Our Flag Means Death is (on the surface) about pirates, particularly the most fearsome pirate who ever sailed, Edward Teach (Blackbeard) and who some would describe as the worst pirate who ever sailed, Stede Bonnet. But pirates are not what this 10 episode series is really about: this series is about love and acceptance, both of oneself and those who are different around us.
The official sources for this series classify it as an adventure comedy, but I’d add an additional genre in and say this series directed by David Jenkins is actually an adventure romantic comedy. Yes, we’re watching pirates sail the seas in an attempt to make a name for themselves and be an absolute menace to primarily the English Navy, but we’re also watching this ensemble of vastly different characters fall in love with those around them and themselves. What better romance is there than romance on the high seas, and what better love is there to watch unfold than self-love?
But a story about the Gentleman Pirate simply cannot be without comedy. Of course humor was to be expected of another project with Taika Waititi and Rhys Darby attached to and starring in the project, and having People of Earth‘s Jenkins as the director on this one certainly didn’t hurt as well. Jenkins clearly had an emotional story to tell here, but was able to perfectly balance the emotional dives and comedic highs so flawlessly. You laugh when you need to laugh, and you feel for the characters when you’re meant to feel for them. Providing an effortless connection between the audience and the story is not always an easy task to undertake, particularly in a plot centered in 1717, and yet that is exactly what Jenkins provides: connection.
Who better to portray the Gentleman Pirate — aka Stede Bonnet — than Darby? Darby portrays the perfect gentleman with exact precision, and portrays Stede in a manner that sucks the audience in and has them completely enamored with the wanna-be pirate immediately. Even if you haven’t experienced a mid-life crisis like Stede is throughout the series, everyone has had a moment where they feel they want something more from their life, and Darby’s portrayal of this universally human feeling is familiar and, ultimately, comforting. It doesn’t matter at what age it happens — when we take the steps to become our most authentic selves and live the lives we want to, beautiful things can and will happen.
Waititi in this specific iteration of Blackbeard was a brilliant casting decision and one that flawlessly displays his range as an actor well. Blackbeard is fearsome and Waititi becomes unhinged and seemingly out-of-control when need be, yet also consistently displays the softer sides of humanity and the need for human connection that — yes — are even present in someone as dark and dangerous as Blackbeard. There is also no shortage of humor coming from Waititi in the role, so people who love his unique comedy definitely will not be missing anything there. Waititi continues to grow as a performer and perfect his craft, and each time I watch him I’m left thinking, “I can’t wait to see what he does next”.
The chemistry and dynamic between Waititi and Darby, the series’ co-captains, will absolutely leave your eyes glued to your screen, and perhaps even fill them with tears whether by laughter or emotional depth. The pair are able to portray differences in their respective characters’ mid-life crises, yet communicate that deep down they’re both longing for the same thing.
The entire brigade of buccaneers is incredibly endearing and by the end of the series you will absolutely have been sucked into the family that has been created on the Revenge. It is truly a real shame that Our Flag Means Death has not been confirmed for additional seasons thus far, because I know I am not alone in saying that I will miss these characters if we don’t see more of them. I will miss watching them see new parts of the world with beautiful optimism and appreciation, and I will miss watching them embrace and love one another’s differences. Sometimes our family isn’t our family at all, and our family becomes the other outcasts we meet along our journey through life that embrace us for our oddities that make us who we are.
This series was written as a love letter to minorities by minorities and it shows. The inclusion of non-heterosexual identities isn’t used to gain brownie points and it isn’t there to gain another demographic’s views — the love and romance between same-sex characters is so natural and beautiful and truly indicative of a level of care and respect brought to the table by this creative team. In addition to exploring sexual identity, we also see a delicate exploration of gender identity with the introduction of a non-binary character. The crew embraces the non-binary identity so gracefully and seamlessly slides into using they/them pronouns for the character in a way I truly wish we could see everyone in the modern real-world do so. The characters aren’t here to be the token LGBTQ characters, they just are who they are, unapologetically so, and they don’t need to be any different.
Outside of a phenomenal cast, we see excellent design work throughout the many elements that go into making a period piece. The costumes, although perhaps not entirely historically accurate, are stunning and are accompanied by an intricately detailed set. As can be expected from HBO Max projects, there are also several visually stunning shots throughout this series, and you may even find yourself a new desktop wallpaper from the series much like I did.
You should absolutely give this delightfully silly, surprisingly introspective, and positively heartwarming series a watch if you haven’t already. Our Flag Means Death is available to stream now in its entirety on HBOMax.