves her seriously. Thus, Stede and Mary arrange a bogus incident, so that Stede can be definitively left for dead and both can free themselves from the yoke of society to return to the lives (and men) they truly love.
However, in the meantime Ed didn't take Stede's unexplained disappearance well. Convinced by Izzy, in public the pirate represses his pain by taking up the mask of Blackbeard, abandoning part of Stede's crew on a desert island and kidnapping the other half (the more or less competent one). All this, however, while in private Ed is devastated and sadder than ever.
Piracy as a revenge of marginalized realities
In general, Our Flag Means Death it's not a show that takes itself seriously. He is often a bit ridiculous, paints surreal scenes and has no will to be historically accurate.
However, what where Our Flag Means Death succeeds very well is to paint some very specific aspects of the experience of some marginalized realities.
When the "respectable" society does not accept you, you create your own company ...
The pirates of this series are de facto all those people that the "respectable" society has put aside. Some because they are not white, others because they are not heterosexual, others because they are not cisgender, others because they do not fit within the parameters of the "masculine man".
In this sense, all these realities in the "decent" society could not exist in the light of day. Thus, they find themselves all together in the only space in which they can exist without having to hide: that of piracy, that is, of those who operate outside the laws of a "decent" society.
And in this space outside the law, these people a new community is created, a new family. Far from the judgment of the "respectable" society, accepting their respective "" "oddities" "" (Jim who is neither man nor woman; Lucius portraying his companions posing naked; Buttons talking to his faithful seagull; Frenchie who believes that cats are witches and therefore very dangerous animals worthy of being portrayed on a pirate flag; Stede who has a secret walk-in closet full of brocade clothes).
… As long as you have the human conditions to be able to live in peace
Piracy, even in the surreal and "puccioso" world of Our Flag Means Death, it is by no means an environment made up of only good people, of course. Let's see in this environment people without too many scruples like Izzy Hands, or Jack Rackham or Spanish Jackie.
However, if the right conditions are given in this environment (ie being able to live in dignity), even Blackbeard's pirates are happy to be able to live on a quiet ship.
In which the captain reads the novels aloud making the little voices of each character (so you can't mutiny, because otherwise you won't be able to know the ending of the story!). In which the captain encourages the crew to talk about their feelings. Where everyone can practice their hobbies without being judged. In which the captain makes everyone sew a pirate flag and at the end hangs them all, not even the drawings of the children hanging on the refrigerator.
In short, Our Flag Means Death points out how pirates (but in general most people who live a life of violence outside the law) are violent not because they are monsters. In reverse, the violence comes from the fact that, living outside the law because the "respectable" society opposes them, they have no other means to support themselves: to live, they have to steal.
If, on the other hand, these people are given a salary, then they will be able to live in a dignified and peaceful way, without resorting to violence. But if they have no other ways to support themselves, they can't be blamed for living a life of crime: the fault lies with society, not them.
Some conclusive words
Su Our Flag Means Death there would be a lot to say.
The series does a truly remarkable job in terms of representation. She has three queer love stories, explicitly depicted on screen. He has a character (Jim Jimenez) who is explicitly non-binary and who is played by a non-binary person (Vico Ortiz). His main love story is between two men, one of whom is black (Taika Waititi is of Maori descent). A good half of her characters are not white.
And none of these things are forced. All three love stories are represented in a very natural way. The relationship between Stede and Ed is certainly the one that receives the most attention and time, regarding the protagonist, and takes his time to carefully build the relationship of friendship and trust between the two, before making the romantic leap.
Defects of Our Flag Means Death
Of course, Our Flag Means Death it's not perfect.
Some passages seem rather written botched. The past of Jim's character is less incisive than that of Stede and Ed (despite the fact that almost an entire episode is dedicated to him) and his relationship with the nun who created him is a bit shaky. He deals relatively little with the issue of racism and slavery, even if the parts that talk about it are really well done.
Some thorny issues are rather resolved simplistic, as in the case of Mary who happily accepts that Stede is in love with a man.
A series that gives a "happy ending" to the wounds of marginalized people
However, I believe I can say that a Our Flag Means Death these things can be forgiven.
On the one hand, because it is clear that this is a low-budget work made by mostly inexperienced people, but with a lot of passion. Therefore, I think it is important to reward this passion, also because the final product is very enjoyable and of rather good quality.
On the other hand, because this series is obviously a comedy that does not want to be taken seriously and that in many cases does not want to be realistic at all. It is not an accurate representation of historical reality or a profound analysis of the human soul. It is not Black Sails, in conclusion.
(For those who don't know, Black Sails is another series about pirates. Extremely well done, even Black Sails speaks of pirates as marginalized subjectivities. However, Black Sails it is a semi-historical drama that takes itself very seriously and boasts some of the best dialogues ever written. It doesn't make much sense to compare Our Flag Means Death with Black Sails, at least not in these terms.)
In reverse, Our Flag Means Death is a series that wants to be somehow, perhaps, almost capable of heal the wounds that society inflicts on those it deems "different". It is a series that says that, in some way, "everything will be fine", that there will be a happy ending.
Sure, season one ends on a bitter note, but I think we're all pretty sure Stede and Ed will reunite and have a happy ending. Because there are difficulties, personal traumas exist and have their weight. But in the end, even the "different" can create their own peace, their society, their family.
And that's why, at least I, a Our Flag Means Death I can forgive the botched scenes and lack of realism.