Old Ship, New Waters


In March 2022, nestled quietly between the releases of gargantuan Disney shows “The Book of Boba Fett” and “Moon Knight,” “Our Flag Means Death” dropped 10 episodes on HBO Max. There was little expectation for the small, historical rom-com to make it particularly big. Against all odds, it skyrocketed.


The first season of “Our Flag Means Death” introduced its vibrant cast of characters, following the real life “Gentleman Pirate” Stede Bonnet and his misadventures with the infamous Blackbeard. Though praised for its charming humor and talented cast, the show received the bulk of its unforeseen stardom from its bold, open displays of LGBTQ+ love, as it avoided pitfalls of queerbaiting that queer audiences have been burned by for decades.


It was an instant hit. Queer viewers everywhere rejoiced, Twitter exploded with art and edits, and it even managed to usurp “Euphoria” in popularity after the airing of its season finale. Fans were desperate for more — director David Jenkins was open about the show’s planned three seasons — and from Oct. 5th to Oct. 26th, the continuation they hungered for was finally released. 


Season 2 of “Our Flag Means Death” plays up what brought season 1 its cult following, expanding on the romance between its main pair as well as adding new relationships for the fans to enjoy. Its romance feels as authentic and tender as the first season, but at the expense of its comedic elements — the show takes itself far more seriously in its second season, putting its characters in greater peril than it did in season 1. The results are, admittedly, mixed. Though the tension isn’t executed quite as smoothly as it could be in the overarching plot, there are still times where the audience keenly feels the added pressure— namely, within Blackbeard’s internal arc. 


Not only is “Our Flag Means Death” a treat in terms of narrative, it is also a treat to look at. The cinematography is arguably even better in the show’s second season than it is in its first. Both the cut placement and set design are masterful, and it’s shocking that the show’s budget was decreased, not increased. The show takes on a new aura of grandeur thanks to its brand-new and beautiful New Zealand landscapes, the sets are intricate and well-designed, and the costumes are campier than ever before. From traditional Chinese silks to pirate leathers, frilly coats to glimmering drag, “Our Flag Means Death” puts historical accuracy last and fun first, a decision that works heavily to its benefit. 


This decision is reflected in its characters, who follow much the same principle. Despite its generally serious tone, the returning characters stay consistent between seasons 1 and 2, goofiness and all. The crew of the Revenge and their shenanigans are a pleasant break from Stede and Blackbeard’s melodrama, although some fans may consider their adventures to be filler. Between them and the main plot, there’s never a dull moment on screen — everything is either too entertaining to skip, or too important to look away from. 


Though the characters are consistent, they are by no means static, and a number of strong arcs play out as the season goes on. Though the focus largely lands on the protagonists, the supporting cast changes in an equally meaningful way. Izzy Hands, played by Con O’Neill, has the greatest character development of the season by far. O’Neill’s masterful acting endears Izzy to the audience, making the character development he experiences — something fans have longed for since Season 1 — feel all the more impactful. Izzy’s story demonstrates the strength of the found family dynamic of the crew of The Revenge, which this season shifts away from. However, it shines whenever present, a less overt — but equally important — queer aspect of the show. Pirate life becomes a stunning allegory for the queer community, one that few pieces of media have been able to replicate with such finesse. 


Although many fans wanted a larger focus on this aspect of the show, there simply wasn’t enough time to include it. Compared to Season 1’s comfortable 10 episodes, season 2 only has a meager eight, though director David Jenkins has stated this was the plan from the get-go, the pacing falls short of that expectation. The first seven episodes move at the same pace that Season 1’s episodes did, leaving episode eight to hasten a climax that would have greatly benefited from more breathing room. The result is a season finale that feels incredibly rushed. It’s clear that the writers tried to steamroll through what was shaping up to be a fascinating final conflict, and in the process, neglected the crux of the show’s spirit. Though most character arcs escape the finale unbutchered, a number of important ones are sloppily tied up. From a show with such strong characters, this choice is disappointing, and sours the otherwise stellar season. 


Though the second season of “Our Flag Means Death” doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor, it is well worth a watch for anyone who enjoyed the first season. With ever-talented actors and feedback-receptive writers, fans can safely hope that the third and final season will close off the series with a bang, not a whimper.

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