Ahoy mateys! The long-awaited season two of “Our Flag Means Death” has been released in its entirety on Max, and it is exactly what the fan’s ordered, with only one villainous flaw.
Our Flag Means Death is a period comedy loosely based on the life of Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby), an 18th century land-owner from British-Barbados who left his heteronormative-colonist life become a pirate with a rag-tag team of sailors on his ship, The Revenge. Throughout the first season, Stede struggled to establish himself as a real pirate and be taken seriously due to his compassionate leadership strategy and distaste for violence. After months on the open seas, the crew comes face-to-face with the most feared pirate of all: Blackbeard. Actually, his real name is Ed Teach (Taika Watiti), and he is the man of Stede’s dreams.
Throughout the first season, the love between the two blossoms despite challenges. Ed’s traumatic past keeps him from denouncing his violent tendencies, interfering with his budding relationship. Things fall apart when Stede is taken at gunpoint and convinced that he will only bring ruin to Ed’s life. The brush with death motivates him to return to his abandoned wife and children in hopes of making amends. The season ends with Ed reverting to his old harshness and abandoning most of Stede’s crew while Stede, realizing that he is in love with Ed, tracks him down and the rest of his stranded crewmates.
Season One was met with glowing reviews and adoring fans due to its comedic prowess, exquisite costumes, all-star cast, and dedicated queer representation. The show portrays queerness unapologetically, with characters falling in and out of love with each other and celebrating their fluid gender expressions. Setting the show in the Golden Age of Piracy is also a brilliant decision; historical evidence suggests that sexuality and gender expression amongst pirates was not always bound by the norms of 18th-century European society. Just as they rejected the law, pirates also rejected the restrictive and heteronormative social conventions of high society.
Picking up right where season one left off, the crew of The Revenge begins on the Republic of Pirates, taking refuge and working with Spanish Jackie (Leslie Jones). While Stede writes love letters to Ed in hopes to reach him Ed has embarked on a heartbroken rampage across the seas, raiding every ship that crosses his path, which causes concerns for his first mate, Izzy (Con O’Neill) and the rest of his crew.
It was certainly a whirlwind of events and emotions, without sacrificing the technical strength of the show. The most unique and impressive part of the show is arguably its portrayal of healthy emotional processing: in the first season, Stede essentially ‘gentle-parents’ the crew, and in the second season, they really take all of his lessons to heart. Their newfound attentiveness to emotions and coping strategies help to improve their lives, both individually and as a crew. Of all of the characters, Ed certainly struggles the most with his mental health, but through the ship’s communal commitment towards emotional growth he is able to find peace.
Despite the crew’s best efforts, the path to healing was not without its challenges; they often struggled to adhere to Stede’s teachings when it conflicted with past experiences, and Ed even briefly abandoned Stede at one point during season two to become a fisherman because he couldn’t handle being emotionally vulnerable. Although these parts were emotionally frustrating and occasionally felt like they held the plot back, they were a valuable reflection of the realities of life.
The jam-packed episodes made the season entertaining as a whole, but little room was left for the development of a proper villain. A few characters cycle in and out of this role but none get more than a few minutes as a proper antagonist. Allowing so many characters to briefly fill that role was supposed to be funny—and at times it was—but it was mostly frustrating and distracting. Hopefully season three will stick with a more consistent approach to its villains, with Richard Banes (Erroll Shand) being a clear favorite set up this season.
Despite the lack of an antagonistic force, the slew of incredible new characters managed to keep the season still feeling fresh. By far the most exciting of which is Zheng Yi Sao (Ruibo Qian), the Pirate Queen, whose captaining philosophy is akin to a better version of Stede’s; she cares for her crew’s wellbeing while commanding a massive fleet that conquered China. Ruibo Qian’s deadpan style of humor is a shift from the dramatic and flamboyant humor of The Revenge’s crew—a welcome variation in the tone of the show. Additionally, her ability to command a massive crew without resorting to violence proves to be a vitally positive influence for both Ed and Stede.
Love, death, and redemption are alive and well in this alternate version of the Golden Age of Piracy. This season delivered on exactly what the fans wanted and brought massive changes to the scallywag crew of The Revenge, making it feel like the dawning of a new era. As emotionally and physically challenging as this season was, the final moments prepare the crew to face even bigger challenges, like the ever-encroaching British Empire, in future seasons.