There are two ways one could have watched the premiere of Starz’ new sexy/violent pirate show Black Sails. 1) You maybe didn’t know that there was an awesome queer couple in your future, so it was a lovely surprise and before that you were just enjoying a nice show about pirate politics, and 2) You knew there was an awesome queer couple in your future and had to wade through nearly an hour of pirate politics to get what you were promised in the promos. Or I guess a third way, where perhaps awesome queer couples are not the focus of your television viewing experience and you were watching for contents’ sake. But that’s no fun at all! It’s a cable show after all, almost statistically those things are 75% gratuitous sex, violence, and nudity and 25% plot. I’m not complaining.
Black Sails falls very much into the “Game of Thrones is Really Successful” genre that also seems to have spawned Vikings (the History Channel’s badass Viking serial. One word: Lagertha). These shows are fun, bloody, and just about everyone in the cast is otherworldly attractive, but amidst the frivolity, there’s a real need to actually tell the tale at some point. I don’t want to say plot drags Black Sails down. After all, I am an intellectual and wasn’t only watching for the promise of Jessica Parker Kennedy! (Total lie. I still miss Secret Circle, so sue me) However, my pirate knowledge does start and end with the “Of the Caribbean” variety, so I wasn’t even aware this was a loosely based prequel to Treasure Island. All the basic characters are there -- the struggling Captain Flint whose crew is starting to consider mutiny, the young turncloak John Silver (do you still call side-changing pirates turncloaks? Turn peg-legs?) who switches sides to stay alive, the tag-along henchmen and then a bunch of other characters it’s somewhat impossible to keep track of. And if you do watch Game of Thrones, you know that after a certain point you just have to give up and accept there will be about 300 characters you will never remember. But hey, Black Sails isn’t just some raging testosterone pirate man-party. In fact, two of the four first-billed leads are ladies, and one of the central pirates is a lady as well. These women more-or-less strong, singular characters in control of their lives, fortunes, and sexualities and that can sadly still be a damn rarity on TV these days.
So who are these fantastic new leading ladies gracing our screen? First, we’ve got “borderline psychopathic” pirate Anne Bonny (Clare Paget), half her face mysteriously cloaked by a large, floppy hat as she kills people and randomly demands to have sex with one of her pirate pals. We don’t know a lot about her, but if what I just told you didn’t pique your interest you probably aren’t even reading this review.
Next, we’ve got Max (Jessica Parker Kennedy, so often naked and differently-accented that her roles in such CW fair as Secret Circle and 90210 are quickly forgotten), a clever, scheming prostitute who quickly forms a plan to make herself some fortune off the missing page everyone’s after from some important pirate book. Lastly, no matter how many tepid reviews you may find online for Black Sails, you will see no one talking smack about Eleanor Guthrie (the stunning, intriguing Hannah New), the badass overseer of pirate crews/supplies and owner of the local tavern. Eleanor’s so powerfully commanding that I hope the season somehow ends in her being captain of all the ships.
While we may not know how the season will end, the episode ends in the unpredictable, but oh-so-perfect new power-couple of the year. After Eleanor gets in a brawl with the brash Captain Zane, Max notices and pulls her aside to tend to the wound. After some poetic words of devotion, Max tends to more than just Eleanor’s wound. And from what we can tell, this isn’t the first time. Because I love this couple so much -- the adorable wordplay, the tenderness, the unexpected but on-point chemistry -- I figure they’re probably doomed (according to IMDB, Jessica is only in 7 of the 8 episodes, so I expect the worst).
Nearly any interview with Hannah New will have her talking about how one of the things she enjoys about the show is the character’s lack of need to define or tie down sexuality, so it’s also possible Eleanor will return to the arms of her former lover Captain Zane. But for the moment, I’m all aboard on the SS Maxeanor, and as long as this boat’s a float, I’ll be tuning in. If you missed this week’s episode, never fear, Starz has the premiere for free online so you have plenty of time to catch up before more pirate craziness goes down.