A story is true. A story is untrue. As time extends, it matters less and less. The stories we want to believe those are the ones that survive, despite upheaval and transition and progress. Those are the stories that shape history.
When a king brands us pirates, he doesn’t mean to make us adversaries. He doesn’t mean to make us c r i m i n a l s. He means to make us monsters. For that’s the only way his God-fearing, taxpaying subjects can make sense of men who keep what is theirs and fear no one. When I say there’s a war coming, I don’t mean with the Scarborough. I don’t mean with King George or England. Civilization is coming, and it means to exterminate us.
the world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken
places. but those that will not break it kills. it kills the very good
and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. if you are none of
these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special
were my sister. There is very little I remember from when I was
young, but I remember this. You were older. You were beautiful. I
revered you. When you were told that my mother and I were dead, I
have to believe that it affected you. You had just lost your mother.
But if things were as I remembered, my mother and I were your family
Strap yourselves in, crew, because I Have Thoughts.
I’ll start this off by repeating (with some changes & additions) what I wrote in another reblog about the theme of female narratives on Black Sails.
Black Sails is incredible not just for its queer representation but also its women and, even more incredibly, its commitment to female relationships, women supporting each other, and female legacy.
Idelle always stood by Max, and when Max started her steep social climb, she never forgot about the friend by her side and pulled her up along with her, as she put to use the skills she herself had learnt from another woman: Eleanor.
Madi adored and was inspired by her father, but it’s her mother that has raised her and taught her the leadership that sets her apart from every other character on the show. I’d argue that none of the men, not Flint nor Silver nor Billy nor anyone else, is as accomplished a leader as Madi, and it’s no coincidence she learnt a great deal of that from her mother.
Even though we never get to fully delve into that aspect on the show, the profound impact of losing her mother has forever shaped Eleanor, who started her life-long quest of legitimizing Nassau in response to her mother’s statement that it was “no place for a little girl”. As Hannah New said, this made her determined to be „the girl that makes sure no more
women die the way [her] mother died.“
Marion Guthrie is not just a woman in power, she’s a woman who wanted to pass on her legacy and skills to her granddaughter. When she learns of Eleanor’s death she recognizes a kindred spirit in Max, who finally gets to see modeled for her the kind of person she could be, that Eleanor could have been. Even if she turns down Marion’s first offer, this relationship is massively important to Max and must have widened her horizon immeasurably by showing her just what is possible. Marion immediately chooses to bestow her inheritance on Max in lieu of Eleanor, wanting her life’s work and power to remain in a woman’s hands.
Heck, add Mrs Hudson conspiring with Mrs Mapleton, or Eleanor and Miranda’s initiative that saved Abigail, or Mrs Mapleton’s continued work for Max, or Madi drumming up support by talking to Eme, or her nigh-prophetic talk with Ruth.
And all this isn’t even going into the romantic or not-supportive relationships between women!
However, within the universe of the show, as in real life, women’s achievements are often dismissed or forgotten by the larger narrative. Even if they leave visible fingerprints in history, the hand that made them is often forced to stay invisible.
Marion Guthrie is pulling the strings behind the scenes, Max can only run Nassau by using Featherstone as the face of her rule, and Eleanor’s efforts for Nassau on Rogers’ behalf were never going to be remembered by the history books. Civilized society allows them no other venue to visibly hold power. Eleanor, Max, Madi and the Maroon Queen could carve out spaces of open sovereignty only outside of civilization, in places that were created with the express purpose of existing outside of mainstream society. In real life, they would likely go on to leave no visible trace of their contributions and relentless struggle for influence.
So let’s get to the main course.
Charlotte, who unwittingly and against all odds has the most visible and longest-lasting legacy of all female characters, possibly all characters, period.
To start off let’s appreciate Idelle confronting Anne about Charlotte’s murder in 408. (Which is an exceptionally good episode for the female cast, and was - surprise! - written and directed by women.)
any other show, Charlotte would never have been mentioned again. She
was a minor character, and a prostitute to boot, and we all know how
media likes to treat women like that. But Black Sails, even if it
took 20+ episodes, reminded us that she wasn’t just cannon fodder,
that her death was impactful and cruel, and that she left a legacy in
the people she surrounded herself with, be that Idelle’s friendship
and loyalty or Jack’s pirate flag - which leads us to my main point here.
Can we acknowledge that the symbol that goes on to represent
pirates forever was designed by a woman?
Yes, Rackham gives
directions and gets to popularize it, but the show went and took this
important piece of pirate mythology and entrusted it to the hands of
a young woman of low circumstances.
The show could easily have had Jack himself draw the motif, he is after all a creative man with a background in textile design, and his most defining character trait is his wish to design his own legacy. Instead, we get more than one scene of Charlotte struggling to fullfill a difficult client’s demands. (And isn’t that relatable to everyone who has ever created art on commission!) And two episodes before the final reveal, the narrative makes sure to remind us of this seemingly unremarkable woman and what happened to her. Her involvement was significant and the show doesn’t allow us to forget. If it had only ever been about setting up the punchline (”it’s fine”) for the final reveal, there would have been no need to draw so much focus to her untimely demise in 408, at a time when all plot threads were coming to their end, when everyone was scrambling for the finish line.
Rackham, by grumbling that it’s “fine”, relinquishes ownership to some degree: it’s the first time he sees it as it will henceforth be recognized as his insignia, and further down history, the ultimate symbol of piracy itself. He didn’t design it, Charlotte did, and her inheritance is the one that, within the world of Black Sails, will live on when Rogers has returned to Nassau and every pirate has been hanged, when all bones have crumbled to dust and all our heroes have been reduced to monsters by history. Any child alive today will easily recognize the skull and crossbones, but how many can recite the deeds of Calico Jack Rackham? Or that it as Woodes Rogers that brought Nassau to heel? So even if Jack went on to make it the icon it is, the symbol far outlived his own infamy.
And finally, when Jack has already turned away to deal with ship’s business, it is Anne that spends a moment longer looking at the flag, maybe even remembering its origins - the woman whose premature death she is responsible for. And it is Anne that has the final words of the show, ordering the crew to “Get us underway!”
Flint knows that as a deviant man, he will likely be remembered as a monster along with his fellow pirates. A woman’s legacy, on the other hand, is often glossed over and forgotten by history, like Max and Marion Guthrie’s power behind the scenes, like Charlotte’s contribution to history.
Black Sails reminds us of the stories that real life history distorts by diminishing those on the fringes.
And that’s why to me, Black Sails is an incredible statement on female legacy.
I’ve lived long enough to know that any promise made beside the word “forever” is no more than a l i e agreed upon. There is no forever. Everything moves towards its end. And the closer we get to ours, the louder that clock ticks, the less a sane man would let a promise deprive him of happiness.