I’ve had Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work in my head all morning. Visions of shipwrecks, swordfights and swashbucklers in anachronistic finery accompany her ethereal wailing. In every spare moment I find myself wondering, ‘will Ed and Stede ever get back together?’
In other words, I haven’t been able to get Our Flag Means Death Season 2 out of my head since I saw the first five episodes.
In the follow-up season to David Jenkin’s breakout hit, Stede Bonnet and Edward ‘Blackbeard’ Teach find themselves separated by literal oceans. Stede, recovering from being shipwrecked on an island with his crewmates, is looking for work – and a way back to his lover. But Blackbeard, believing he’s been unceremoniously dumped, is spiraling into a manic depression and wreaking havoc wherever he can.
Self-help for swashbucklers
The cast of characters we return to are all a little bit older, a little bit wiser, and hungrier for adventure – but before the lootin’ good times can happen, there are multiple traumas that need to be properly processed. Stede’s anxiety and propensity for distraction has disappointed his crew, and he’ll need to prove himself a more assertive leader. Ed has chosen destruction over healing, and his chaotic choices put his own crew in peril several times over. The show steadily balances on a central theme of personal growth as the ensemble journey towards hopeful reunion.
As Stede Bonnet and Ed Teach, Rhys Darby and Taika Waititi’s chemistry couldn’t be better. It’s evident they really love these characters, and both take to the task of leading this action-packed romantic comedy with palpable enthusiasm. However, Con O’Neill as Izzy Hands gets my vote for MVP of the season, and I wish I could go into minute detail about why, but he’s just so complicated and so great.
The cast has also expanded this season, particularly to include more female pirates. Minnie Driver was revealed a few months ago to be playing Anne Bonny, and I’m happy to confirm she does so with aplomb. Her sultry and sadistic take on the notorious Irish pirate is a delight to behold. She is accompanied by a guest star that I can’t reveal for spoiler reasons, but I can say that her partner in crime has a dry, caustic wit that compliments Driver’s vibe perfectly.
Diametrically opposed couple dynamics are a mainstay in season two, with foppish Stede and brutal Ed obviously being at the forefront. But they don’t hog the focus, and the show’s decision to put them aside for a bit really benefits it. Not every relationship gets rose-tinted glasses, either – in fact most of them go deep into what makes a partnership toxic, and how to break out of such a pitfall. It’s this element which makes the show refreshingly modern and intelligent, despite being about 18th century, unwashed, and mostly uneducated, pirates.
I have to dedicate some time to talking about the art direction, because it is so superb. The costumes, which range from Mad Max-meets Adam Ant leather gear, to swishy Chinese merchant garbs, to gaudy red velvet robes, are a standout. There are also more ships than last time, and with them a chance for the set designers to get really creative with unique architecture – which they have.
The lush backdrop of New Zealand/Aotearoa’s forests is used to expand the world of Our Flag Means Death across several islands and maybe-not-quite-real places of respite. As characters travel between sea and land, the show’s aesthetic invokes images of Shakespeare’s Tempest and Homer’s Odyssey – complete with sea witches, pigs, mysterious hermits, and just a little bit of magic.
Just like Season 1, the needle drops in Our Flag Means Death season two are immaculate. I mentioned Kate Bush above – and I’ll just add that the usage of Woman’s Work here may just become more iconic than 2022’s Stranger Things use of Running Up That Hill – but there’s plenty more pop, rock and folk deep-cuts peppered among the soundtrack that always enhance the scenes they accompany. I need the compilation album, like, yesterday.
With its winning combo of loveable, complex characters, genuine surprises, and sumptuous visuals, I believe this season is going to drive a massive renaissance of fan art and fiction. It’s funny, it’s camp, and it’s also incredibly sincere. Established fans will be satisfied, and casual watchers will quickly get sucked into the hype too.
Hook it to my veins
Unlike Season 1, Our Flag Means Death gets straight into the meat of things, flowing at a much faster pace. It’s snappily written, and keeps the laughs and feels coming without sacrificing important and nuanced moments of character development. The episodes are incredibly addictive from the get-go, making for a perfect weekend binge.
Speaking of Binge – the first three episodes will drop tonight before the remainder of Season 2 comes out on a weekly schedule. So, before you smash out all three quicker than you can say ‘you wear fine things well,’ keep the weekly drop in mind! I know how badly the withdrawal can get when you’re unable to consume the whole lot at once.
Oh yeah and there are end credits scenes – so don’t click ‘Next episode’ until you’ve seen the whole thing!
The Our Flag Means Death triple episode premieres 5 October on BINGE. The season continues with two new episodes weekly leading up to the season finale on 26 October.