After four seasons on the high seas, Black Sails tonight washed up on shore literally and figuratively on the edge of Treasure Island, the Robert Louis Stevenson classic that the Starz series served as a prequel to.
However, there are distant winds brewing of more skull and crossbones tales to tell, says the Black Sails co-creator and co-showrunners. “You know, endings are bittersweet, not just for the audience but for the creators as well, and it’s hard to let go,” Robert Levine noted the end of the show. “You never say never, I guess,” cautioned fellow EP Jonathan E. Steinberg of the possibility of a further iteration of Black Sails, especially with the introduction of real life pirate Mary Reed right at the end.
Regardless of if there will be more to come, the just over one-hour Steinberg directed “XXXVIII” series finale tied up at dock the non-pirate fate of Nassau, the Urca de Lima treasure and many of the tales of Captain Flint, the Luke Arnold portrayed Long John Silver, Tom Hopper’s Billy Bones, Clara Paget’s Anne Bonny and Toby Schmitz’s verbose Jack Rackham. For the Toby Stephens’ played Flint, Black Sails came to its conclusion not with his desired victory in a war with England, but with a reunion in a Georgia penal colony and kiss with the assumed dead Thomas Hamilton, portrayed by Rupert Peny-Jones.
A trailblazer of sorts for Starz, the Emmy-winning 18th century-set Golden Age of Piracy show was the first original series to go beyond three seasons for the Chris Albrecht-run premium cabler. Steinberg and Levine chatted with me about how they reached the finale of the Michael Bay, Brad Fuller and Andrew Form executive produced show and how they wanted it to be close to Stevenson’s novel itself. The duo also discussed potential Black Sails spinoffs or reboots, the notion of a series about the power of narrative, taking Treasure Island to a new place and what’s next for them.
DEADLINE: Having started Black Sails 20-years before Treasure Island is supposed to start, you brought the series finale right to the brink of the book, was that always the intended ending of the show?
LEVINE: You know, our goal with the ending was to get as close as possible to Treasure Island. It was to try to leave you in a place where you could finish the show and then start at page one of the book, and start reading it, and have it not only make sense in the narrative sense, but also be something of a new story for you. Because now you could fill in a lot between the lines in terms of the characters, and their relationships, and their histories.
I think, in some cases, we wanted it to feel like even if our story was ending properly for the sake of Treasure Island, that for some of them, life goes on.
DEADLINE: To that end, pardon the pun, it seemed like episode 10 of Season 4, which was the season finale and the series finale was more about wrapping up the overall tale, whereas episode 9 was the end of the season…
STEINBERG: I think the last two episodes are certainly functioning a bit as two parts of a whole. I also think we saw episode eight as a little bit of a finale for Max and for Anne Bonny and for pieces of the story, and then nine and ten was a nice platform for Flint, and Silver, and Rackham to finish out theirs and for Treasure Island to have its moment. Hopefully, I think 10 is an experience on its own, and as a finale, is hopefully a lot of what you wanted from it and a good series ending.
DEADLINE: But is it the end? You leave a lot of boats at sea, so to speak.
STEINBERG: (Laughs) We talked about a bunch of different versions of ways the show could go on. A few of them felt interesting and felt like things that might be fun together. But they didn’t quite feel like the show, and I think the closer we got to the book, the more it felt apparent that the book is the book, and the show is the show. They can talk to each other, and they can inhabit the same universe, but for them to overlap just didn’t quite feel right. And I think the ending, where it landed, everybody felt like they were in the right place. They felt like they got back to some version of the place they started as a different person with a different outlook.
DEADLINE: OK, but the recent Hulu deal kind of reeks of potential and more importantly, at the very end with Mark Reed, AKA real-life female pirate Mary Reed, appearing in the Nassau tavern with Jack Rackham, and then getting on the ship with him and Anne Bonny – right there, it feels like you’re literally launching a new show and one that doesn’t overlap Treasure Island, I might add.
STEINBERG: That is true but we liked just the feeling that, at the end of our story, some of these people survived it and that they were going to live on and have adventures. And most importantly, live a life in which they had to bear the weight of what they witnessed and what they went through. So even without necessarily seeing anything that comes after it, that in itself has some value I think. You know, in terms of what happens to them after that, as an audience member, I don’t know, I’m curious. So who knows? You know, you never say never I guess.
DEADLINE: So, and I know I’m fishing here, but that Mary Reed, Anne Bonny and Rackham storyline you introduce at the very end of the finale isn’t a set-up for a spinoff?
STEINBERG: Your head’s probably where ours is in that if there were more story to tell, I have a feeling that Rackham, and Bonny, and Mary would be right in the middle of it.
LEVINE: Look, part of finding the right ending is, in some ways, kind of lurching around in the dark. Part is trying to figure out if it were to continue, what it would be? We love these characters, and I think certainly one aspect of that process was realizing we would love to watch a show about those three in particular. But then feeling like having really brought Flint and Silver to a definitive end, that it would just be a very different show. So, you know, endings are bittersweet not just for the audience, but for the creators as well, and it’s hard to let go, for sure. So, you know, we can always dream on – there’s always comic books to consider.
DEADLINE: Whatever may come next will be very different than Black Sails then?
LEVINE: Yeah because we really were able to shape an ending to the show that feels complete, and satisfying, and kind of proportional to the rest of the story.
