I’m going to start this out by saying: if you haven’t seen the Starz series Black Sails (2014-2017) leave this page right now and go watch it by any means necessary. Do you like Narrative? Do you like wrestling with Enlightenment ideals and the ideology of colonialism? Do you like love? Do you like romance? Do you like pirates and swords and things that are on fire? Do you like nuanced character writing and grand symbolism? Do you like watching good actors be good at acting? Just watch Black Sails I promise you it is worth it.
This is your final warning that below there Will be spoilers and I beg you, I implore you, please just go experience Black Sails for yourself. Thank you.
Okay, so: Almost two years ago now when I first watched Black Sails I went to process my emotions about the show in the typical way, by making a playlist exclusively of songs by the Mountain Goats tracking the character arc of the love of my life, James Flint. Little did I know, John Darnielle had personally anticipated this need when writing the 2011 album, All Eternals Deck, an album that truly hits at the emotional core of Flint, many of his major moments throughout the series, and the people he loves. For too long I have been burdened by this knowledge and the time has come to share it with the world.
Here’s the song by song breakdown:
Damn These Vampires
Feast like pagans, never get enough
Sleep like dead men, wake up like dead men
And when the sun comes, try not to hate the light
Someday we’ll try to walk upright
This song just is James Flint, especially his status quo that we see at the beginning of the series. He’s a survivor who’s pretty pissed that he keeps surviving things but he’s got a goal and he’s going to crawl on his hands and knees to make it happen. God damn these vampires, god damn everyone who tries to get in his way.
Birth of Serpents
Sink low, rise high, bring back some blurry pictures to remember all your darker moments by
Permanent bruises on our knees never forget what it felt like to live in rooms like these
Flint as a performance is a mask woven together from his past, from all of the darkest parts of him. Built on the memories of all his darkest moments, never forgetting where he came and the memory of brighter things but never letting that see the light of day.
Estate Sale Sign
Try to see if secrets burn when you hold them up into the light
I remember when we loved each other day and night
And high above the water the eagle spots the fish
Every martyr in the jungle is gonna get his wish
God, you know this is Silver and Flint. You know what jungle these martyrs are in. Don’t even make me get into it, I Will start crying.
Age of Kings
Held you in my arms for the first time that day
Felt like God’s anointed when you didn’t push me away
Put on the James and Thomas flashback montage from 2.05. Listen to this song. Cry. Think about the wolves gaining ground in the shadows of their happiness. Cry some more.
The Autopsy Garland
Look west, look west, look west and look away
From old familiar faces
It may seem obvious to say, hey, 3.01, raids, Flint’s scary, he’s wearing a mask, he takes it off when he kills people, you don’t wanna see these guys without their masks on. Which is true. But also you Don’t wanna see these guys without their masks on. You don’t want to see the violence the colonial officials are hiding under the mask of civility. You don’t want to see the complete despair Flint is hiding under the mask of violence.
Beautiful Gas Mask
We hold hands and we jump
And as we fall we sing
Paupers hammering the walls of the castle
Going to meet the king
This is the good shit. It’s the exhilaration as their war against England picks up. It’s Flint and Silver finding their unity, it’s gaining momentum, forming an alliance with Madi and the Maroons. Something has to happen. Someone’s coming to reward us or crush us both like fleas.
High Hawk Season
Spirit throngs that hoist us high, three-thousand warriors deep
Spray our dreams on any surface where the paint will stick
Try to time the rhythm, listen for the click
You know that all too brief time in early/mid season 4 where Madi and Silver and Flint are a unit? When Madi and Flint come to comfort and trust each other when they believe that Silver is gone and then he returns and we get those shining moments in 4.04 where they are working so perfectly together and I just want to live in those moments forever? They have the means to make this war happen, they have all the strategical skills between them, they’re finding warmth and joy in each other and it just feels so much like everything could work but then the cracks start to form.
Prowl Great Cain
And I feel guilty but I can’t feel ashamed
Prowl through empty fields, great Cain
Silver, of course,is the king of saving his own skin and living to fight another day except when he isn’t. Always trying to himself anew but followed by his past and its ghosts. It’s part of what Silver and Flint have in common , part of the power they find together in the darker sides of themselves.
Sourdoire Valley Song
And then the grass grows up to cover up the fire pit and the forge
MIRANDA. She tried over those ten years to build something new in Nassau, half a world away from where she came from and where she lost everything. But she tries her best to try to find peace, music, joy. To try to get James to find those things himself, with her. In the end, she isn’t someone who can be content with dreaming pleasant dreams even though she may sometimes try to be. She has a fire within her as much as Flint does but she tries to smother it instead of letting it rage.
Outer Scorpion Squadron
If you really want to conjure up a ghost
Cultivate a space for the things that hurt you most
All those little moments where Flint collapses, where he lets himself be soft and hurt and scared. Sobbing in the captain’s cabin, in Miranda’s house collapsed against the door or drinking tea with her, with Silver at the campfire or when they spar; moment where he lets his armor fall.
For Charles Bronson
Hit the gym each night, stay cool and seldom speak
Keep the heart of a champion, never let them see you’re weak
And whatever they say on your page three mention
Focus on the parts that make you feel good, be grateful for the attention
I’m sure I don’t have to explain to you that myth-making is one of the central themes of black sails. The importance to Flint of keeping his armor up in front of his crew, in front of his enemies. During the doldrums, in the height of Flint’s grief over Miranda’s death, he does as he always does and puts his goals and his ship first, concentrates, pulls back the hammer, and tries to hold the gun straight as he executes a member of the crew who endangered the survival of the rest. There is no room for weakness in his role and he’s constantly aware of it, constantly aware of what people think of him because of it.
Never Quite Free
It’s okay to find the faith to saunter forward
With no fear of shadows spreading where you stand
And you’ll breathe easier just knowing that the worst is all behind you
And the waves that tossed the raft all night have set you on dry land
In season one Flint says to Eleanor, “In the end that’s all I want. To walk away from the sea and find peace.” But he can’t, because he knows what England and what empire does to people and he has this rage driving him to right the wrongs that were done to him and those he loves. In the end he does walk away and leave the worst behind him. He has Thomas and there can be love and peace in his life at last but he’s Never Quite Free. He has to live with the knowledge of how close he and Madi and Silver were to creating real change and he has to live with the knowledge that someone he loved and trusted threw that away.
Liza Forever Minnelli
Saw your name on the sidewalk
Saw your brave face in my mind
If you’re gonna sit next to the dealer
You get to bet blind
Silver has to live with it too. He will never get away from the memory of Flint, what he did to him and to Madi. He chose his path, but the compasses he came into this world with never really worked so good.
In conclusion, listen to the album, let it wash over you as you feel every emotion known to man and a montage of Black Sails’ most soul-expanding, soul-crushing scenes flashes before your eyes.