There was a tangy excitement in the salty sea air as the fandom of Our Flag Means Death realized this time we were not being queerbaited: Gentleman pirate Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) and fiery Captain Ed “Blackbeard” Teach (Taika Waititi) were indeed in a big gay romance, right on the high seas!
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This wasn’t Johnlock again. It wasn’t a hopeless ship. The incredible chemistry between two dashing men resulted in a passionate onscreen kiss, followed by a painful separation and some fallout that included a murder attempt, marooning of crew, and plenty of hurt feelings all around. So, how does Season 2 of this curious swashbuckler show launch? With three episodes that are diving into darkness and queerness wholeheartedly, I’m happy to report! Let’s get into it.
Where does Our Flag Means Death Season 2 pick up?
The crew of The Revenge has been split in the acrimonious break-up between Stede and Blackbeard. As teased in trailers, Stede has taken refuge in the Republic of Pirates, and is coping by writing love letters and popping them into bottles he then tosses into the sea, his wishes for reconciliation carried on the waves. Meanwhile, Blackbeard, aboard The Revenge, is burying himself in work, relentlessly raiding ships and crashing weddings with a dead-eyed glare.
Stede’s remaining crew is scheming for a way out of the grip of Spanish Jackie (Leslie Jones, back from S1 and beguiling), while Blackbeard’s shipmates are terrorized by his raids and the trauma they incur.
Critics were given the first 7 of 9 episodes, so I can assure you the reunion of crew and co-captains comes soon — in the first three episodes premiering on Oct. 5, actually. But from there, a new string of misadventures will befall these compelling pirates, including ruthless rivalries, a curious curse, and a rising tide against piracy as they know it.
Our Flag Means Death Season 2 introduces Minnie Driver, Rachel House, and more fierce female pirates.
Among the return of such beloved characters as the spacy Buttons (Ewen Bremner), the winsome Oluwande (Samson Kayo), the swaggering Jim (Vico Ortiz), the tall-tale-telling Black Pete (Matthew Maher), and the ruthless Izzy (Con O’Neill), Our Flag Means Death introduces new friends and foes in its second season.
Madeleine Sami, the New Zealand star who cracked us up with The Breaker Upperers and the crime procedural parody Deadloch, joins the revenge as a feisty fighter who finds a soft spot for Jim. The always enthralling and spunky Rachel House, who’s appeared in Waititi movies like Boy, Eagle vs Shark, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Thor: Ragnarok, and Next Goal Wins, pops up alongside a corseted and coarse Minnie Driver as a pair of infamous pirates who prove to be a powerful influence on warring lovers Ed and Stede. But the most profound addition to the cast is Ruibo Qian, who strides onto the deck as Zheng Yi Sao, the pirate queen of China.
Where Stede is gentle but gullible and Blackbeard is hard but mercurial, Zheng Yi Sao literally laughs at the toxic masculinity that has shaped them — and a fleet of other male pirate captains. The workplace comedy vibe of Our Flag Means Death is shaken up by her daring new ideas… and her incredible broth. But far from a snarling ball-buster trying to mimic the big boys’ aesthetic, this pirate queen does things her own way, in pigtails with a big smile but no patience for bullshit. Qian brings a bouncy warmth to this fearsome world, but there’s a glint in her eyes that warns she could be the biggest threat the boys face this season.
Our Flag Means Death embraces queer culture.
The first season had several notably queer characters in romantic relationships other than Stede and Ed, such as Black Pete and Lucius (Nathan Foad). Played by non-binary Latine actor Vico Ortiz, Jim rejected the gender binary while exploring a romantic relationship with Oluwande. But in Season 2, they both consider how their relationship will evolve as they look to new love interests, reflecting a far more healthy depiction of break-ups than the ever-dramatic Black-Stede. Also on board are lesbian pirates, a bearded drag queen looking divine, and an arc for Izzy that involves some truly radical acceptance, not only of the love whose name he dared not speak in Season 1 but also — begrudgingly – for himself.
The new voyages for The Revenge deal with betrayal, heartbreak, violence, and murder. Some fans who enjoyed the buoyancy of Season 1 might be thrown by the occasionally grim intensity of Season 2. However, amid heart-to-hearts about trauma and change, Jenkins and his crew make room for queer joy. It’s not just there in parties but also in the embrace between long-separated loves, in the casual employment of the nickname “babe,” and in the glittery fins of a resplendent merman. (Just you wait!)
Personally, I prefer the balance struck this season, where characters are grappling for growth in ways hilarious and sometimes horrific. Aboard a pirate ship, such compromises — bloody and bold — make sense. Where the season fumbles is in its heavy-handed oral anachronisms and modern relevance. Popping Crocs into costuming alongside modern lingo has been there from the pilot, but as Blackbeard is forced to face consequences for some truly rancid behavior, words like “poisonous vibe” and “doing it for the lols” eye-roll at cancel culture more than they engage with the topic. But perhaps this wonky walk will right itself in the final two episodes of the season?
Along the way to an unknown conclusion, Our Flag Means Death offers a welcome return of characters queer, captivating, and wonderfully fun. It also probes deeper into themes of mortality, fidelity, forgiveness, and identity. Where it will land, I cannot say. But the journey so far is a thrilling one.
How to watch: Our Flag Means Death Season 2 premieres episodes 1-3 on Max on Oct. 5, with new episodes every Thursday.