When Our Flag Means Death fans started getting show-related tattoos, creator David Jenkins knew he had a hit on his hands.
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“Part of you is like, ‘Oh my God, that’s your body!'” Jenkins exclaimed in a video interview with Mashable. “And then the other part of you is so moved.”
The tattoos are often celebrations of the love story at the center of Our Flag Means Death, that between pirates Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) and Ed “Blackbeard” Teach (Taika Waititi). Jenkins has seen tattoos of character portraits, important Our Flag Means Death imagery like lighthouses and krakens, and even promotional art for Season 2.
“I love that people feel that much for the show, and for the production of the show,” Jenkins continued. “Because when you’re getting something tattooed on you from the show, that’s about 100 different people’s work that went into that. That’s the production designers, that’s the writers, that’s the directors, that’s the actors. It just feels amazing that people embrace the entire thing like that.”
The diehard fandom of Our Flag Means Death didn’t manifest overnight. Instead, it grew steadily over the first season, as the show highlighted LGBTQ stories, like that of nonbinary pirate Jim (Vico Ortiz). But as Stede and Ed grew closer, viewers began to worry. As former Mashable reporter Jess Joho wrote of the Season 1 finale: “Was this clearly LGBTQ-coded show going to actually deliver on its gay promise? Or were we being set up for yet another devastating queerbait, where the heavily implied romance between a show’s same-sex protagonists would suddenly be abandoned — along with the dedicated fans who so desperately yearned for the legitimacy of explicit, canonical representation?”
Jenkins certainly picked up on this apprehension as Season 1 rolled out. “It took a minute for the audience to trust that we were actually making [the show] overtly a love story between [Ed and Stede],” he said. “So it was interesting to watch people grab onto it, but also protect themselves from being disappointed.”
“It was interesting to watch people grab onto it, but also protect themselves from being disappointed.”
As Joho wrote, queer fandom has often been let down by other shows that hinted at (but never followed through on) same-sex relationships. Think Supernatural‘s Destiel ship, or Sherlock‘s Johnlock. By contrast, Ed and Stede’s first kiss was a major moment of catharsis.
“To watch the explosion of enthusiasm around [the kiss] was disorienting, almost,” Jenkins said. “I thought people would react to it, but I didn’t think the reaction would be that big. And then it was moving, because I didn’t realize that this audience felt so unserved in general, as far as storylines go.”
Since Our Flag Means Death‘s March 2022 release, the show’s fandom has remained vocal in its love for the show — first calling for its eventual renewal, then waiting for a Season 2 release date and trailer. As the wait between seasons lengthened, Our Flag Means Death fans took over the internet: According to AO3’s 2023 Ship Stats project, Ed and Stede (aka Blackbonnet) were the seventh most popular relationship tag on AO3 between August of 2022 and August of 2023. Tumblr’s 2022 fandometrics listed Our Flag Means Death as the third most popular TV show of the year, and Blackbonnet as its fourth most popular ship.
Given the fandom’s passion, did Jenkins ever feel the pressure of their expectations going into Season 2?
“I think it’s more that the enthusiasm just gave us a wind at our back,” Jenkins said. “We’re fans of the show when we’re writing… We’re writing fan fiction! Our fan fiction just gets made. [That’s the case] in any writers’ room, like in the writers’ room of Succession, that’s Succession fanfic. Theirs just gets made.”
He continued: “It’s nice to know that you’ve made something that has a beat people can dance to and they love it. That just emboldens everyone, because it’s hard to make the show. It’s a one-hour show on a half-hour budget and shooting schedule. Every department has to work triple time, and by the end of the season, everyone’s beat to shit. But the love, enthusiasm, and positivity around [the show] makes you go, ‘Oh, this is going to be awesome. At the end of this, there’s going to be something cool waiting for us.'”
Our Flag Means Death Season 2 is now streaming on Max, with new episodes every Thursday.