This review of the Our Flag Means Death Season 2 finale contains major spoilers.
And just like that, another season of Our Flag Means Death ends. It was too short, both in terms of the weeks it aired, and also in number of episodes. Eight episodes is not enough, and these last two suffered because of it. Season 2 came back strong, not letting up in its three-episode premiere. Episode 4 dialed things back so that Ed and Stede could talk things out. Episode 6 gave us the show’s best chapter, but the penultimate episode ramped things up too quickly, leading to rushed character-defining moments. The impact of those moments fizzled in the finale, but all this hardly matters when this season did the impossible — it made me like an unlikable character. Welcome to the eulogy of Izzy Hands.
Izzy the interloper
In the beginning, Izzy was a nuisance. An interloper in the Ed and Stede will-they-won’t-they dynamic, Izzy was easy to write off in Season 1. No one liked him. He was all up in Blackbeard’s business when Ed was already done with him. He was a good villain, though, and that’s all thanks to Con O’Neill’s performance. But then Season 2 came around and gone was the smarmy bastard. Here now was a reluctant agent of change, a man who knows he’s lost but is starting to realize he might have found something else. Fed up with Blackbeard’s antics, Izzy’s the first to stand his ground against Ed. An intriguing development, since having Ed take on the Blackbeard persona again was all Izzy had wanted.
“It’s not about glory. It’s not about getting what you want.”
Since Izzy Hands rose from the ashes like a phoenix in early Season 2, he’s been the one to root for. He works through his trauma by himself but accepts the wooden leg gift from his crew. He helps Lucius and Stede work through their own issues, no matter how much he doesn’t want to. And he embraces the crew as his family, a moment perfectly captured by his rendition of “La Vie en rose” in Episode 6. He settled his scores with Stede, commiserating with him about how complicated a man Ed was. Izzy Hands achieved full character development over the course of these two seasons. By doing so, he became the beating heart of the show.
His death was written in stone from the moment he gave minor Prince Rick that badass speech. “It’s about letting go of ego for something larger — the crew,” he says to Rick, finishing the speech that rings his death toll. With his last words, Izzy tells Ed that he’s sorry for pushing him. “Just be Ed,” he says, before slipping away. Both these moments should serve as O’Neill’s Emmy consideration. His last words also explain his character in Season 1. Izzy needed the Blackbeard Ed used to be, for reasons that make sense if you consider Izzy words from earlier. He had found something with Blackbeard, and when that began to change after Ed met Stede, he had a hard time letting go.
By his death, Izzy cares for the crew. He understands himself, and his role to play. Watching him embrace the crew and learn to accept the love and forgiveness he deserves has been a treat. As soon as he gave minor Prince Rick that speech, he was a goner. That speech was too good for him to live.
The short-lived life of Ed the fisherman
The rest of the episode pales in comparison to the Izzy Hands of it all. The loss of two episodes this season really makes itself known in Episodes 7 and 8, especially with regards to Ed. Ed leaves Stede in the penultimate episode to become a fisherman. This decision was made abruptly, an obvious plot device to create some tension and do a huge reunion in the final episode. However, Ed is barely gone for five minutes before he’s heading back to the Republic of Pirates. I wouldn’t have such an issue with this if it had time to breathe.
In the same way Stede spent time back home in the Season 1 finale, Ed’s “finding himself” moment deserved more screen time. It’s hard to take him seriously when all he does is goof off in a row boat while providing dramatic narration about his calling as a fisherman. It wasn’t true introspection, so his realization that he should just do what he’s good at (i.e. being a pirate and killing people) doesn’t land quite as hard. What journey did he take here? Ed’s departure happened for one reason and one reason only — so there could be a recreation of the beach reunion from Stede’s dream in Episode 1. Of course, this moment is fantastic and gives us the first “I love you” between Stede and Ed, but it’s still a moment that’s not fully earned.
Captain Zheng and Auntie, her first mate, survive minor Prince Rick’s attack. Since minor Prince Rick also kills Izzy, Zheng suggests to Ed and Stede that they partner up to get revenge. It seemed like they agreed, but then the crew sails off in The Revenge, and Stede and Ed stay behind to become the innkeepers Ed once dreamed about. It’s an odd ending; Stede never gave an indication that he wanted to give up the pirate life. Just last episode he was excited about the notoriety he was getting. Ed’s failed fishing trip led to him recognizing he’s still a pirate. I didn’t take Izzy’s last words to him to mean retire. However, Ed’s been pulling back from the fearsome Blackbeard persona for a while. It’s just a consequence of these rushed final episodes, where we needed more introspection on Ed’s part.
Despite my issues with these last two episodes, overall Our Flag Means Death Season 2 has exceeded expectations. An imbalance in character screen time is definitely felt; after they survived the toxicity of Blackbeard’s crew early on, Jim and Frenchie pretty much stayed in the background. Olu never had a shining moment. I thought more would come from Lucius’ ordeal, but beyond the initial trauma-related storyline, he doesn’t get a lot to do either. There is a boat wedding for him and Pete, though, which was nice. If the show comes back for a Season 3, it would be lovely to see characters like Roach and Frenchie have more to do.
Unfortunately, minor Prince Rick lives on. Revenge is on the horizon. Though this season wasn’t perfect, it gets major points for turning Izzy into my favorite character, and for seeing through a full character arc for him. His end is sad, but it’s deeply satisfying. For future seasons of Our Flag Means Death, I want to see that kind of well-rounded storytelling for the other characters, too.
Quotable Moments from Our Flag Means Death Season 2 Finale (They’re all from Izzy)
“It’s not about glory. It’s not about getting what you want. It’s about belonging to something when the world has told you you’re nothing. It’s about finding the family to kill for when yours are long dead. It’s about letting go of ego for something larger — the crew.”
“I fed your darkness.”
“I want to go.”
“Just be Ed.”
Featured images courtesy of Nicola Dove/Max
'Our Flag Means Death' Season 2 Finale - 8/10