Ahoy, me hearties! Looks like it’s high time we take to the high queer seas again with a timber-shivering second season of HBO’s sleeper hit, the pirate series Our Flag Means Death!
Now, I know I was gaga over the first season and its daring move to transform the queer subtext of pirates into actual text with Blackbeard and Stede’s relationship. However, I must admit that when I heard the show had been renewed for a second season, I approached it with a mix of anticipation and queer dread Why is that? Well, mateys, the truth is I’ve been burned by queerbaiting and queer representation in the past, so I was concerned that this show would do some retconning — like having Stede say he never really felt anything for his wife, or something of the like.
So, did the new season do anything to dash my worries on the prow of its headless unicorn-masted ship? Read on to find out!
I should probably go over a few disclaimers here. First and foremost, there HERE BE SPOILERS for seasons one and definitely season two of OFMD. So if you haven’t caught up, best be making quick work of that before you continue on in this column. Second, I should give a few content warnings — these are, after all, pirates, so there is some gore, dismemberment, a little nudity here and there (there’s a prominent shot of a naked booty), general violence with the raids, and characters revisiting/processing past and recent traumas (actually, that’s a huge part of this season, so you can’t really skip over that). If you’re concerned that there may be other triggers that I didn’t warn about, a good source to double-check on that can be found right over here. Finally, if this is your first time in these waters — and by waters I mean The Unicorn Scale — you can find out all about our metric right over here.
OK, now let’s get kinky and walk this plank together!
Our Flag Means Death is a period comedy centered around the life of Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby), a nobleman who abandons a life of wealth and privilege on a romantic whim to pursue a pirate's life on the high seas. Little does he know that his comical adventures will draw the attention of one of the most infamous pirates in the Caribbean, Ed Teach, more commonly known as Blackbeard (Taika Waititi). It's worth mentioning that many of the characters in the series are loosely inspired by historical figures and their counterparts.
What I Liked:
Y’all. Y’ALL. My fears were unfounded. Not only did we get to see what happened after that cliffhanger with Ed and Stede at the end of Season 1, but a bunch of other characters, both new and cherished, were confirmed to be bi. Let's go over the list together (with just a quick nod that I'm so glad that creator David Jenkins and company did not try to gaywash away Stede's past.
Ed/Blackbeard — This needs a bit more historical context, but the historical Blackbeard definitely had a series of wives and was likely together with the historical Bonnet. In the show, we do get a reference to “dalliances” Ed had with Calico Jack, but the fulcrum of the show is his relationship with Stede. After a serious breakup, Ed is on the warpath, and it comes into serious question whether the two will find their way back together, and eventually, whether Ed will continue to be a bloodthirsty, merciless pirate.
Jim (Vico Ortiz) — This nonbinary pirate gets a romantic relationship with kind crewmate Oluwande (Samson Kayo) in season one and then, after a split in the crew, finds love with new crewmate Archie (Madeleine Sami). But we don't have a tired queer love triangle set up with them — Olu has moved on to a new love interest with a certain Pirate Queen, and the three seem genuinely happy to be around each other on the deck of the Revenge. There's even a sweet moment where all three of them dance together during Calypso's birthday. Three cheers for supportive bi love!
Archie — As mentioned, Archie, an experienced but cheerful new crew member of the Revenge, takes a liking to Jim after hearing them comfort another traumatized crew member with their rendition of Pinocchio. It’s a sweet and simple love.
Spanish Jackie (Leslie Jones) — This one is a touch more of a stretch, but not a total reach. We see and hear much about Jackie's many husbands as the queen tavern owner at the Republic of Pirates, but Leslie is quick to add that she (and many other cast members) fully believe she had wives as well. Have you seen Spanish Jackie? I wouldn't put it past her. And if it's good enough for Leslie, it's good enough for me.
Anne Bonny (Minnie Driver) — Anne is an old pirate friend of Ed's (also true historically, as they all knew Calico Jack) who has retired as an antique store owner, living with fellow pirate Mary Read and finding lethal ways to spice up their relationship. This includes flirting with and making a move on Stede in order to make Mary jealous.
Mary Read (Rachel House) — She is the other half of this dastardly bi pirate couple. Though we don't see her actively hitting on any men and is clearly involved with Anne, we know from history that Read for a time escaped hanging for her crimes because she was discovered to be pregnant.
What I Didn’t Like:
Not a damn thing!
Instead of taking its foot off the gas as far as queer representation in the second season of Our Flag Means Death, the creators doubled down wherever it seemed fitting. This takes queer representation in historical comedies — and, really, in pretty much any show on streamers or networks — to new heights without abandoning the reality of the show. Indeed, it has become a treasure trove.