Reactions to Our Flag Means Death season 2 have been pretty universally positive, but what is it about this charming, romantic pirate comedy that audiences love so much? Today we’re unpacking the show’s deeper messages, taking a look at why the show works so well, and exploring where a possible season 3 could take our favorite pirates!
Old Story Told A New Way
People have been enthralled by tales of pirates for eons; swashbuckling rogues going against the grain and playing by their own rules to gain fame and fortune have captured the minds of audiences since the times when they were still sailing the high seas. So it comes as no surprise that Our Flag Means Death has cultivated its own cult following – but what is surprising is the way that the show flips old tropes on their heads and creates its own radical new narratives. Pirates in the media are often shown to be fearsome and cunning, and while that’s true for some of Our Flag’s pirates, with most of the crew we see quite the opposite. Blackbeard is (for the most part) the tough and ruthless pirate captain we imagine, but Stede Bonnet and the crew of the Revenge are not so much. But it’s this exact will to continue on in defiance of the odds or, it often seems, much lack of pirating skill that makes this dysfunctional pirate crew so special. They bring a human (and comedic) element to the pirate mythos that connects to the rebellious misfit inside all of us. And, importantly, we meet these characters as they’re beginning journeys of self discovery – even Blackbeard, already renowned (and feared) the world over, isn’t at the end of his story but the start of a very new chapter. It’s within these stories of personal growth that Our Flag’s heart of gold shines through. We’re going to dive into the end of season two and what it means for everyone in just a moment, but first let’s take a look at what led up to that point and why it’s made everyone love the show so much.
Stede Bonnet has made some big strides since we first met him in season one: the bored rich guy who longed for more out of life has indeed created a life of adventure for himself, and even found real love.The show began by paralleling Stede’s story with that of Pinnochio, as he reads about the doll becoming a real boy while simultaneously beginning his own journey to becoming a real pirate. But it was never a straight line from point a to point b, no amount of money or charm or fancy clothes could buy him the life he really wanted. Instead of forcing him to hide away his true self and put on a steely facade like many stories would have, however, Stede is allowed to travel down this road of personal growth without being made to give up or snuff out the sparkling core of who he is. And this is a crucial element of all of Our Flag Means Death’s stories: that becoming who you’re meant to be means embracing all of the things that make you you. Stede’s foil, the sniveling minor Prince Richard “Ricky” Banes provides us an example of the way trying to build a ‘personal brand’ around who you think you should be, without actually being willing to work for it, can backfire. Ricky is obsessed with Stede’s story of leaving his life behind for the pirate world, and attempts to follow in his footsteps. But instead of making the effort to truly embrace the pirate life, he instead looks for shortcuts to success. His attempts to bypass the personal growth and drudgery lead him not to glory, but to losing his nose (recalling the saying that someone like Ricky would ‘cut off their own nose to spite their face,) and instead crawling back to the world he attempted to leave behind and then working to keep anyone from trying to live the free pirate life. While Stede’s journey certainly has its bumps and bruises, going through it all is worth it because it leads him to a life in which he feels truly happy.
Ed Teach, aka Blackbeard, is already a legendary pirate when we meet him, and given how much one must toil to build that kind of name for themselves, you’d think he’d be content with his station. But his reputation has in fact made life feel too easy – he doesn’t even really have to be fearsome anymore because people are already so afraid. This leads to him questioning what he really wants out of life – and is also what sparks his fascination with Stede. Seeing someone so boldly bumbling their way into new unknowns is enticing. In Ed we also get a clear example of one of the show’s other key themes, the way toxic masculinity leads to pain. In his quest to fit into the societally accepted box of ‘ideal’ masculinity, Ed had to repress the softer sides of himself and bury his trauma deep within the recesses of his soul. His relationship with Stede began to help him overcome this – but then when things fell apart at the end of season one, Ed tucked away those gentler parts of himself and shuttered up his heart. In an attempt to numb and avoid dealing with his pain, he turned back into the worst, most toxic version of himself – going so far as to murder innocent people for gold he didn’t even really want or need. It’s not until midway through season two, when Ed and Stede reunite and begin talking openly about their true feelings and what they want out of their relationship and life that he is able to start truly leaving his toxic masculinity behind. But the show also made sure not to just let him off the hook that easily – he doesn’t just get to treat everyone horribly for all of that time and then turn around and say ‘oopsies, just kidding.’ He has to sincerely apologize (and actually apologize, with an “I’m sorry” and all, and really work on himself to be forgiven by the community he hurt.
Finding Love & Family
The found family formed by this band of misfits is the true bedrock of the entire show. The crew are so relatable because they aren’t perfect, and must try and try again to achieve their goals (and sometimes still don’t quite manage it,) but are critically always there for one another along the journey (or, at least, always manage to come back to one another.) What’s really important isn’t a quest for glory, or an attempt to mold oneself into something new, but in fact the ability to find a place that one can be themselves – and, if you can’t find that place, creating it. Every member of the crew knows what it’s like to be rejected, by those close to them and by society at large, and so also understand the importance of acceptance. And we see how being in a community that feels safe, and like it truly respects you, allows the freedom to share all of yourself. In that same vein, another crucial aspect of the show is learning to be unafraid in love as well.
