CultureReviews

Review: “Our Flag Means Death” is the must-watch show of the year

Photo by Aaron Epstein, HBO Max

On March 3, HBOMax released the first of a 10-episode series titled “Our Flag Means Death.” Under the legendary power of executive producers Taika Waititi and David Jenkins, the former co-starring in the show himself, the series has become the hottest, “most in-demand” show following the airing of its finale. Five weeks later, the show still holds this title.

To those yet to see the pirate comedy-slash-breathtaking-romance, or to those who didn’t quite pick up on the charm of the show, you may not understand how the show reached its impressive rankings. 

Since the shockingly heartbreaking finale, an outpouring of demand has arisen for a second season, which is yet to be confirmed one way or the other. But what is it about this show that has garnered all of this attention along with a 91% critic rating and 95% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes?

To start, I’ll give a brief and spoiler-free synopsis of “Our Flag Means Death.” The show follows the adventures of Stede Bonnet, the real-life Gentleman Pirate of the 1700s played by Rhys Darby. 

Rhys Darby, left, and Taika Waititi in “Our Flag Means Death.”
[Rhys Darby, left, and Taika Waititi in “Our Flag Means Death.”]
Photo courtesy of Aaron Epstein, HBO Max

Bonnet leaves his wife and two children for a life of adventure on the open seas, hiring a diverse and hilarious crew of pirates to accompany him. 

Eventually, Bonnet’s adventures lead him to cross paths with the legendary Blackbeard, who Waititi gives an astounding amount of depth in his portrayal. While Bonnet is struggling with his desire for adventure and lack of violent pirate tendencies, Blackbeard, or Ed as he introduces himself, seems to be grappling with the burnout of several years of piracy. 

Surprising to many, the quick-witted comedy begins to intertwine with powerful gay romance — in the form of a few queer romances within the crew. The show reaches its climax at the end of the eighth episode. 

And in the two episodes following, viewers are on the edge of their seats with emotional whiplash. At one moment, you’re laughing wildly; the next, you’re reaching for the tissues. 

It’s exactly due to those surprising, beautiful queer romances that this show has gathered such a dedicated audience. Queer people and queer relationships have largely been underrepresented, or worse, in my opinion, entirely misrepresented. 

Growing up, my exposure to gay and lesbian relationships was limited to a dramatic musical show, Glee, which really only gave me unrealistic and toxic expectations for love as a queer kid. Now when I’m searching for media depicting relationships representing my own identities, I have to turn to children’s cartoons like “She-Ra” and “The Owl House” instead of adult content. 

That shouldn’t be the case, but it is reality. The queer-depicitng adult content I see is limited to toxic relationships, like in “Shameless” or “Euphoria,” full of homophobia, transphobia and buckets of trauma. 

I don’t need a TV show to show me how hard it is to be gay. Straight people get hundreds, if not thousands, of beautiful love stories with happy endings; why can’t queer people get the same?

And while “Our Flag Means Death” is not the epitome of perfect queer representation (that simply may not exist), I strongly believe it’s really damn close. Every on-screen romantic relationship is queer. Not only are there multiple queer men, considering most of the crew are men, but we even get a non-binary pirate played by a non-binary actor. 

If you’re curious, Jim is absolutely my favorite character. What’s cooler than a gender non-conforming, badass pirate? Nothing.

However, if you’re not queer, it may seem like this show isn’t for you, but that’s not the case at all. With an absolutely killer soundtrack, cameos by incredible comedic actors like Fred Armisen and Leslie Jones, and a thrilling plot, “Our Flag Means Death”’ is a show that truly has something for everyone. 

It’s an ensemble sitcom worthy of rivaling “The Office” and “Parks and Rec,” but it’s also a dark comedy that faces loss, murder and detrimental guilt. If you need a quick binge, “Our Flag Means Death” is unlikely to disappoint. 
Lastly, if we don’t get a second season, I will be ruined. I’m talking to you, Jenkins. Give me more gay pirates or give me nothing.

Our Flag Means Death, fanart
[Fan art depicting Stede Bonnet (played by Rhys Darby, left) and Ed Blackbeard (played by Taika Waititi).]
Illustration by Alieha Dryden | The Arbiter
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