Television Show Review: “Our Flag Means Death”

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Warning: Mild Spoilers for Our Flag Means Death

I first heard about Our Flag Means Death, also known as the gay pirate show on Tumblr, a favorite social media site of the LGBTQ+ youth. At the time, the poster said that this show was “underrated” at that we had to watch it. First of all, it was a Taika Waititi show and the Tumblr gays love Taika. Secondly, it was about pirates and everybody loves pirates. Thirdly, it had canonically queer major characters in it, like Ed, Stede, and Jim, who are gay (or at least mlm) and non-binary respectively. The post even included how to watch the show on HBO Max, and I thought that maybe I could bundle it with Hulu. Alas, I could not as I already have the Spotify and Hulu student bundle. So I did not end up watching it even though I wanted to.

At least, until my friend who has HBO Max was visiting. Anyway, we binged-watched the show in one night. This is actually not hard to do since it only has fourteen episodes and they’re about twenty minutes long. It is a romantic comedy about the actual historical figures, Stede Bonnet, who left his wife a children to become a pirate and Edward Teach, Blackbeard, a pirate with a fearsome reputation, who crossed paths with Stede. Our Flag Means Death dares to ask the question, what if they fell in love?

Our Flag Means Death was also easy to binge, because it’s an easy show to be enthusiastic about watching. It was funny, heartwarming, and oddly historically accurate. Stede Bonnet really did express experiencing “discomfort in a married state” and Edward Teach really did seem to be co-captains with Stede for a time, and had his crew nurse Stede back to health after a stab wound. There is even reason to believe that pirates were freer to have same-sex relationships since they were already outlaws, and lived outside of regular lawful society. And of course, the queer representation was a breath of fresh air. For so long, we have been queerbaited by shows like Supernatural where the male main characters have a close friendship that is time and time again hinted at being more, but doesn’t come to fruition in a meaningful way.

Our Flag Means Death instead validates viewers picking up on the hints telling us, of course, they’re in love, they’ve been in love this entire time. Stede, the gentleman pirate, and Ed, Blackbeard are confirmed to really be are more than just friends, when they kiss. Our Flag Means Death is able to tell an LGBTQ+ narrative that doesn’t focus solely on being LGBTQ+, but doesn’t erase those identities either. The characters might not have any of the labels in that acronym because they don’t exist yet, but it’s clear to the viewers that they are LGBTQ+.They exist in liminal space as queer people without labels, pirates on a ship away from “proper society.”

In fact, when they do interact with “proper society” at a party Stede and Ed have a hard time socially, although this more to do with Ed’s working class background than his queerness. Still Stede is also bullied by the other upper crust men, for things like not being able to handle the site of blood. In other words, for not being traditionally masculine. Ed, too struggles with toxic masculinity as pirate who is expected to kill, but reveals that he has only ever personally killed one person. But he must pretend to be bloodthirsty to keep up his reputation as Blackbeard. Thus Our Flag Means Death is able to address gender role issues that men, especially queer men, still struggle with.

I do however hope, that Our Flag Means Death, has more characters that are women in it next season. There Spanish Jackie is season 1, Stede’s wife Mary, his daughter, Mary’s widow friend’s, Jim’s aunt, and some French women like Antoinette, at a party. But the rest of the many characters are men, and then there’s Jim who is nonbinary. I know that pirates were rarely women, however, there were some woman pirates historically. Like many other fans of the show, I hope that the historical pirates Mary Read or Anne Bonnie appear next season. This would not be far fetched, as they were apparently lovers with a character who appeared in Season 1, Calico Jack. But that’s my main complaint. I just feel like I would be better represented on the show if there were more women in it, especially LGBTQ+ women.

I would highly recommend Our Flag Means Death. It was very entertaining and had great queer representation. If you want to see another Our Flag Means Death analysis, check out Rowan Elllis’ video below, as well as the videos included above.

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