Where most pirate stories from history focus on murder and pillaging, the main thread that holds Our Flag together is actually romance. And not just the ‘swashbuckling pirate saves damsel, or steals damsel, or has a lady in every port’ type of “romance” one might expect. One thing that drew so many fans to the show is the way it proudly showcases queer love stories. Not relegated just to background characters who don’t actually interact but are implied to be gay in a press release or side characters who only exist to die for dramatic tension, on Our Flag we get to see a variety of queer relationships across the LGBTQ spectrum, including with the main characters. These relationships are properly fleshed out and developed over time, and given the space to grow in an organic, beautiful way. The show is wonderfully unashamed about its queer elements, from the relationships to smaller details like hanging pride flags in an 18th century pirate market. The show is also unafraid to break from stereotypical relationship conventions – from Spanish Jackie’s 20 husbands to the love-triangle-turned-polycule. And importantly, all of the queer relationships are allowed to feel lived in and sincere, not just like things that the writers are throwing in for drama or just to bait the audience. As Jess Joho noted in her piece for Mashable, it seems like the writers were very aware of the problem of shows attempting to court a queer audience and then pulling the rug out from under them, writing, “It’s obvious at least one person in the writer’s room was very aware of just how much baggage courting this under-represented demographic came with, as an audience so often left in the margins of a fan board.” Our Flag’s decision to double down on showing deep, genuine queer love across ages and genders in the second season has made the show even more beloved by fans.
Where it left off & what might be next
Whereas season one ended with heartache and a cliffhanger, season two concluded with several clear pledges to togetherness. The finale wasn’t without its own twinge of sadness, as mean first mate turned beloved crew member Izzy succumbs to a battle wound and is laid to rest. But the main focus of the last episode of this season is the joining of forces. Lucius and Black Pete’s wedding is a joyous moment. And it’s also based on a real life type of contract that existed during this era, in which sailor couples would essentially enter into a civil union, agreeing to care for and defend one another and share their incomes and property. As you might expect, many historians often handwave away the idea that these could have possibly been romantic unions. But thankfully Our Flag is unapologetic about showing the depth of Lucius and Pete’s love for one another. Stede and Ed make their own kind of vows, too, as they decide to leave the pirate life behind and start a new journey together: opening an inn. After two seasons of relationship trials and tribulations, it’s incredibly rewarding to finally get to see this pair have the opportunity to settle down and devote themselves to each other and their love. Of course, this doesn’t mean things are now going to be perfect for them. As show creator David Jenkins told EW, “I just wanted to leave Stede and Blackbeard in a good place. Instead of seeing them get punished for following each other, I wanted to see a moment where they’re alright. And it is just a moment: I think a relationship is going to take a lot of work for them.” Ed and Stede deciding to take a new course in life also lead to the start of a new adventure for the rest of the crew, too, as they decided to rejoin forces on the Revenge, this time under Captain Frenchie.
While season three hasn’t been confirmed yet, Jenkins said, “We have a lot of ideas for a third season, and there’s a lot more story to tell.” So we’re hoping that we will get at least one more adventure with all of our favorite pirates. It would be great to see Ed and Stede deal with the part of relationships we don’t see as often on screen: the, well, relationship part. Stories often hinge on the rush of getting together or the drama of breaking up, but just seeing two people who love each other work to keep their relationship alive in the long term would be a great turn for Our Flag to take. The show touched on the work required to keep the spark going with Mary and Annie and seeing how Ed and Stede continue to find ways to help one another grow and strengthen their relationship could be an interesting narrative of its own for the third season. This would also likely mean grappling with both men having to fight off their own tendencies to run – not just from pain but from boredom. The show began with both Stede and Ed looking to leave their dull lives behind for something more exciting, and long term relationships can start to feel routine and lose their fire. So the pair will have to work together to keep the spark alive. Whatever happens, we’re sure that they won’t be able to give up the thrill of the pirate life for long – so maybe they’ll be hiring an innkeeper and heading right back out to join the Revenge crew on a whole new set of adventures.
Coates, Lauren. “Unexpected Romantic Voyage Continues in Confident Second Season of Our Flag Means Death: TV/Streaming: Roger Ebert.” TV/Streaming | Roger Ebert, www.rogerebert.com/streaming/our-flag-means-death-season-two-review. Accessed 9 Nov. 2023.
Coggan, Devan. “‘Our Flag Means Death’ Creator Breaks down That Bittersweet Finale and His Hopes for Season 3.” EW.Com, Entertainment Weekly, 26 Oct. 2023, ew.com/tv/our-flag-means-death-season-2-finale/#:~:text=Despite%20Izzy%27s%20sacrifice%2C%20it%27s%20not,Captain%20 Frenchie%20(Joel%20Fry).
Joho, Jess. “‘Our Flag Means Death’ Finally Gave Queer Fandom The Love Story We Deserve.” Mashable, Mashable, 14 Apr. 2022, mashable.com/article/our-flag-means-death-fandom-superwholock-queerbaiting.
Scrimshaw, Danielle. “Heteronormativity and Popular History.” Archer Magazine, 11 Mar. 2021, archermagazine.com.au/2021/03/heteronormativity-popular-history/.