Our Flag Means Death has flown somewhat under the radar until this week. Now my timeline is dominated by this gay pirate show and I couldn’t be happier.
Our Flag Means Death premiered on March 3rd, but chatter about it was relatively sparse on social media until this week. Part of me thinks people didn’t want to hype it up until they were sure it wasn’t queerbaiting with its leads. Spoiler Alert. But guess what? They weren’t queerbaiting! This is a canonically queer romantic comedy set in a period pirate adventure.
And if that didn’t sell you (it was enough to sell me on it), it’s produced by Taika Waititi. Oh, and he also stars as Blackbeard, one of the romantic leads. And he looks fantastic.
It’s such a cosmically delightful combination of things that it almost sounds like I’m making it up, but no. This is real. This is amazing.
The story is loosely based on the real story of the Gentleman Pirate, Stede Bonnet, played by Rhys Darby, who has been used in numerous Taikai Waititi projects. The basic facts of Stede Bonnet’s story are maintained – he was a wealthy landowner who gave it up to buy a ship, hire a crew, and take to the seas as a pirate. As a result of his lack of experience and privileged upbringing, he’s not a very good pirate. But he’s certainly enthusiastic and unique. And that’s generally what he’s remembered for.
The finer details of Bonnet’s story are fictionalized, however, and the resulting story is a hilariously queer, remarkably touching, heartfelt found family trope extravaganza. It’s basically historical pirate fanfiction. And there’s no shade to that description. Fanfiction is even mentioned within the narrative itself in a relatively positive way, so I have no doubt the writer, David Jenkins, would take that description lovingly.
Most of the characters in Our Flag Means Death are queer.
A friend of mine on Twitter remarked ‘is this how cishet people feel when they watch other shows?’ And I totally understand what they mean. The ratio of cishet to queer characters is decidedly flipped, and we are given a rare chance to simply enjoy a world inhabited by people like us. We don’t have to do queer readings of characters in order to feel seen. They are just queer, and we can enjoy the story being told to us for what it is.
The range of queer characters aren’t pigeonholed into just one type of queer character, either. We certainly have some flamboyant people, such as Bonnet himself and his scribe Lucius. But we also have characters that typically wouldn’t register as queer to most heteronormative viewers. Blackbeard embodies more masculine traits in contrast to Bonnet, but he’s no less queer.
Within the community, we know how diverse we are, but it’s always nice to remind the heteronormative world about it. Everyone is different. Everyone is unique. This is important. Some of us fit heteronormative gendered stereotypes, but some don’t. Some are of us flamboyant. But some of us aren’t. Some of us can be picked out of a lineup as queer by pretty much any cishet person. But a lot of us are only clocked as such by fellow queer people. And some of us seem to completely fly under the radar to everyone. This show captures all of that and more.
🏳️🌈🧨💥I’m very proud of this romantic comedy we made. Very proud. It’s not “bromantic”, it’s ROMANTIC. If you hate this show, don’t worry, I still love you. And I hope you begin to understand the many layers that love can encompass. Love is love baby. #ourflagmeansdeath pic.twitter.com/U3i7aqaaDh
— Taika Waititi (@TaikaWaititi) March 25, 2022
All the supporting characters are fleshed out and feel very real.
As the found family trope is central to the show, the characters of the Revenge crew are mostly deeply developed and well-rounded. This type of character is absolutely crucial to sell this trope, and it absolutely nailed it.
There are many members of Bonnet’s crew and a few from Blackbeard’s, but I’ll only highlight some notable ones that have become my favorites. But they are all very enjoyable in their own ways. Everyone is bound to have a favorite that they could ramble on about ad nauseam, and I absolutely invite you to do so in the comments. The more people loving the characters the merrier!
My favorite secondary character Oluwande is a surprisingly kind pirate who seems to have a soft spot for Bonnet despite his flaws. His bond with his fellow pirates of color and protective attitude towards his shipmate, Jim, make him easy to love. Everyone could use an Oluwande in their corner. He’s probably the sweetest cinnamon roll on the crew besides Bonnet himself, and I’m sure I’m not alone in how much I adore him.
Lucius is also a favorite of mine. As mentioned, he’s one of the more flamboyant characters. And he’s unapologetically himself after years of pretending to be something he was not. Many bad things befall Lucius through the course of the season, but he’s not a tragic stereotype. He keeps his spark and somehow escalates his sass with every bit of bad luck that gets thrown at him. Truly a role model for the bad-luck inclined among us.
I could go on. But please, tell me your favorite.
A non-binary actor plays a non-binary character.
Another favorite secondary character is Jim, who is introduced as a male mute pirate who is close with Oluwande. We find out that Jim was assigned female at birth and are led to believe at first that the male disguise is an attempt to hide from their past. After a few episodes, however, it becomes clear that there was also a level of comfort in donning the guise of a man alongside the obvious subterfuge.
When given the chance to be themselves, they opt to embody a comfortable non-binary identity and use they/them pronouns. Everyone on the crew accepts this without debate, and the story continues like it’s no big deal. Because it isn’t. This is natural and it’s portrayed as such accordingly.
