Few shows in the past decade have been as thoughtfully queer as Our Flag Means Death (★★★★☆). The pirate comedy from David Jenkins was quietly released on MAX last year with little fanfare but quickly caught attention as the tale of the show’s queerness spread. The series returns to the seas for a second season, which remains a treasure despite a rough start.
After Ed “Blackbeard” Teach (Taika Waititi) and Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) split last season, so did their crews. Stede’s adventure has gone from the sea to a cramped basement in Spanish Jackie’s (Leslie Jones) bar, while Ed’s journey of post-breakup sadness leads him down a violent and murderous road.
The season starts on a dark path with Blackbeard’s journey as his first mate, Izzy (Con O’Neill), tries to help his beloved captain conquer his demons, while Jim (Vico Ortiz) and Archie (Madeleine Sami) strike up some feelings of their own amid the murderous tension.
Stede, meanwhile, is in the throes of despondency from his break-up, with little ambition to help his crew achieve anything worthwhile. Most of your favorites from last season return, including loveable Oluwande (Samson Kayo), now-single Black Pete (Matthew Maher), bard Frenchie (Joel Fry), and Stede’s bird-speaking first mate Nathaniel (Ewen Bremner).
Whereas the first season was one of self-discovery on the seas, the second is more about self-introspection. The first few episodes are Flag‘s darkest yet. The season takes a different direction on some of its season one storylines, making some of the build-up feel meaningless.
There are a lot of characters and the series does its best to give everyone a chance to do something, but characters inevitably get left behind. This is remedied with the departure of some season one crewmates, but even with that, the cast feels overpacked. The disjointed premise of season two makes the show work uphill against its best interest; however, it does find its way.
Part of the narrative issues with the season lies in its misfired refocusing. There are a lot of characters and only so much story you can tell in its half-hour runtime, so why keep characters like Jim and Oluwande apart? It’s very clear once everyone reunites that the series works best, but even then, there’s no clear goal for the second season.
Our Flag Means Death seems to understand what works best for it around the midway point, returning easily to being one of the funniest queer comedies on television. This season features a number of new characters, a good portion of them women, to break up the predominantly male cast and show the potential of what can be done in the future for the series.
A standalone episode featuring Minnie Driver and Rachel House as legendary pirates (and sadistic girlfriends) Anne Bonney and Mary Read is not only one of the series’ best to date but exemplifies once again that this show’s queerness is one of its biggest strengths. Continuing to mine real pirate history, one of new season’s best additions is Susan (Ruibo Qian), a mysterious merchant enamored with Stede, Oluwande, and their crew.
The cast remains impeccable — Darby and Waititi’s chemistry, in particular, is amazing. A later episode features the crew throwing a party and a drag show, highlighting some character growth and the show’s best humor in an episode that finds season two’s groove back in full force.
The show is still as funny and smart as when it began, showing some encouraging signs of wanting to grow into something even more profound. The show’s queerness is enhanced in season two, making it a rarity in how it strives for joy above all else. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say very few shows will ever exhibit this pirate comedy’s level of grace for its LGBTQ storylines and characters.
Change isn’t always bad, but it sometimes can be hard, even for Our Flag Means Death. All the secret ingredients from last season return, making for some of the year’s best television. With the constant threat of cancellations, it’s a gift that a show like Our Flag Means Death made it to season two. Here’s hoping the powers-that-be at Max open their treasure chest to produce a third season of this refreshingly unique, extraordinary queer series.
Our Flag Means Death is now playing on Max, with two new episodes releasing weekly every Thursday through Oct. 26. Visit www.max.com.
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