Black Sails XXXI. Review
Starz‘s Black Sails: Season 4, Episode 3: XXXI. was one of the best episodes of the entire series. XXXI. was powerful and unrelentingly brutal. Captain Berringer (Chris Larkin)’s monologue, the back and forth sequences between him and Governor Woodes Rogers (Luke Roberts) throughout the episode, were the best lines of the episode. Those lines perfectly segued into the horrific events that followed.
I’d heard the term ‘keelhauled’ before, as a child, the same way I had heard ‘drawn and quartered.’ I never knew what the latter meant until I saw Braveheart. After watching XXXI., now I know why no one every defined ‘keelhaul’ for me.
I also now know why I was asked not to publish a review for XXXI. until after it aired. I gained, as did all those assembled for the keelhaulings, a profound new level of respect for Blackbeard (Ray Stevenson). There has always been a big difference between presenting a tough exterior and being tough on the interior. Blackbeard was both.
How many human beings could take three keelhaulings, while holding their breath underwater, and still be alive after the third go-round? Less than ten percent of the people on Earth? Less than three percent? Blackbeard was one of those less than three percent. It even looked as though Blackbeard was attempting to get up on his elbows after his third keelhaul (possibly trying to stand after that), before Governor Rogers killed him. Even Rogers couldn’t believe that Blackbeard was still alive (which intensified the moment – one or two keelhauls, most-likely, would have killed Rogers). Rogers saw what was beginning to happen because of Blackbeard’s third keelhaul survival, the murmurs that began amongst the crews, and he put a stop to it immediately.
Before Governor Rogers had Blackbeard keelhauled for the first time, Rogers kneeled down to look Blackbeard in the eyes. It was a moment of supremacy of one person over the other. Blackbeard had to know what was about to happen (because of the rigging put up off-screen for keelhauling) yet he showed absolutely no fear or cowardice. On the contrary, he stared back at Rogers with confidence and defiance. After the third keelhauling, missing part of his face, Blackbeard’s eyes said everything. Blackbeard was still there. Still strong. Still confident. Still defiant. It was one of the best moments in the episode, if not the best because of how it was led up to. Rogers had not broken Blackbeard, had not defeated his mind. He had only mutilated his body.
Captain Jack Rackham (Toby Schmitz) revered Blackbeard before the keelhaulings. After seeing what that tough S.O.B. endured and continuously survived, Blackbeard was deified in Rackham’s eyes.
For all of his brilliance, Blackbeard walking into such a well-laid trap showed that Governor Rogers was just as cunning as Blackbeard. By walking aboard that ship, Blackbeard committed a cardinal combat sin: he underestimated his opponent. Why Blackbeard didn’t sink Rogers’ ship instead of boarding Rogers’ ship was beyond a logical viewer’s comprehension. Why risk your men and yourself when you could simply drown your foe and return to Nassau without a scratch? Rogers had planned on being boarded. He had armed and situated his men accordingly around and underneath the main deck of ship to repel such an assault.
When Blackbeard was on his knees on the deck of Rogers’ ship, with Rogers standing over him, the look on Blackbeard’s face said it all. He had been a fool, arrogant, and he had lost. All the horrors of what that meant came crashing down on Blackbeard.
Blackbeard was not the only brave fool that lost his life in XXXI. Captain Berringer was another one.
Captain Berringer, a relatively new character given a smidgen of depth in his final episode, was an idiot not to take Eleanor Guthrie (Hannah New)’s advice. She’d run Nassau for years. If there was anyone that Berringer should have taken advice from with regard to Nassau, it was Guthrie. Berringer didn’t know the island, didn’t know Captain James Flint (Toby Stephens), didn’t know Quartermaster “Long” John Silver (Luke Arnold), and he had only a passing familiarity with William “Billy Bones” Manderly (Tom Hopper). Guthrie was cognizant of all three to some degree yet like Governor Rogers, Berringer wanted to show his power to his enemies. Unfortunately, Captain Berringer had not planned as thoroughly as Woodes i.e. not setting a good-enough trap (though Berringer could have if he had taken Guthrie’s advice).
Eleanor Guthrie was not only a smart leader and business woman, she had the ability to be as cutthroat as the pirates that she dealt with on a daily basis. That was why she was in control of Nassau for so long. Guthrie couldn’t save Berringer from his own folly but she could save herself and the woman she once cared for deeply. Now that Flint, Silver, and Bones hold Nassau, did Guthrie choose the fort as the place to hide because it could be defended well from a land siege or because she was looking toward the future? If the pirates could get into the fort and to the cannons before Governor Rogers returned, they could let him get close, well within range of the cannons, and then unleash a big surprise on him. Did Guthrie choose the fort to stop that from happening or did she choose the fort to save herself and Max (Jessica Parker Kennedy)? I believe it was the latter. Guthrie made a situational decision on the fly. She didn’t have time to think long-term.
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