Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby), an aristocrat coming from a cushy and luxurious lifestyle, has a dream to sail the high seas and become the “Gentleman Pirate,” but he soon becomes his own worst enemy when trial and error reveals he is somewhat unfit for the job. Created by David Jenkins and released on HBO Max on March 4, 2022, “Our Flag Means Death” is a refreshing comedy drama imbued with adventure and charm that follows our wannabe pirate protagonist and his merry crew through their journey across the sea. The show has a certain allure that is hard to come by these days; its ingenious comedy and unique interpretation of the historical narratives and periods that it borrows from entices audiences and keeps them hooked. If you’re ready to dive into a story of high sea hijinks, oceanic action and maybe a bit of romance, get on board—we’re going full speed and spoilers ahead. (Note: this review only features the first three episodes of the show. A second installment to this article will be released next week.)
The show’s wholesomeness in characterization and plot development during the first three episodes is comforting: a nice touch to get audiences emotionally invested and satisfied before the rest of the show takes its course. For one, Stede Bonnet is an incredibly entertaining protagonist that always brightens up the screen. His kind heart and innocence are traits that might get him into trouble, but shines through to enhance the show’s atmosphere when he finds himself in a predicament. Rhys Darby’s acting and line delivery also elevate the show and its sense of immersion. While comedic, “Our Flag Means Death” also does a good job of being dramatic when it has to, which establishes an overarching plot rather than following the episodic story format of other comedy shows. Another enjoyable and important part of the plot is Stede Bonnet’s pirate crew. The crew always supports the plot, and they add a lot of flavor to the show. The cast also does a great job of being effortlessly diverse and also shining in their own way so that no one ever really fades into the background.
Just to start, “Our Flag Means Death” is hilarious and what audiences seem to love most about the series is how inventive and natural the show is. Nothing feels necessarily redone or typical. One of the side plots is especially interesting, with one of the characters, Bonifacia (Vico Ortiz), a disguised crewman running away from their past enemies they have wronged. Their character is disguised as a mute assassin called Jim. Their protector and “friend,” Oluwande, also falls in love with them and is protecting them which at this point is a one-sided love. The show has this energy that I have never really witnessed before. Even in the very first episode when everyone starts attacking and brutally murdering other people from another ship, Bonnet starts panicking once he murders the captain of another ship with a mug. While violent it’s still amusing, because he has absolutely no idea what to do next and holds a lot of regret. The writing is impressive, but massive props to all the cast because the line delivery and the way they act together is phenomenal. It ties the show as a whole together very nicely.
Another thing that I greatly appreciate about this show is how diverse all the characters are. In pop culture and in other forms of media, depictions of pirates often neglect people of color. While, “Our Flag Means Death” is not at all very historically accurate they included more people who aren’t only white. In history, there were indeed pirates who were not white. However, most historical pirate fiction tends to only include POC when they are enslaved characters; most experiences that I’ve had watching other movies about or with pirates are always just a movie with white main characters and the slim chance of any non-white person in the background. “Our Flag Means Death” bucks this, featuring pirates of color in major roles. While casting people of color in a main role isn’t groundbreaking and is in fact the very bare minimum. I am proud that they were able to cast so many talented actors of color who were able to shine in their respective roles.
HBO Max has released several good shows this year, but they certainly outdid themselves on Our Flag Means Death. With its unfailing humor, clever writing, and incredible acting, I think that fans everywhere can find some aspects of this show enjoyable. Though some people may find this show a bit over the top, its exaggerated story and amusing concept of a “gentleman pirate” are nevertheless what makes it fun. Overall, the first three episodes of “Our Flag Means Death” receive a 4.5/5 for the actors’ convincing portrayals and their success in the genre of comedy.