Sunday 6 September 2020

Black Sails: Season 3

Following their betrayal in Charles Town, Flint and the crew of the Walrus have embarked on a bloody campaign of retribution against pirate-chasers and magistrates along the coast of the New World and in the islands, sparking widespread anger in England. An enterprising and ambitious British expedition to retake Nassau is launched, whilst the formidable Edward Teach - the infamous Blackbeard - returns to the island to resume his friendship with Charles Vane.

Following the bloody carnage which ended Season 2 of Black Sails, the third season opens with a much more wide-ranging and ambitious storyline, one that ranges from London to the coast of North America and back to the Bahamas, taking in events from before the show began (revolving around Teach and Hornigold) as well as pushing the story forwards more definitively.

The result is yet another extremely strong season for the show, being one that is rooted in superb character development, some remarkable action setpieces (the writers gaining confidence that the CG can deliver the epic naval battles they're asking for) and some great storytelling. In the storm sequences in the second episode, the show breaks new ground in the level of production value that can be expected from TV shows.

There are a few issues. It takes a long time for the crew of the Walrus to get involved in the action back in Nassau, part of the problem of having established Flint and Silver as such formidable protagonists that the audience would have a hard time believing they couldn't deal with any problem that emerged, but also needing them to get back in the fight quickly and having a realistic shot at dealing with overwhelming ods. The result is some wheel-spinning and convenience (the arrival of an experience pirate warship and a ready-made army of ex-slaves feels a bit too easy), which the show quickly bounces back from.

Black Sails steps up a notch in its final episodes, not being afraid to axe major, long-running characters and ramping up the stakes and tension to a new degree. The new castmembers, particularly the mighty Ray Stevenson (Rome) as Blackbeard and Luke Roberts (a brief but memorable turn as Ser Arthur Dayne in Game of Thrones) as the British commander Woodes Rogers, are excellent and help broaden the scope of the show to its benefit.

Season 3 of Black Sails (****½) might be, by a hair, the strongest season of the show. It balances fine character work with exceptional action and politics with practicalities. The show is available to watch via Amazon Prime in the UK and in the USA via Starz.

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