Every season of a TV show needs a good party. It’s a great time to lower everyone’s guards and let the characters take stock of where they’re at with each other. Is everyone vibing enough with each other to even throw a party? After the past few episodes of Our Flag Means Death, the crew on The Revenge have cast out the revenge in their own hearts to become one crew, finally. And it’s just in time for Calypso’s birthday.
“Calypso’s Birthday” might just be the best episode of Our Flag Means Death. Yes, a big part of that is because Wee John dresses in drag as Calypso and Izzy dons makeup and sings. But it’s also about the camaraderie of the crew, the settled scores of broken hearts and mended fences, and the growing capability of Stede.
Ed has a lot of guilt to work through. Stede helps him. When the crew comes to him for permission to throw a party for Calypso’s birthday, Stede tells Ed that buying party supplies is a perfect way to make it up to the crew. Permitting the party is another point in their favor since the crew mostly needed an excuse to lighten things up a bit after the haunted, terrifying, traumatizing, darkness of the first half of this season.
The color scheme stands out this episode. The lit up boat party against the midnight sky is a particularly enriching visual. Wee John and Izzy put on a show for everyone; their performance creates a more intimate setting, reminiscent of the glitz and glam of drag bars. Izzy’s song is beautiful, a surprising but welcome facet of his character. Expressing his love for Blackbeard and burying the hatchet with him at the top of this episode seems to have loosened something in him, almost like he’s embracing a newfound freedom in letting go of his insecurities and obsessions. Who knew Izzy would be such a favorite this season? When the crew joins him in singing at the end of the episode, and cheers for an encore, it’s a truly profound moment of the camaraderie they’ve found with each other, and a freedom they’ve all been searching for.
But it can’t always be fun and games. A pirate named Ned Lowe dead-set on getting revenge on Blackbeard for breaking his record of ships boarded (or something — I couldn’t hear his reason over his off-putting torture techniques) crashes the party and takes the whole crew captive. Unfortunate for our crew, for sure, but it does lead to am Ed and Stede torture scene during which there’s a lot of mutual protectiveness happening. It’s great.
It’s not until Ned boards The Revenge that we catch up with Lucius and Pete. I guess it wasn’t completely odd that they would be missing the party so they could be with each other all day/all night in celebration of their engagement, but it was a great party! However, that does leave them as the only two who can rescue the crew.
But, no matter how much I wished to see Pete and Lucius be the heroes this episode, they aren’t quite fast enough to launch a surprise attack before Stede is outsmarting Ned. Quick to notice that Ned’s crew hates him, he plays on their growing discontent for Ned and eventually talks the crew of The Revenge out of their captivity. Ned’s crew is newly emboldened to abandon him, and they leave to be their own crew, thanking Stede as they depart.
This is important for the next episode and Stede’s growing popularity amongst the pirate folk. Notice too Ed’s willingness to take a back seat to Stede’s capatainacy. Part of that means trying to talk Stede out of killing Ned, but Stede goes forward with making Ned walk the plank, effectively killing him. No more haunted by the ghosts of those he’s killed, Stede celebrates this victory without a second thought. As Ed takes clear steps back from his Blackbeard persona, his wariness of Stede’s growing capabilities as a pirate is clear on his face. Still, a victory was won here, and that’s cause for celebration. While the crew continues the party upstairs, Ed and Stede finally consummate their relationship below decks.
The Pirate Queen returns this episode, as does minor Prince Rick, who’s back to being a prince and is really mad at pirates. The Pirate Queen summons minor Prince Rick to the Red Flag. She wants to make a deal with him that would ensure her pirate navy is paid a living wage to stop being pirates. Prince Rick seemingly agrees.
This episode of Our Flag Means Death perfectly crafted a celebratory mid-season episode that allowed the crew to let loose and enjoy each other’s company. It’s a much needed break in the drama after the toxicity of the early parts of this season of Our Flag Means Death.
