It takes a while for everything to reach into the farthest parts of the world. Even in our modern days with digital units of zeroes and ones flying through glass fibre cables and bounding between satellites at the speed of light. Since the first trailers of “Our Flag means Death” I was keen to watch this pirate series as it promised a fresh new approach, fiverting entertainment and a good laugh.
Now, at last, the series originally produced and released on HBO, is available in Germany too. I am well into the season, not finished yet, but I can already make some statements about this anticipated show, how it feels, what it does good and what might not have been such a good idea – in my opinion. So, first of all: I guess I will go on watching it although I – right now – don´t feel it´s a series for binge watching. But let´s start at the beginning …
The story of “Our Flag Means Death”
“Our Flag means Death” is a show about Captain Stede Bonnet, an aristocrat who was fed up with his life on Barbados as a well-situated upper class family man. He leaves his wife and children alone, breaks all the bridges behind him to become a fearsome pirate Captain. Of course, he despises violence and murder, killing is a no-go for him and so he strives to be the “Gentleman Pirate”, as he calls himself henceforth.
Paying his crew (which is a dysfunctional colorful bunch of illiterate crazy people always ready to mutiny and kill their Captain) and reading good night stories to them, he sails on his ship, the “REVENGE” to rob “the Gentleman-way”. Crossing paths with notorious Edward “Balckbeard” Teach Captain Bonnet and his crew is sucked into a colorful pirate adventure.
What´s different about this show
First of all, nothing is like expected: The show is a comedy that plays with every stereotype and cliché you know about the “Golden Age of Piracy” and the 18th Century. Role models, traditional historic figures, the political and societal system, aristocracy, slavery and racism are portrayed and poked fun at. The humor ranges from flat out thigh-slappers to more hidden, sophisticated pictures with some draft.
I´d say that “Our Flag means Death” tries to combine a jittery but clever approach á la Monty Python with borrowings from classics like “Pirates of the Carribbean”. But there´s more: “Our Flag means Death” is highly political, but without seremonizing. The more “sensible” the topic, the more subtle the joke, the lower the tone, which I like much.
Go woke – go broke?
The series is praised for its approach to portray homosexual and even trans-sexual contents. There are gay people and in the end (I won´t spoil you) a bigger reveal will also go that direction. I was a bit unsure if this is really what I like because I honestly hate being subject to any overly contemporary propaganda, but I must say that “Our Flag means Death” is not one of these pieces. Again, the portrayal is subtle, funny and refreshingly “normal”. No raised fingers here, no shaming nor any blaming.
Acclaimed director Taika Waititi who executive produced and starred as Blackbeard in this series, knows his art like a master. The cast of the show is brilliant, every character is sharply sketched, has its deserved screen time and part in the story. Although the storyline is of secondary importance as the here and know of this madcap stunt with all its comedy is what matters most, one feels attached and bound to the adventures of Stede Bonnet, keen on getting to know how this all might develop and finally end as well.
What I liked and what I disliked about the show
“Our Flag means Death” is certainly not your ordinary pirate show. If you seek a more “serious” approach and grave show, “Black Sails” might be the one to stream for you. If you want to have fun, enjoy a hilarious laugh now and then and follow a bunch of crazy wild guys into a heir raising adventure taking on all dusty stereotypes and even red-hot topics, you might give it a shot then.
After watching three episodes now on Amazon Prime I kind of became a bit hesitant. Amazon offers to buy the whole season (for less money) instead of paying for each episode, but I am still reluctant to buy the rest seven episodes. It´s not that I don´t find it funny. It is funny. The production design, the sets, the props and the CGI is brilliant. It´s just that I fear that the preliminary focus on creating abstruse situations for the cast to make them react in even more abstruse ways is a pretense that kind of gets boring very fast. Well, let´s give it another try, maybe I am just a bit off right now …
My preliminary assessment of the show right now is 6 out of 10 points
Pictures and Screenshots (c) by HBO Max
Related articles on the Pirate topic:
An absolute Pirate-gem for streaming: “Black Sails”
Modern day piracy in a great picture: “Pirates of Smalia”
Breathtaking, shocking, sad: “Shipbreakers”