I stand before you absolutely convinced that Taika Waititi is incapable of missing any shot he takes. I have thoroughly enjoyed every single project he has been involved in, from What We Do in The Shadows toand recently his role in
The new HBO series Our Flag Means Death is no exception. This unique comedy holds a comedic lens to some real-life pirates from the 1700s. It’s terribly smart, endlessly funny and deep in ways most audiences aren’t prepared for. The cast and cameo list is basically Taika’s entire contact list, and the sheer irreverence is enough to leave you thinking about it all week no matter where you are in the 10-episode span.
Until you get to the ending, anyway.
The general curiosity that is real-life pirate Stede Bonnet has been the topic of pop culture more than once. There are a number of spectacular articles and documentary-style YouTube videos available about his life and why the so-called Gentleman Pirate stood out so much in the grand history of piracy, as well as a noteworthy appearance in Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. Bonnet’s association with Edward “Blackbeard” Thatch is also a very real thing that happened, aboard an actual ship named Revenge.
So when you sit down to the first episode of Our Flag Means Death and you’re introduced to the inimitable Rhys Darby as the hilariously ineffectual Captain Stede Bonnet, it’s very clear you’re in for a funhouse mirror view of this very real person’s life and all of the misadventures contained therein. What I did not expect, two episodes in, was to care so much about all of these characters.
Our Flag Means Death starts out a very clear comedy with not a lot of room for anything else. Unsurprisingly it mirrors vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows (also co-created by Waititi) in some ways, acting as this exceedingly silly version of the more intense legends in our culture. There are even some spectacular shared jokes between the two series in the first couple of episodes to give those paying attention something additional to giggle at.
But at the halfway point in this series, there’s a slow change in tone toward something more dramatic. Our Flag Means Death isn’t just a comedy, it’s a romantic comedy. And as you reach the end of the season, that tone shifts almost entirely to the romantic side, so much, in fact, that it’s really more of a dramatic comedy by the last episode I keep complaining about.
And if you haven’t heard from someone else, Our Flag Means Death is super, super gay and presented in a way I’ve honestly never seen before. These are pirates in a time when ships were supposed to be entirely composed of men because women were a bad omen on a ship, and these pirates were at sea for a very long time. Instead of portraying intimacy on these ships as something hidden or sordid, they just exist and almost no time is spent exploring the why or the how or what anybody else might think. Some pirates are gay, most pirates don’t care and honestly more shows should be written this way. Waititi himself said it best when responding to some early criticism — “It’s not ‘bromantic’, it’s ROMANTIC.”
To be clear, I don’t dislike the last episode of Our Flag Means Death, and I very much encourage every person I know and everyone who reads this to watch the series anyway. The last episode is so incredibly tonally different from the rest of the show that it hurts. It’s heavy, emotional material even with all of the excellent comedy around to buoy that intensity.
What really upset me about this season is there’s no payoff: The audience is left with a truly epic cliffhanger. The only thing worse than a cliffhanger is one with no promise of resolution, which is a worry here because Our Flag Means Death has not yet been greenlit for season two, a subject that, as Google Trends shows, a lot of people are very curious about.
The entire season is available now on HBO Max, and if you haven’t added Our Flag Means Death to your watch list yet, I can’t recommend it enough. If you have added it to your watch list already, maybe consider moving it up the queue. This is a fantastic show, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t absolutely love it, even if the ending is absolutely painful without the security of a second season promised.