We’re just past the midpoint of Our Flag Means Death’s second season, and we’ve already sailed through some stormy weather alongside Blackbeard–aka Ed Teach (Taika Waititi)—and Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) as they attempt to reunite and rekindle their relationship. Showrunner and writer David Jenkins spoke to io9 about how he sees these two men developing over the season, and who the real antagonist of the show is.
“I want to see them become a functional couple or fail to become a functional couple,” Jenkins said. “Those are the most interesting parts of the show.” After an end-of-season-one breakup, pirates Ed and Stede have finally found each other again. But it’s not exactly easy for them, and they’re very much struggling to understand their relationship. “I love a lot of the stuff at the beginning of the second episode when they’re thinking about each other and they’re worried about each other. Some of my favorite parts are when Ed and Stede aren’t together,” he said.
“I want to see them do things that are recognizable in all of our relationships. The emotional parts that you have to work on if you want to have a successful partnership,” explained Jenkins. “Instead of being 14-year-old boys emotionally in the first season, now, they’re maybe like 25 to 30 year old men, you know, figuring out–” It’s at this point that Jenkins does a passable imitation of Waititi’s Blackbeard, “Oh, are we living together, what will we do next, when are we gonna get together?”
The show has amassed an incredibly vocal and engaged fandom, and Jenkins says that he’s “excited” to see what the fans are excited about, but says that ultimately the writers are also “the fans in the room.” He goes on to say that, “We’re fans of the world. We’re writing fanfic about our own characters, our own worlds… It’s paid fanfic, but it’s fanfic.” He gives another example: “If you’re writing a season of Succession, you’re writing fanfic Succession. You’re just getting paid to do it. We, as writers–” it’s clear that he’s not just talking about the writers in the writers room, “become fans of the world and we all have things we want to see these characters do. What we do is not that different.”
This season of Our Flag Means Death sees Blackbeard and Stede reunite, drift apart, reunite… well, you get the idea. But one of the issues that divides them is that Stede wants to be a great pirate, and Blackbeard, a great pirate, wants to retire. “There is a bit of a Star Is Born moment, where the very successful old-school pirate sees this younger pirate become a going concern and it does something to their relationship. I think their need for each other is important, but also, they’re in a career—they’re pirates. They’re the subject of a lot of attention. And I think that’s part of the thrill of it for them.”
One of those pirates who shows up to a lot of fanfare is Zheng Yi Sao (Ruibo Qian). Arguably, Zheng Yi Sao was one of the most successful pirates in history. Sure, she made China take a knee and, yeah, she never really made it over to the Caribbean, but she shows up in Our Flag Means Death regardless. “Don’t worry about it,” Jenkins laughed about the historical liberties taken. “Don’t think about it too much. They’re flavors that go well together.”
It’s obvious that Our Flag Means Death’s version of Zheng Yi Sao is the most capable pirate out there, wheeling, dealing, and raiding ships throughout the season. “I think we had to bring in a heavy for the season that could go toe to toe with Blackbeard,” Jenkins explained. “And part of bringing Zheng Yi Sao into the pictures was exploring her emotional wants. She’s very good at her job, but she’s also kind of a hot mess in terms of what she wants in a relationship. All the pirates on this show are like that—they want relationships.”
There are a lot of new villains this season, but, Jenkins says, ultimately, “the antagonist on this show is normalcy… These pirates have a way of life that they’re not finding in normal life. They’ve found a way to live and support each other and be there for each other. And that’s always threatened by these larger, tyrannical forces that want to shut them down.”
This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the show being covered here wouldn’t exist.
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