BLACK SAILS(Starz, Saturday, Jan. 25, 9 p.m.) 1/20/2014 12:00 AM Eastern
Season one of Black Sails (it’s already been renewed) is one ripping yarn, with several intriguing strands.
The time and money spent on building replica sailing vessels circa 1715 pays off with a boffo opening sequence in which the pirate ship Walrus overtakes, cannons into submission and overwhelms the crew of a merchant ship. Thus, we meet John Silver (Luke Arnold), a stowaway on the captured vessel, and pirate Capt. Flint (Toby Stephens), two decades before they appear in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.
We also get our first lesson in pirate politics. Flint, somewhat like Moby Dick’s Capt. Ahab, has taken the Walrus on a quest for leads to find a Spanish treasure vessel — but hasn’t told his crew that’s the reason why their raids have been unprofitable lately. This has put Flint in danger of losing control of the vessel: crew members vote for their captain, and Flint’s support is waning.
That’s one of the truths of the so-called Golden Age of piracy that Black Sails aims to demonstrate. The producers also wanted to tell a Western-moviestyle story, centered on a Bahamas island that pirates have turned into a thieves’ haven, complete with saloons and prostitutes. In charge of the tavern, and the main “fence” for pirate goods, is a woman, Eleanor Guthrie (Hannah New), turning that stereotype around. An excellent South African set stands in for Nassau, on the island of New Providence. Various alliances form and break involving Flint; Charles Vane (Zach McGowan, fiery captain of the Ranger); Guthrie and Maxi the Whore (Jessica Parker Kennedy); and Silver, among others.
There’s plenty of color and action, on ship and on shore. The characters are well drawn. The story moves along smartly after the initial shipboard fog of battle. There are hand-to-hand fights and more than a modicum of premium-channel nudity. And the commanding presence of Toby Stephens. All in all, a lot to like.