Our Flag Means Death’s creator unpacks episode 7’s big drama and ending

Season 2 of Our Flag Means Death Takes an Unexpected Turn

Season 2 of HBO’s pirate comedy/romance Our Flag Means Death takes some big turns by episode 7 — maybe not as big as the season 1 turn, when inept pirate captain Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) and Ed “Blackbeard” Teach (Taika Waititi) realized they had romantic feelings for each other, but still… a whole lot of things happen that we figured viewers would want to talk about, once they’d seen it for themselves.

To recap: In episode 7 of Our Flag Means Death season 2, Stede and Blackbeard have just had sex for the first time, and they seem all set for their happily-ever-after together — until Blackbeard abruptly leaves Stede to pursue a job as a fisherman. The crew visits the Republic of Pirates, where Oluwande (Samson Kayo) expresses feelings for Zhang Yi Sao (Ruibo Qian), even though he was previously uncomfortable with her expressing feelings for him when she took over his ship, and even though he and his friend Jim (Vico Ortiz) had a romantic liaison in season 1. They also learn that The Swede (Nat Faxon) has happily settled in as one of 20 husbands to Spanish Jackie (Leslie Jones), even though he was forced into that relationship to save the rest of the crew. Yes, that summary does sound like something out of a soap opera, now that you mention it. But this doesn’t: At the end of the episode, a trap set by Prince Ricky (Erroll Shand) obliterates Zhang’s fleet, and the pirates’ haven is destroyed when the English fleet sweeps in to kill or capture the whole cast. Jenkins talks us through it all below. This conversation has been edited for concision and clarity.

Discussing Gender Tropes and Power Dynamics

One thing that really surprised me in season 2 is that you have two different coercive relationships where a man is being uncomfortably forced into an intimate relationship with a woman, and then he later decides he likes it. What kind of conversations went into those relationships and the gender tropes you’re reversing there?

David Jenkins: With The Swede and Spanish Jackie — she owns [her husbands]. They live in her basement, and she owns them, basically. So already, you’re [ick noise]. But then I love that The Swede really likes her. She’s a gangster, she’s a mob boss. There is a gender aspect to having her in that role. But then he says, “I’ve found parts of myself that I never knew existed, and other parts I thought were long gone.” I just liked the idea of Leslie [Jones]’s character and Nat Faxon’s character being together and happy, balancing each other. She’s already got a wild thing going — she’s got 20 husbands. To me, to see that relationship start as kind of a joke, Oh, Leslie’s character’s scary and his character’s timid, and it turns into No, actually, they balance each other pretty well — that’s kind of sweet. It’s less about the fact that she essentially owns him, it’s about the fact that they do care about each other. It’s kind of nice.

But you have very much the same dynamic with Zhang and Olu. When they start out, she’s got all the power in the relationship, and she’s kind of predatory about claiming Olu. He’s intimidated and forced into it, and he comes around on deciding he likes her. It just feels like an odd beat to repeat.

Jenkins: Well, she has all the power in the relationship until she doesn’t. And then she realizes that she’s in love with this guy — he is soft and kind and sweet. And that’s powerful. I think they’re mirrored in Blackbeard and Stede’s relationship — they’re each each other’s manic pixie dream girl. I think there is something in the show about how piracy is a brutal way of life. It’s essentially Mad Max, this world. There’s no law, there’s just strong and weak. And in stories like Game of Thrones, we see how that plays out. It’s a lot of women getting raped in stories and you’re like, [resigned ick noise]. In Our Flag, a lot of these relationships aren’t consenting relationships — they’re power-dynamic relationships, because it’s Mad Max. So a thing I like to see in this show is, Well, why is the more powerful person interested in this weaker person? What are they trying to balance? In a world where might makes right, and some people just need to align themselves with someone strong, it’s interesting to be like, Well, what does Blackbeard need? What does Spanish Jackie need? What does Zhang Yi Sao need, the most powerful pirate in the world? What happens when she gets into a relationship? What is she looking for? She’s a modern person, what does she need? So you’re always gonna get those weird power dynamics to start with, I think, and then you just try to get to: What’s underneath that? Why are they doing what they’re doing?

Unraveling the Relationship Between Blackbeard and Stede

Speaking of what Blackbeard needs, I think some fans will think that him leaving Stede in episode 7 is a form of revenge. It so closely parallels what Stede did to him. You can read it as them being very much alike, running from commitment, or as him trying to hurt Stede. What do you want to say to people freaking out after episode 7?

Jenkins: Well, there’s a thing I talk about a lot — I really, really liked the Bradley Cooper/Lady Gaga version of A Star Is Born. I like how the dynamic changes between them. Everything we do is collapsed on this show — we talk about these lofty things, but we don’t have the time to execute everything we might like to do. Like, episode 4 is a mini Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, just a very small version of it. In this case, we liked the idea that Blackbeard found this guy and made him a legitimate pirate, but now that he’s a star, Blackbeard’s questioning what he wants to do now that he’s lost his appetite for piracy. And Stede’s turned into Lady Gaga’s character. He’s famous now, because he killed the scariest pirate, so that power is inverted. It’s interesting to look at how a relationship changes now that Blackbird isn’t the star anymore and Stede isn’t a hanger-on. Stede got what he wanted; he’s a real boy. Is Blackbeard jealous? Is he uncomfortable with it? When power dynamics shift in a relationship, that leads to trouble. And then it really is just like, What are they going to do? Are they going to make it through it? Can they rebalance? Because that is a sign of a healthy relationship.

The Evolution of Zhang and Olu’s Relationship

That episode is also a big turning point for Zhang and Olu, and for Olu and Jim. What went into the decisions around them moving in different directions after their connection in season 1?

Jenkins: I think that relationship was always seen in the room as a friend relationship that got romantic. That tension was interesting to us — it’s like, Well, what if we don’t play them as jealous? What if we play it as, when you love a friend and it becomes romantic, and then you see someone who makes them happy and you know you’re not it, you feel jealous? But also, they’re your friend. You want to see them happy.