After it became clear that this was going to be a canonically non-binary character, I decided to look up the actor. To my absolute delight, they are also non-binary and use they/them pronouns. It’s exceedingly rare to have a non-binary character at all, let alone one portrayed by a non-binary actor. Vico Ortiz was absolutely the correct casting choice here, and I’m excited to see more of them. If we are granted a second season, I’m sure they’ll be fairly central to the plot.
It’s a period comedy, but it’s modern.
The series begins in 1717, which is historically when Bonnet began his pirate adventure. The beautiful costumes and sets are all wonderfully crafted to fit this period, but there’s definitely a modern flair to the dialogue that gives it a unique atmosphere. The characters use contemporary slang and vernacular regularly. As mentioned, one character talks about fanfiction, which, while it certainly existed in various forms throughout history, didn’t actually get that name until the 20th century.
On the surface, it sounds like this absolutely wouldn’t work and would be kind of jarring, but somehow it finds a comfortable rhythm and begins to flow naturally early on. It’s a world all of its own. It’s our world of today, but also the world of 1717, and the two co-exist beautifully together. Something about this blend reminds me of Hamilton in a way. But instead of modern music genres bridging this gap, it’s the dialogue.
The acceptance of the queer characters may or may not be a departure from period accuracy. There’s certainly historical evidence of queer relationships among pirates, but the ease in which other characters accept them may be a bit of a departure. Honestly, I want to do some reading on this now because my curiosity is piqued.
Despite the accuracy, sometimes it’s nice to experience a world without the baggage of bigotry. As I said, this is a world of its own, and I love every part of it. We don’t always need sad stories about queer people. Sometimes we need stories where we just exist, too.
Our Flag Means Death has a lot of jaunty pirate fun.
All this representation is well and good, but it’s also important to remember that this show actually has an incredibly fun premise beyond all of that. We are truly blessed to get a great show that also just happens to have great representation. There’s sword-fighting, piracy on the high seas, Spanish and English fleet antagonists, and a hefty amount of swashbuckling. I fully expect the pirate aesthetic to have a resurgence as a result of this show, and I’m totally here for it.
The story navigates the moral ambiguity of the pirate story genre in an interesting way. There’s thieving and death and maiming, but also an awareness of what they’re doing and an exploration of the impacts of this behavior. Every character has a bit of a gray area with their morals. Even the sweetest cinnamon roll of them all, Oluwande, lies and grifts fairly regularly, though there is an element of Robinhood morality in many of his acts. But still, all of the Revenge crew remains sympathetic and charming enough to make their morally gray antics enjoyable.
If you are comfortable with this morally gray space, you’ll have a great time with these adventures. If you prefer your characters to be entirely good or entirely bad, though, there may be a bit of a struggle. As someone whose list of favorite characters includes Loki, Eddie Brock, and Bucky Barnes, I’m clearly pretty comfortable in this morally ambiguous space. This is totally my jam.
Our Flag Means Death is incredibly bingable.
HBO Max released two to three episodes per week since March 3rd. I assume they realized this is a show that is best enjoyed when you can plow through the episodes one right after another and chose to deliver them accordingly. Now that it’s complete and the buzz is building, everyone who is just now discovering the show can binge through all ten episodes in one go. But who would do that, right? Haha. Nobody. That’s absurd.
Okay, confession time. I totally watched all ten episodes in one sitting last night with only a brief meal break. And I brought my phone to the kitchen to watch as I made food, so was it even really a break? It barely qualifies as such. It’s me. I am the absurd one here. And I fully admit it.
Our Flag Means Death just grips you and doesn’t let you go. In fact, I stayed up way too late thinking about writing fanfiction based on the finale, and now I’m exhausted. But I have zero regrets, man. In fact, I’ll probably stay up late again tonight to finish some fic. It’s just that gripping.
Take these confessions as encouragement that this show is worth your time. Maybe get some proper sleep, though. And drink some water.
So, season two?
Right now there is no official confirmation, but we’re rallying together to get an Our Flag Means Death season 2. It ends on quite a cliffhanger, though (hence my need to immediately start writing fanfiction). HBO has generally been pretty kind to queer shows, so I have some hope. They are currently in the lead for GLAAD’s 2022 media awards for LGBTQ+ content. Their solid support of our community goes back decades, with David Fisher from Six Feet Under being one of the earliest examples I recall.
So at the very least, I’m not too concerned about them refusing to renew it based on that aspect alone. But this show hasn’t had much buzz until just now. So if we want to get a second season and get some resolution for that cliffhanger, we have to watch it. And we have to do so legally in a way that the network can track it.
All ten episodes are currently streaming on HBO Max, which, like almost all streaming services, has free trials for new members. If you’ve already used up the free trial, you can do what I usually do and subscribe for just a month to watch the content, and then cancel it until they have something else I want to watch.
And, most importantly, tell your friends about this show. Create fan content for this show and spread it in your networks. Talk about it! Tweet about it! Let’s keep the hype building and maybe we’ll see our scrappy crew of misfits sailing the high seas again in the near future.
To tide yourself over, you may also be interested in the Unofficial Our Flag Means Death soundtrack list. Enjoy!
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.
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