Quotable moments from Episode 6
“Oh, look, it’s scowly face.”
“”I haven’t crawled out of a snake in years.”
“We own an inn.”
“Are we … under attack?”
“Maybe we just like, tell their stories and in some ways, isn’t that the best revenge?”
“Stede’s already on it!”
“Alrighty, gang! Let’s talk profit sharing!”
“You fucked Calypso’s birthday!”
As a penultimate episode, “Man on Fire” feels oddly misplaced in the season. While it does gather all of our main players back at the Republic of Pirates, it introduces a late-season threat that seemingly disrupts the tension already founded earlier in the season.
Stede’s popularity as The Gentleman Pirate grants him free drinks at Spanish Jackie’s. Everyone knows who Stede is now. This leaves Ed feeling adrift and Stede blinded by the threats that lurk behind the popularity. After their one night together, Ed begins to pull away despite having thrown his Blackbeard leathers overboard that very morning. Instead, he’s decided to be a fisherman. He’s clearly running away from Stede, but he also says he needs to find himself. However, his explanation for running away is muddied by the episode’s need to introduce a larger villain plot to lead into the finale.
The distance between Stede and Ed is also confounding. It’s obviously reminiscent of Stede’s departure in the penultimate episode of Season 1 when he decided to return to his life when he grew overwhelmed by his pirate life. But that decision had a proper build up throughout Season 1. Here, Stede and Ed have worked through their issues, and have grown a lot closer in the past two episodes.
Ed’s existential crisis is definitely an interesting path to take the character, but the timing is off. It’s also happening in the wake of Stede’s popularity amongst the pirates, which also feels forced this episode. Apparently that Ned Lowe guy was a big deal, and everyone’s impressed Stede dealt with him swiftly. But the threat of Ned only lasted one episode, so this spike in Stede’s popularity coinciding with Ed’s distance is very heavy-handed. This second season of Our Flag Means Death only has eight episodes, as opposed to Season 1’s ten episode run. The loss of two episodes is definitely felt in these rushed character-defining moments.
It’s also a rushed job on minor Prince Rick’s betrayal of the Pirate Queen, and on the Pirate Queen’s Pirate Navy. One glimpse of them early in the season, and now they’re blown to smithereens. Having the giant clocks be literal ticking time bombs was clever, and the explosion of the entire pirate fleet a great cliffhanger before the finale, but there was hardly any time to understand the Pirate Queen’s plans, let alone get to know any of the rest of the pirate navy.
After Stede betrayed Captain Zheng in Episode 3, it made sense that she would be their main antagonist out on the high seas. But when they crossed paths again on the Republic of Pirates, it seemed it was all water under the bridge. Everyone on the crews were getting along — it was lovely to see Jim set up a reconciliation between Olu and Captain Zheng, though I suppose that does mean the three-way between Olu, Jim, and the other crewmember is out. And it was delicious to see Captain Zheng talk all of Stede’s crew into joining her crew again. Whether that was a manipulation on her part to get back at Stede is tough to say, but Stede certainly thought that that was what was happening. Their stand-off was building up nicely, but then minor Prince Rick had to ruin it.
While “Man on Fire” had plenty of great moments with the characters, it’s definitely the weakest in the season. I did really love the scene between Izzy and Stede where they finally lay down their swords and commiserate about how complicated Blackbeard is. Again, never expected Izzy to be the stand-out character this season, but here we are.
With the Pirate Queen’s pirate navy now blown up, my guess is we will see a team-up between Stede and Captain Zheng. I’m down for that.
Quotable moments from Episode 7
“Also it’s good to see it’s not just the ship that’s been well and truly … docked.”
“Letters in bottles, that’s not the most reliable postal service but I love that.”
“You know that saying, ‘fool me once shame on me, fool me twice, I need to end your life.’”
“I took her entire crew down with chamomile tea.”
Our Flag Means Death Season 2 ends next Thursday on Max.
Featured images courtesy of Nicola Dove