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Black Sails is the best pirate show of all time

Nobody can measure up to Captain Flint

still image from black sails featuring captain flint and john silver
Image credit: starz

It's hard to imagine pirate stories before Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, before the invention of Captain Flint and Long John Silver and the Walrus -- which is why Black Sails, purposefully created as a prequel to Treasure Island, makes for such an interesting story. The show, which ran from 2014 to 2017 on Starz in the US, didn't just draw from Treasure Island, like almost all contemporary pirate stories do, however; it imagined what came before, and did so in a gruesome, dramatic, and altogether brilliant way.

still image from black sails featuring anne bonny
Image credit: Starz

Where Treasure Island is about adventure and ghosts of the past, Black Sails is instead about survival and power and freedom from imperialism. It's about politics and the power of stories and legends. In other words, it's what you wanted Game of Thrones to be, a perfectly plotted show full of changing alliances, betrayal, and a scramble for power. At the center of all of those threads are Captain Flint (Toby Stephens) and John Silver (Luke Arnold), two very complex characters and how they grow and develop both separately and together are the heart of the show and what makes it so delicious to watch.

Black Sails’ familiar cast of characters, most taken from Treasure Island lore as well as real life piracy, include Charles Vane, Calico Jack, Anne Bonny, and Billy Bones and are all fascinating in their own right without having their hard edges filed off. As a fairly adult show, Black Sails never glosses over the impact of violence. In fact, the action is not only visceral, it's integral to the plot and the world of the story. That, added to the fact that the show’s was filmed in Cape Town makes for one of the cooler looking pieces of pirate media out there, even before you get to the stellar writing. (One Piece was also shot in Cape Town, interestingly enough.)

Promotional image for Black Sails television show
Image credit: Starz

But what's so wondrous about the show is that it starts with high stakes and the stakes just keep getting higher, all the while leaving no plot point behind. A throwaway decision in the first season can haunt a character years later, a moment of poor judgment can lead to a major character death (yes, there are major deaths). Everything about the show is intense, and even better than that, each new step the show takes makes sense considering what has come before. It is masterfully plotted throughout all four seasons, which makes it not only exhilarating to watch, but also deeply satisfying.

I could keep waxing poetic about awesome action and brilliant performances and really, really great pirate speeches, but really you should just watch the show yourself and see how Black Sails works its magic and reminds us that beyond all the politics and the violence, it is human connection, love, hatred, and yes, stories that drive us and define who we are.

(It's also got one of the most epic opening sequences ever - yay hurdy gurdies.)

Cover image for YouTube videoBlack Sails | Opening Credits | STARZ

For those who haven't seen Black Sails yet, Starz has made the first full episode free on Youtube.

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Tiffany Babb avatar

Tiffany Babb

Deputy Editor

Tiffany Babb is Popverse's deputy editor and resident Sondheim enthusiast. Tiffany likes stories that understand genre conventions (whether they play into them or against them), and she cries very easily at the movies— but rarely at the moments that are meant to be tearjerkers.