Our Flag Means Death sets sail on stormy seas again in season 2, now with more heart but fewer episodes.
This review-recap contains spoilers for season 2 of Our Flag Means Death.
The second season of Our Flag Means Death has eagerly followed the footsteps of the first and prevailed as a breath of fresh air within the stuffy historical fiction genre. The season is a dive into historical fiction’s possibilities, reminding us that a key part of the genre is fiction. Season 2 utilises elements of horror, historical drama, comedy and romance throughout its 8 episodes.
Season 2 starts with a significantly darker tone than season 1, following the separation of star-crossed lovers Edward ‘Blackbeard’ Teach (Taika Waititi) and Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) during the first season’s penultimate episode. Not only did the series one’s finale episode separate Ed and Stede, but as a result we saw the separation of the crew, with the majority of them being marooned on an island and the others becoming a part of Blackbeard’s crew. Luckily, it is not long before the crew are reunited and Stede finds his way back to Ed again.
Once back together, when not making heart eyes at one another like love-stricken teens, Ed and Stede are reuniting their crews, teaming up with pirate legends and fighting the common enemy of piracy: the English. While season 1 saw Admiral Chauncey Badminton (Rory Kinnear) as a primary threat towards Stede, Ed and their crew, this season sees Ex-Stede Bonnet fanboy Prince Ricky Banes (series newcomer Errol Shand) pose a threat to all of piracy. After he is first introduced as a Gentleman Pirate wanna-be, we later see Ricky scorned by Stede following a run-in with Spanish Jackie (Leslie Jones), which costs him his nose.
As well as Prince Ricky, season 2 introduces us to a variety of famous pirates all interwoven into the story through their dealings with Stede and Ed. From Ed’s past, we meet the delightful eccentric couple Anne Bonny (Minnie Driver) and Mary Read (Rachel House), who have retired from piracy to sell antiquities while keeping their relationship afloat.
Through Stede’s endeavours, we are introduced to Zheng Yi Sao (Ruibo Qian), the owner of a soup shack in the Republic of Pirates who is revealed to actually be the Queen of the Pirates. It is through Zheng that Stede and Ed are accidentally reunited, when her crew come across an abandoned wreck that once was Stede’s cherished ship the Revenge, which was partially destroyed following Ed’s return to his Blackbeard persona. Aboard the ship, Stede finds the missing members of his crew as well as a new character named Archie (Madeliene Sami), a stand-out of the season who steals whichever scene she is in.
Once reunited, the relationship between Stede and Ed doesn’t pick up where we would expect it to. There is still some rawness to Ed’s feelings, and this causes an unwillingness to accept Stede’s return straight away. Our Flag Means Death’s choice to not have a reunion erase any hard feelings between Stede and Ed is something only occasionally seen in a comedy. We would usually expect them to accept one another and jump back into their relationship so that comedic antics can ensue, but Our Flag subverts this by choosing to keep the conflict between the main couple for a little longer.
Later in the series, a new key conflict emerges and causes more friction between Ed and Stede, as the latter leans into his aspirations of legendary piracy finding a place he feels he belongs, while Ed experiences the opposite. He wants to step away from the living legend status he has achieved and give up piracy completely, as he has lost his sense of belonging. The conflict sees the separation of the two again before they find their way to each other again. A key theme of season 2, which carried over from the first, is that of belonging, with many of the characters seeking out or having found somewhere they feel they truly belong. Compared to other fantasy series, Our Flag Means Death stands out given the compassion it has for the need to belong.
The final episode of the season is struck by tragedy in the form of a major character’s death. The death of one of the series’ beloved key characters was a Chekov’s gun simply waiting to go off, with the series boldly reminding us that Our Flag Means Death was not just a throw-away title card. The comedy is plagued by high stakes, given the life of danger the characters not only live, but actively seek out. Even with the series falling into the drama genre, it’s a bold move to kill off a main character and end their arc in such a set-in-stone way. Overall, while it is a decision that makes sense for both the characters and the series’ narrative, the choice is sure to divide the show’s ever-growing online fanbase.
While Our Flag Means Death’s second series has many high points, it also has some low, and the main one is the series’ pacing. The show undoubtedly gives us a healthy dose of the characters and humour so many people fell in love with in the first series, but it doesn’t give the breathing room to let these build as much as they could before. This is primarily down to the fact that season 2 only has 8 of the 10 episodes season 1 did, taking almost an entire hour off the show’s overall runtime. While the series successfully covered all the plot that it set out to, the pacing of the fewer episodes left the plot feeling too much within a short space of time.
The shorter run time, combined with a smaller budget this season, leaves the future of the show feeling more uncertain than before. But Our Flag Means Death still manages to shock in the last minutes of the finale, where we are given a happy ending – something so rare for a queer relationship that it still causes shockwaves across social media. The happy ending in the context of the show’s uncertain future is bittersweet: while the ending leaves room for the continuation of Ed and Stede’s story and the colourful cast of characters involved, it also feels a little like the final chapter, which raises the question of how viewers would respond to a third season of the show.
Overall, the series’ happy ending makes it worth a watch, and while it’s not quite as good as the first season, there is still a sense of joy from season 2 of Our Flag Means Death that so few shows seem to truly evoke. At its core, the series remains a story about change, reinvention and belonging, with some swashbuckling and sword fighting thrown in for good measure, which is bound to strike the hearts of viewers, old or new.
Season 2 of Our Flag Means Death is now available to watch on HBO Max. Read our review of Our Flag Means Death Season 1.