From the beginning, Our Flag Means Death’s writers have shown that they are not afraid to dive into some darker depths with their characters and story. The sixth episode, “The Art of F**kery,” starts lighthearted and full of the antics we have come to expect from this comical crew. And then comes a scene full of beautiful vulnerability that solidified my love of this show.
Early in the episode, Blackbeard, also known as Edward Teach (Taika Waititi), claims that he doesn’t feel fear, but the scariest thing he probably ever saw was the Kraken. Later, we find out he is not as fearless as he claims to be. Blackbeard suffers a panic attack from Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) and the crew’s f**ckery, which was basically a haunted house at sea. Edward is triggered by what appears to be the Kraken attacking the ship after he is struggling with following through with the plan to kill Stede.
Edward seeks refuge in a tub, alone. The knocking of Stede’s fists against the door affects him even more. He flinches a few times, and we are taken to his past, where we see his father verbally abuse his mother and young Edward witnessing it all. We understand then that the loud knocks of Stede are only sending him further back into that time of his life.
Once inside the bathing room, Stede knows something is seriously wrong. He sees Edward curled up under a blanket in the tub with his head turned from the door. Stede kneels next to Ed, meeting him at his level. Stede prompts him with care twice, waiting with concern for him to answer. Edward goes right into the thick of what haunts him, admitting that he killed his father. He is the Kraken.
Edward goes on to reveal that he has never killed a man since. The scene is made lighter by the delivery of the next exchange when Stede calls him out and says he’s seen him maim people as he tries to put the puzzle of Blackbeard together. Blackbeard loves good maiming; it’s different, he says. But, when it comes to the big job, he always outsources it. He confesses that he was supposed to kill Stede and become him. Waititi’s broken delivery is mesmerizing to watch, and I couldn’t help but ache for Blackbeard with the torment he feels written plainly on his face. Even though he planned to, once again, commit a terrible crime, we glimpse that man who wants to change himself. The man who adores Stede.
Edward says that Stede doesn’t belong in doggy heaven, again balancing the scene with a little more lightness with Stede’s confusion as he navigates this side of Ed. Izzy Hands (Con O’Neill) sees Stede as Blackbeard’s pet. And Blackbeard does not allow pets on his crew, as Izzy reminds him earlier. But, as this scene showcases, they are so much more. Stede powers through his confusion and is accepting of everything Blackbeard reveals to him. The plan is over, and Stede reassures Edward that they are friends; he wants to be friends. Edward wants the same and puts his head on Stede’s hand, and you can see the tension leave his body with that little bit of casual intimacy.
Taika Waititi and Rhys Darby were brilliant in this scene as they both convey the care and respect the two pirates effortlessly feel for each other. Both of them handled it with the reverence warranted when a character is so open and visibly struggling.
The way this scene is shot makes it feel as if we are watching something private. Something, that maybe, we should not be witnessing as it is a moment of stunning vulnerability and connection between one of the world’s fiercest pirate captains and the Gentleman Pirate. The shot above is beautiful as we see the two of them through a mirror, framing it as a safe, private moment and giving us the visual of them being a mirror to each other. While on the surface, they are vastly different. Inside, they both want to remake themselves and are haunted by their fathers’ cruelties.
Our Flag Means Death knows how to balance comedy, drama, and romance (as do Waititi and Darby through their performances). The writing team clearly knows how to write a romance because this is the stuff that builds a relationship so naturally. It is a significant turning point in their journey together and sets the course for the love story to unfold beautifully.
Our Flag Means Death is now streaming on HBO Max. Let us know what you think about this beautiful scene of vulnerability!