We had a wonderful experience making this show. We worked with wonderful people. Our cast was fantastic, and so, you know, it’s bittersweet to have it end, but at the same time, to feel like you told the story the way you wanted to. That we really delivered on the scope and the scale, and we were able to sort of continue to do that in ways that I think even surprised us with each successive season. At the end, then to pick a landing that feels all the threads have been tied up, for the most part, it’s got an emotional poignancy to it – and that’s a point where I think you’re happy to, bow out, exit the field. So we feel good about it.
DEADLINE: In the route to that exit, Black Sails touched on a lot of big themes over the seasons – an earlier iteration of globalization, race, class, power and sexism, being just a few. Besides its obvious connection to Treasure Island, what was the defining thrust of the series to you guys?
STEINBERG: Part of the allure of the show to us was that it sat in the middle of so many different things like that. I mean, there are ways to look at it that it is about globalization, and it’s about the frontier, and it’s about how those things have an effect on the civilization that they’ve separated from. It’s also about narrative.
In a specific way, it’s about a group of people who, when looking backwards from our historical point of view, have a very specific character and a very specific understanding of what they were and they weren’t. And that was interesting to us that there was this thing that everyone kind of thought they knew everything about and felt like it had been done to death, and you really don’t know anything about it.
I feel like when you find a world like that, especially one that’s as visually rich as this and has so many things to say that are relevant in a contemporary sense, that feels like a really good opportunity. So I think all of those things are true. Hopefully, you know, the show’s ability and willingness to comment on all that stuff is all operative and it’s just kind of a question of from what direction you’re looking at it.
DEADLINE: One of those themes was the one of love and redemption, especially for Toby Stephens’ Flint. After what looked for sure to be his death at the hands of Silver, we see him transported to a reformist penal colony in what is now the state of Georgia and reunited with a kiss and an embrace with Tom Hamilton. Why was that the end for Black Sails’ most dominating character?
STEINBERG: Among the things that we felt from Treasure Island we wanted to respect the cannon and work the show towards was this very specific and very odd mention of the end of Captain Flint, which is only told through hearsay in the book. It explained to be that Flint died alone and in a really rough way in Savannah, and it did feel specific and something that we wanted to try to make some sense of and give some emotional context to.
I also think the idea that we would hear from Thomas again has been around for as long as Thomas has been around. I think we largely subscribe to the idea that if you don’t see a body in a show, it doesn’t matter how many people tell you they’re dead, they’re not dead, and it was just a question of how and when he would return.
DEADLINE: You really mix history and Stevenson’s fiction there…
STEINBERG: Well, there was this historical reality that felt interesting, that Savannah and the Georgia colony began, in some part, as a prison reform exercise. It was a way to create an environment in which prisoners were treated more humanely than they were in England. So, when you add those two things up, the overlap in that Venn diagram starts to look at lot like Thomas Hamilton, and it just felt clean. Especially in a show that has always been about balancing history and this fictional world from Treasure Island that, at the end, they were touching again. That there was a moment in which it felt like both halves of the show had their moment to have a part in Flint’s end and to have a part in sort of putting him in the place that he’d stay until the book starts.
— Toby Schmitz (@fallofasparrow) April 3, 2017
DEADLINE: With Black Sails ending, and putting aside any possible continuation of sorts, what’s next for you guys?
STEINBERG: We’re both keeping very busy. Stuff that’s being written, but you know, it took from the time we sold Black Sails to the time it hit the air, I think it was almost two years. So we’re back to early stage stuff in a bunch of different directions, but hopefully a couple of projects that we’ll be able to announce at some point in the near future. We actually just sold something that Robert is writing, that Dan Shotz (Black Sails EP) and I are producing, that we’re pretty excited about, and have some more stuff on the way. So lots of hooks in the water, and we’ll see what happens.
DEADLINE: Will that next stage include more of the blending of fact and fiction that flowed through Black Sails?
LEVINE: It may, but I would just add that one of the things I really love about our Black Sails ending, and when I say ending, I mean literally the last three minutes of the finale that Jon directed. It’s almost a little bit of a Rosetta Stone to that whole idea for the show. You have Jack Rackham, who was a real pirate, but you know, I think at that point in the show, you come to understand him as a human being who sort of exists in a reality that you’ve been able to witness, sort of warts and all, and you’re not seeing a myth.
STEINBERG: Yeah, I think this has deliberately and largely, from the beginning, been a story about story and a story about the power of narrative and what it can do when it’s deployed in certain ways. So I think it felt like the right closing statement for there to be a moment of self-awareness that, at a certain point, you know, facts are important, and emotions are important. All of those things are important, but narrative is really powerful, and it can override those things when it’s compelling.
LEVINE: You’re not seeing a storybook. You’re seeing a real person, who has, in some ways, sort of survived and achieved all he wanted, and yet still feels like something’s missing. There’s just something kind of basically human about that. That, in some ways, was one of the broader sort of things we were trying to attempt with the show – to just take this idea of pirates that’s accumulated so much sort of associations over the ages from Errol Flynn to Johnny Depp and thanks in large part to Robert Louis Stevenson as well, and just strip all that away and just sort of show you people as they were.
Then have him be commenting on this flag, which was Rackham’s flag, and has gone onto be the thing that symbolizes I think our modern conception of pirates more than anything. All the different misconceptions and myths are all sort of summed up in that flag, and he’s looking at it, and he kind of doesn’t love it. He doesn’t realize that, 300 years later, that thing is going to live on longer than any of them. There’s a poetry to that that I think is really a very sort of human poetry and something that I think is really nice to end with.