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[This story contains spoilers from Sunday’s series finale of Starz’s Black Sails.]
In the end, Black Sails proved to be truly about a story.
Not a story of pirates saving their paradise, or finding buried treasure, or even fighting a massive battle against those who threatened their lifestyle. Instead, it was a story about two legendary men, their opposing world views and the bond they shared that became poisoned over time. Black Sails was a story about Captain Flint (Toby Stephens) and “Long” John Silver (Luke Arnold).
After four seasons of an unlikely partnership-turned-friendship, the two men were at odds once again in the series finale of the Starz drama over what to do with Madi’s (Zethu Dlomo) rescue and the buried treasure. And after a huge fight scene where, against all odds, the pirates actually won the battle against Woodes Rogers (Luke Roberts) and by proxy England itself, the true climax came when Flint and Silver had a war of words on the island. The two used their eloquent ways of manipulation to finally bring their issue to a head, and Silver won only because he had a trump card hidden up his sleeve.
Before the hour began, Silver had located Flint’s long-lost lover Thomas (Rupert Penry-Jones), believed to be dead, working his life sentence at a cushy plantation prison. He sent Flint to live out the rest of his life with Thomas on the plantation, saved Madi and vowed to wait for her to forgive him for as long it would take. But the legend of Long John Silver continued to grow, and the groundwork for Treasure Island was officially laid.
Below, Black Sails creator Jon Steinberg talks with The Hollywood Reporter about the emotional series finale ending, if he’s considering tackling Treasure Island in a spinoff series and more.
What was running through your mind as you were crafting the series finale?
We’d had a running sense for a while of what we wanted it to feel like and the kinds of things we wanted to do, both before we got to the ending and within the ending. It was a constant game of keeping our eye on that target but then also trying to let the story evolve to where it wanted to, make sure we weren’t being too rigid about that. And when that ending really started to come into focus, it’s really hard to say goodbye to the story, and it’s hard to separate from that. But at the same time, I think it was really gratifying that the ending held up. It’s largely the ending we were hoping for when we started at the very beginning of the series, so to be able to bring it back to a place that felt complete and right and like we told a whole, full story, that’s rare.
Did anything change about the ending that you wanted over the course of four seasons?
Things always change in terms of the details and there were definitely some things that came up along the way that we couldn’t have anticipated. But the thing we wanted the audience to feel at the end and what we wanted the story to be about is the idea that this was really a story about Flint and Silver and their very unlikely relationship. They got so close and then there’s this tragic ending to it. All of the notes we wanted to play lined up as we got to the end. But I think the Max (Jessica Parker Kennedy) and Anne (Clara Paget) relationship was something that became emotionally impactful in a way that we didn’t see coming. That was a lesson in if you’re not letting stories evolve naturally, then you’re missing all the good stuff.
The ending tied up all the characters’ stories while still leaving the door open for more with Nassau, Jack’s (Toby Schmitz) new crew, Flint and Thomas, and even Billy Bones (Tom Hopper). Would you ever consider doing a Treasure Island spinoff sequel series?
I guess never say never always feels like the right answer. At the moment, I feel like we’re pretty happy with where it ended. The ending that we like is the sense that some of the people we care about survived this and they have a life after it, which I don’t necessarily think that the life they have after it is a part of this story. But the process of making the show was pretty special and we’ll miss the cast and crew and the process of making it more and more the further away we get from it. So who knows.
How beholden were you to the fates of all the characters in Treasure Island?
It depends on which one, it depends on the details. We tried to have a fair amount of discipline about certain elements of that book and treat them as canon and things we just had to find a way to make sense of. There are some other elements that I think are relayed through unreliable narrators in the book or seemed, to us, to be part of a narrative that was clearly embellished from some history that came before it. Part of the process of trying to land this story into that book was about sorting out the two and figuring out what really is canon. What’s Long John Silver’s story? It’s not necessarily something to be taken at face value. But it was a challenge. That book doesn’t contemplate 40 hours of story that come before it.
Throughout the entire series, the dialogue between characters was always a work of art in and of itself, especially between Flint and Silver. It’s so rare to see a close relationship like theirs in pop culture, between a gay man and a straight man. How important was it to you to showcase that bond?
It’s a difficult thing to do. We had to embrace the fact that there would have to be things that were left unsaid and were going to have to exist in subtext and performance and context in order for it to be honest. That felt right. There is, at least to me when I watch it, a significant amount happening between the two of them that is all under the surface. But at the same time, you want it to play at face value. These are two guys who are the least likely allies on page one of the series and certainly the least likely best of friends, who have reached this point. The tragedy doesn’t work if you don’t care about the two of them. The tragedy also doesn’t work if you don’t understand what came between them. There’s a fair amount of a puzzle happening there and in some respect we always saw the series as a dialogue between the two of them. They couldn’t be more different and yet somehow found some common ground that made them against all odds the only two people who understood each other. We relied on the audience a lot to fill in those blanks and go on the ride with us.
Silver’s backstory was never actually revealed. Why did you want to leave that a mystery?
It’s so impactful. From the very beginning, it was an intuition on our part that it was important that he came from nowhere. It was important that he somehow was someone that was hard to know and that existed in opposition to Flint, for whom where he came from is everything. As we got deeper into it, it became clear that there was no specific story that was going to be as impactful to our understanding of him or his relationship with Flint as the idea that he didn’t believe in stories as it relates to a person’s life. He was very good at using that and weaponizing that and making a tool of it, but he didn’t feel beholden by it. That is why he and Flint were never going to understand the world in the same way. And that’s why on some level, he’s stronger than Flint and someone that Flint couldn’t defeat in the same way as he would with others. It just stuck and it felt right.
And that moment in the finale when Silver comes across the cook hiding from the fight below deck was totally full circle from the series premiere.
In a story that’s been running for a long time, it’s nice to feel that the circle is completing itself and when characters can in some way come back to the place they started as an entirely different person. This was a good, healthy organic end to the story and everyone was reaching that point roughly at the same time, and the idea of forcing them to go past that point felt like it was unlikely to yield anything that would stand up to what we had done before.
Did you always know you were going to reunite Flint with Thomas at the end, or did that idea come about later in the writing process?
We had a sense in season two when he died off screen, that any character who dies off screen, you’re taking the word of the messenger as to whether or not it actually happened. As someone who watches these stories and reads these stories, it feels unlikely that it actually happened. We knew we weren’t finished with him. And then at some point in season three we realized it would be reasonably late in the series when he came back, so in season four it felt right. And it wasn’t a choice he would make, it was a choice made for him.
Where did the decision come from to end the series after four seasons?
There was a lot of talk internally and with Starz before season four started about where do we feel like we are, how much story do we feel like we have left. It was during season four when we felt like all the endings we hoped we would get to were starting to approach very quickly. We spent a little time at the end of season four thinking about if we were done and it felt like we were. We felt good about it and nothing was left on the table. The conversation with Starz was pretty easy because we just felt like we had arrived at the end. We didn’t want to produce an episode of this show that felt like it was one too many and they supported that.
What did you think of the way the Black Sails series finale ended? Share your thoughts in the comments sections below.
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