Black Sails is back for season 2, and I’m so damn excited I could down an entire bottle of rum, swab the poop deck, and probably do a whole ton of other pirate cliches, none of which this show ever delves into because this show is great. To celebrate season two, I talked through some key scenes from the premiere with Black Sails creators Jonathan E. and Robert Levine, and discussed what we can expect from the rest of the season.
And what a better place to start than that opening scene, teased by Starz for months, with newcomer Ned Low and his crew boarding a ship and murdering…everyone. Like a handful of Black Sails characters, Ned Low is based on a figure from history that is most likely 20% fact and 80% legend. Still, though, look up Edward Low. If half the stories about him are true, that dude was a frightening human being.
“When we incorporate history, we like to be inspired and informed by it, but also figure out the exact way they fit into our world and our story,” said Mr. Levine. “For Ned Low, it was all about the reputation. He had the reputation of being one of the nastiest members of that cohort. His legend was defined by that.”
According to the series’ creators, Ned Low represents a character they haven’t had the opportunity to consider yet —a character that is motivated not by glory or riches, but motivated strictly by blood.
“The conception of that character came from an inventory of the first season, just trying to figure out what you haven’t explored,” said Mr. Steinberg. “What if there was a guy who was here not to achieve a grand purpose, he was here because it’s an occupation that rewards violence and he is good at that? We had to explore the fact that not everybody was there for political, philosophical or social purposes, the kind of person that can’t be reasoned with or bargained with like everyone else on Nassau.”
Seen ever so briefly in that very same opening scene is a hostage, a young woman being carried off the ship. Even though it is not apparent at the moment, this character is Abigail Ash and she will be a crucial component of season two.
“I think in a way that continues to unfold episode to episode, Abigail is the spine of this season,” Mr. Steinberg told me. “We wanted to introduce the entirety of the ten hour story in that first scene. A lot of that has to do with Low and what he’s going to bring to the island, and a lot of it is her and what she represents as both a prize that has monetary value and also as a human being that has value in a way I think is unexpected. She acts as a very unique window into the world we created, as someone who only knows it through the stories she has heard about it. It felt like a refreshing way to see and write the guys we created.”
Meanwhile, the crew of the Walrus is in pretty terrible shape. In a bid to regain favor with his former crew, Captain Flint proposes a two-man job to capture the very same Spanish man o’war that grounded his ship. This goes poorly. But in an interesting turn, John Silver chooses to not abandon Flint at a crucial turn, something Mr. Steinberg and Mr. Levin say is part of the largest arc this season has.
“That particular moment I think primarily for John is about knowing where his bread is buttered and self preservation. It’s very much so a start of an arc that is the center of the story this season,” Levin said. “For us when we kicked off this story writ large, we always kept our focus on that relationship – Flint and Silver. But the dynamic does change; where in the first season they were thrown together by circumstance, now we want to feel like they’re getting a knack for each other in a way that’s as complicated and has as many dimensions as possible.”
Prominent in the premiere were a new addition to the Black Sails format, a flash-back to a time when Flint was definitely not a pirate and, more shocking, definitely often shaved. This dive into the back-story of Flint is something the creators have wanted to do since the beginning, and will serve the large scope they envision for the entire second season.
“We’re using that back-story to help tell the story of where Flint is now, which is stuck at a major cross roads of trying to figure out what the future of Nassau is and what his own future looks like, and what kind of a person he wants to be,” said Mr. Steinberg. “From inception I think it was the goal to be able to do both of those things at the same time – to make the show bigger but at the same time make it deeper.”
Both creators also hinted at a larger look at the rest of the cast, most notably Anne Bonny. This all starts with that pivotal scene from the premiere, and the sudden romance between Bonny and Max.
“It’s a story that absolutely began in season one,” Mr. Steinberg said. “It feels clear that Bonny’s motivation for turning on her crew and seeing Max released from the situation she was in is a little more complicated than right or wrong.There is some strange attachment Bonny is feeling towards Max. Obviously Flint is front and center in these big sweeping character stories we wanted to tell, but there’s a very pronounced story that begins with this sexual relationship with Max, that takes Anne on a pretty significant journey to figure out why she did what she did in season one, and even why she continues to do what she does.”
“In a way Anne even starts to understand her relationship to Rackham in a different way,” Mr. Levine continued. “It’s a different kind of a story than we told in season one, and by the time you get to the end of this season it’s pretty powerful.”