The internet is in love with Our flag means death
What started as an offbeat historical comedy starring Rhys Darby has become a global TV sensation. Stewart Sowman-Lund explains why.
*Contains spoilers for the first season of Our Flag Means Death*
It’s described as a comedy about a real-life aristocrat turned “gentleman pirate”, and stars Rhys Darby and Taika Waititi, so you might understand my surprise when Our flag means death turned out to be a romance in its own right. Now it’s blowing up the internet.
While the first handful of episodes are quirky workplace comedy aboard an 18th century pirate ship, the HBO Max show (streaming on Prime and available on Neon in New Zealand) has pivoted in its second half – and in doing so gained a legion of new fans and became an online sensation.
Darby plays Stede Bonnet, a largely unknown but actually real person who turned to a life of piracy after deciding he was tired of his cozy home with a wife and kids. It brings together a motley crew who generally hate their incompetent pirate boss but, surprise surprise, grow into a family as the series progresses.
For a while, that’s exactly what one would expect from a show starring Rhys Darby playing a pirate. And then suddenly it doesn’t – when Waititi appears in four episodes as Blackbeard.
His reputation precedes him, of course, because it’s Blackbeard! But while he’s introduced to the series as a fierce and notorious figure, it soon becomes clear that Darby’s Stede and Waititi’s Blackbeard aren’t meant to be mortal enemies. Instead, they quickly become friends — and then things turn around again. The final episodes become a romantic comedy with Stede and Blackbeard as romantic leads. In the last episode, the couple even kiss.
It’s a surprising change to the show, and one that went unannounced at first, drawing applause from fans who feared it would end as another example of “queer baiting” – an unfortunate trope. where a show alludes to, but then does not actually represent gay romance or LGBTQ+ representation. Think Rachel and Quinn in Glee, or Finn and Poe in Star Wars, or Holmes and Watson in Sherlock. Or virtually any of the same-sex characters on the garbage heap that is Riverdale.
In an Instagram post, Waititi explained that this show was explicitly meant to be more than the “bromance” it initially seemed to be. “It’s ROMANTIC,” he wrote on Instagram. “If you hate this show, don’t worry, I still love you. And I hope you’re starting to understand the many layers that love can encompass. Love is love baby.
In an interview with Weekly entertainment, Waititi jokingly said the creative decision was simply to piss off “homophobic historians.” But, he said, “It all stems from that mutual interest and fascination with each other. Blackbeard has seen it all, and he sees this guy who gave up everything to become a pirate, even though he knows nothing about sea life.
Show creator David Jenkins said Darby and Waititi, who have known each other and worked together for more than a decade, always agreed with the show’s premise and “opposites attract energy. “who are present everywhere. “I first started reading about Stede and how he befriended Blackbeard and we don’t know why. Very quickly it was like, ‘Oh, this is a romance,'” said Jenkins.
And it’s not just the relationship between Stede and Blackbeard that sets Our Flag Means Death apart from many shows before it. The comedy features a prominent non-binary character, examples of other same-sex couples, and exists in a much more diverse universe than the real Stede would likely have inhabited. It also avoids any conversation or even explicit acknowledgment that these relationships are “abnormal” within the scope of the show. Jenkins said decision maker he wanted to “bypass” the subplot that was coming out. “I just want a romance. I want a titanic romance between these two people. We don’t have to do the story of coming out and then the non-binary story… We don’t have to do the “I am whatever”, the pronouns, but they would. I thought it was really good to skip it because we saw it.
In place, Waititi described Our flag means death as a love letter “about minorities to minorities” and hoped it would speak to those who feel, or have felt, like outcasts.
The online response was immediate and overwhelming. Our Flag Means Death has been trending daily on Twitter (well, before the Oscars imploded anyway), with the requisite mix of fan art, unrestrained praise, and calls for a second season. “Our flag means death has a hold on me and these two mean the world to me,” one person tweeted, with a drawing of Stede and Blackbeard’s kiss. “Representation in this show means so much to me as a trans and queer person,” says another. “To see me represented without being a joke or having to ‘out’, thank you for an amazing show.”
While HBO has yet to officially order another season, Jenkins said Polygon things were looking good. Everything is going as planned, a second navigation on the seven seas will not be very far away.
Read more: Rhys Darby takes Murray to sea in Our Flag Means Death
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