The historical fiction comedy Our Flag Means Death was charming in its first season, but this second season is genuinely excellent because it understands what worked so well last time, focusing on that and trimming the fat. Fans will not be disappointed, as this season will give even more time with their favorite shipped couple.
Season 2 picks up after the Gentleman Pirate, Stede Bonnet, has missed his rendezvous with Ed (professionally known as Blackbeard), sending the former on a quest to find his unlikely lover and the latter into a spiral of deep depression believing that he has been rejected. Although the story beats are a tad conventional, the way in which they are applied in this genre feels entirely unique and refreshing.
While Our Flag Means Death may not have been envisioned as the “gay pirate show,” that subplot from the first season comes front-and-center in the second outing. The show’s creators have cannily realized that the relationship between Stede and Ed is the reason why fans tuned in, so they gave us more of this unorthodox, fanfiction-like romance.
Our Flag Means Death season 2 doubles down on the pirate romance
Beyond the romantic storyline, the season does explore how Stede Bonnet copes with his newfound infamy as a pirate. That being said, the series hardly reinvents the wheel in its discussion of this familiar theme, and these asides are always subservient to the central storyline in ways such as creating jealousy among the crew.
Season 2 of Our Flag Means Death avoids the mistake that so many second seasons of surprise hit shows make. Many unexpected successes take their fame to mean that they should swing even bigger, instead of doubling down on what made fans love it in the first place. Of course, narrative additions are necessary to push the story along, but this season still firmly focuses on the character dynamics between the crew.
Rhys Darby has really come into his own as the “Gentleman Pirate,” getting the opportunity to show a lot more vulnerability this season, as opposed to the lovable doofus he was last time around. His ability to feign ignorance does wonders for the comedic timing of the show, creating some riotous fish-out-of-water scenarios.
Taika Waititi is also upgraded from supporting player to series regular this time around, especially as Blackbeard is now a co-lead to Steed. The biggest benefit of this is that it allows Ed/Blackbeard to have a much richer arc of his own, particularly in the first few episodes of the season, which are extraordinarily poignant.
In the time since the first season, many of the actors who made up the rest of the crew have been quite busy, and as such, their roles are a bit more reduced. (Joel Fry, Matthew Maher, and Nat Faxon are probably the most obvious examples of this.) However, because of exquisite editing and sharp writing, this season manages to avoid many of the issues that go along with splitting ensembles up.
There are a few new additions to the cast that the crew encounter along their journey, but the only one who stands out is Ruibo Qian, who takes the story in some interesting directions. There are also a few fun cameos, particularly one duo who bring the house down, but it’s best to leave them a surprise.
The one area in which season 2 of Our Flag Means Death goes for the fences is its visual scale, and it works quite well. The production design feels bigger and more immersive, the cinematography looks more creative, and this is where the series wisely invests its bigger budget — rather than a slew of A-list cameos that would have been fleetingly memorable.
Our Flag Means Death could be accused of pandering to fans by doubling down on the parts of the series that have gone viral — namely the gay romance at its center — but that’s exactly why fans are watching this series anyway. It’s funny, it’s enjoyable, and it has become one of the most unexpectedly great romantic comedies in history (real or fiction).
Our Flag Means Death streams on Max beginning October 5. Seven out of eight episodes reviewed.