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Black Sails review, episode V: finally the cannonballs fly

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Tonights installment of Starz pirate series, Black Sails, things finally kick (somewhat) into high gear. Prior to tonight's episode the story has been largely lacking much in the way of, well, pirates being piratey or tall ships. Both of which are items one would expect to find in a series about pirates. In episode V, while a good amount of the episode concerns itself with Eleanor still contending with the corner she's painted herself into, but Captain Flint races headfirst into battle with Captain Bryson bringing us the first exciting naval engagement.

The island's organized crime lord/businesswoman-in-training Elanor stands by as her father, Guthrie, pulls the rug out from under her by telling the townsfolke and sailors that their business has effectively been shot down now that he is being hunted by the English navy and his Boston associates have cut him off. Beyond not having any future prospects for new ill-gotten gains, he informs the angry mob that they don't have much money to pay off their outstanding business debts and that they should take it up with Elanor. The mob would have sacked the place then and there had it not been for Captain Hornigold's crew acting as bodyguards around the building.

She negotiates with the other captains to set up a new business venture that would restore a viable cash flow, but Hornigold adds the stipulation that she has to relent and recind her excommunication of Captain Vane, otherwise he will pull back his guards and she will have to contend with the growing mob alone. She insists she'll do no such thing but by the time her time in the episode ends, it's feeling fairly clear that he'll relent. Hopefully she will so that the story can stop giving her arc so much screen time.

Back as the chase for Captain Bryson goes on there's time for Captain Flint and Billy Bones to have a bit of a heart to heart about trust and leadership, but just as the conversation started getting interesting, the Andromache is sighted and the chase begins in earnest.

Now, let me start off by stating that I really enjoyed this episode, with it's action scenes, and many of it's characters. It's easily my favorite full episode by far (there's been other great scenes, but this was finally an episode that ended where I was thinking, damn it, I want next week's episode now).

Some characters have yet to capture me the way that I would have hoped. Anne Bonny, played by Clara Paget, has yet to make an impression. It feels like they want the audience to bond with her in the same way that they did with Deadwood's Calamity Jane, but thus far it's just not happening. She spends most of her time brooding under that hat of hers like an anime character.

Others however are stepping into the limelight, Dufresne (played by Jannes Eiselen), who is the Walrus' accountant is thrust into the attack on the Andromache, while never having had to fire a weapon before. He finds himself, encouraged and reassured, but nonetheless forced by Billy to accompany the rest of the crew as they jump across in the attack. It's nice to see the point reiterated, that even nice geeky types, when backed into a corner will fight with whatever weapons they have available to them, even if it's with their bare hands and teeth.

Nitpicks of the week: Let's talk about some of the elements of the show that I would have hoped that would be more accurate to the time. When Flint and Billy are having their talk on deck, the camera catches various angles of the deck and they are virtually alone. The amount of men required to man a tall ship would hardly leave an entire deck clear for several minutes, especially one on an active hunt for an armed prize.

Once the Andromache is spotted, it's not just hull up (fully visible) it's well below the horizon line (the flogging that the lookouts should receive had better be one for the record books). Once our pirates board her, the amount of clear space below decks is just stunning. The Andromache was a sixth-rate and should have had closer to 200 men aboard, including two dozen marines, and evidentially had the tallest lower deck ceilings for that rate of ship in the entirety of the Royal Navy.

Captain Bryson gives the command to fire at will, then a few minutes later tells them to fire. If he wanted them to hold before firing, what would the point be of giving the at will order? And as a last note to Captain Flint, if you have that much time during the chase (stated in the episode of well in excess of 4 hours), there would have been plenty of time to set up at least some of his smaller guns as bow chasers to deter the sniper fire from small arms as the ships closed distance.

Well, now we know that Captain Bryson had given the information of his anticipated pursuit to the HMS Scarborough who has just appeared on the horizon, leaving Flint and his crew stuck between a rock and a hard place, and so we leave them in a wonderful to be continued cliffhanger until next week.

Now to see if Captain Flint does the logical thing - batten down the lower deck hatches to Caption Bryson and crew can't escape, attach tow cables from his ship to the Andromache, since his still has a functional rudder and use both ships to fire at range into the quickly approaching Scarborough. (We'll skip the fact that as the scene ends at near nightfall with the Scarborough still a ways away - and earlier in the episode it's pointed out of the difficulty in doing pursuit in darkness).

Episode Rating: four skulls out of five.

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