[WARNING: The following story contains major spoilers from the Season 1 finale of Black Sails. Read at your own risk.]
"There are no legacies in this life. No monuments, no histories. Just the water. It pays us and then it claims us. Swallows us whole as if we've never been here at all."
If Black Sails hadn't already proven the words above to be true, the Starz pirate drama's Season 1 finale certainly bought into that bleak worldview wholeheartedly.
After a season of twists and turns, talk of pirate bureaucracy and chasing of stolen schedules, the finale builds to Capt. Flint (Toby Stephens) and the crew of The Walrus finally sailing in pursuit of the famed Spanish treasure galleon, the Urca de Lima. But even though Flint was bolstered that John Silver's (Luke Arnold) recollection of the Urca's schedule matched Flint's own reconnaissance, the men didn't find the Urca. Instead, they came face-to-face with a Spanish war ship neither The Walrus nor The Ranger were prepared to fight.
But that didn't stop Capt. Flint, who set about making plans to trap the war ship because he was convinced it was an escort to the Urca. However, after vowing in the penultimate episode to part ways with Flint after taking down the Urca, Mr. Gates (Mark Ryan) drew a line in the proverbial sand and begged Flint to give up his obsession. When Flint wouldn't budge, Gates made plans to take The Ranger and sail home, which forced Flint to do the unthinkable: He strangled Gates before snapping his neck and killing him.
"I've been shot, stabbed, fell off a cliff, and disemboweled by Freddy Krueger," Ryan tells TVGuide.com with a laugh, comparing his most recent on-screen death with his past roles. "It's very personal to actually strangle somebody and kill your best friend. There's something almost demonic and deranged about that, which shows Flint's absolute obsession with his goal of building a pirate nation."
Although Ryan says he always knew Gates wouldn't survive the first season, he didn't know exactly when or how his character would meet his demise. (Ryan says Stephens was so emotionally committed during the death scene that he almost choked the air out of Ryan and soaked him with his tears.) But that didn't stop him from enjoying the ride. "Gates was a different character to me somehow," he says. "Something about the character was like stepping into a well-worn pair of boots. It was easy to slip into his skin and he was comfortable to wear. I enjoyed playing the character, but the best tribute to celebrating the passing of any character is by celebrating a successful end to long journey. So I don't mourn him."
Nor does he regret the choices Gates made that led to his death. Ryan says Gates was forced to take a stand against Flint, after the "loss" of Billy Bones (Tom Hopper), who fell from the boat under mysterious circumstances that involved Flint. "Leading people into the jaws of death is not a thing to be dealt with lightly," he says. "[Gates] is feeling the weight of the men's lives that have been spent chasing what seems to be now some mad dream. Also, Billy's fate is unknown and unclear, but obviously for Gates, it's just too much that Billy disappears off into the ocean. [He can't get past] the fact that his best friend Flint is, in his head, responsible for the death of Billy Bones, who he regarded as a son."
Ryan also notes that, because Gates had seen what Flint is capable of, he knew that death was always an option and, in some ways, was inviting it. "I think that's why he gave Dufresne the letter," he says. "Dufresne comes with the crew's will: Once they have the money, they are going to kill Flint. He's lost the crew. ... So, he wants out one way or the other. He knows he's a dead man. In his own mind, he tidies up his own business."
And even though Gates wasn't actually claimed by the sea, Ryan says his sudden and shocking death certainly proves one of Gates' final speeches true. "It was [like] the speech about the ocean," he says. "'There are no monuments. There's no history. There's just the water.' It's a fitting tribute to Mr. Gates. I would imagine that will be his legacy. The last speech is about the pirates' spiritual connection to the ocean. They all end up going into that abyss."
But some of them live to fight another day. Although Dufresne (Jannes Eiselen) and his alliance try to unseat Flint as captain after Gates is discovered dead, Flint gets a reprieve when the battle with the war ship begins. (Or at least until cannon fire knocks Flint overboard.) However, when Flint wakes up on a beach, he learns the reason the surviving members of The Walrus (including Dufresne and Silver) haven't killed him yet: The Urca is real, but it never made it to its port because it was wrecked in a storm, spilling its gold all over the beach.
So, what's Flint's next move? Can the allure of treasure help him win over the crew once again, or is he living on borrowed time? Plus: What will become of Nassau now that Charles Vane (Zach McGowan) is back and seemingly partnering with Eleanor Guthrie (Hannah New)? TVGuide.com caught up with creators and executive producers Jonathan Steinberg and Robert Levine to break down the finale and find out what's ahead.
Why did Gates have to die? Was that something you had planned from the beginning?
Jonathan Steinberg: It's a huge moment and a moment that we've been building to all season very consciously. I think we wanted to understand the depth of Flint's commitment to this plan of his and the drive that just won't let him let it go... despite the fact that he's fully aware that it's destroying him. I think losing his best friend, maybe his only friend... felt like an emotional way to tell that story.
He does seem to have instant remorse about what he's done.
Steinberg: It was important that you understood in the moment after that he's fully fully aware of the toll it's taking on him and the awful things it's making him do. That's a place where we want the show to live. Sometimes there is no right answer and a lot of it is how you judge it after the fact.
Mark Ryan told us Gates clearly thinks Flint killed Billy. If Gates thinks Flint was capable of killing Billy, shouldn't he have tread more lightly?
Steinberg: There's two ways of looking at it. One is that he feels like this is his best friend [and] the idea that he would do what he does is almost unthinkable. The other is that Gates has reached a point in which his two mission statements are now completely in such conflict that he's looking for a way out of it. His responsibility to protect the crew and his personal loyalty and affinity for Flint are putting him in a place where he can't manage those two things anymore. So, it's a bit of a cry for help to confront Flint in that way. That's something we play with in Season 2: What was his intent in that moment? Did he think he was going to come out of that room after confronting Flint or was this his way of getting out of this? Hopefully that's something that will hold up to both interpretations.
Silver discovers what Flint has done. Why does he try to help him, especially since he's been given no assurance Flint will keep him around?
Steinberg: At this point he wants the money, and a live Flint gives him a much better chance at getting his share of the Spanish prize than a dead Flint. It just so happens that in this moment, Silver's self-interests and Flint's interests in maintaining control align with each other.
Robert Levine: I think there's some sympathy there, though. He has some awareness of Flint being something of a divided person. Silver tries to avoid the entanglements Flint has for that very reason, to avoid having to make tough choices about people. In that moment, there's definitely an understanding.
See photos of the Black Sails cast
From Flint's point of view, Silver may be the only ally he has left.
Steinberg: This show is about Flint and Silver. It's about the beginning and evolution and ultimate tragic end of their relationship. In some respects, this whole season has been a launch to put them into this place where they are, to each other, their only ally. Season 2 is about the building of that alliance and the deepening of it.
Switching gears to Nassau, what's the future for the relationship between Vane and Eleanor Guthrie?
Levine: [In his hallucinations], she is the voice of that thing that's inside him that drives his need to prove himself to the world, which is significant.
Steinberg: They're two people with an extremely intense connection that will only allow them to exist in two states, which are incredibly chummy or ready to kill each other. They have a hard time managing a comfortable center in that relationship. Hopefully you start to get the sense that they are heading back towards each other in a way. They're opponents politically, but because they're on equal footing power-wise, they're starting to feel that attraction to each other.
And what should we make of that conversation between Eleanor and Max (Jessica Parker Kennedy)? Was Max making a veiled threat?
Steinberg: Max is feeling like her stock is on the rise and her power base is starting to solidify. The breakup with Eleanor at the beginning of the season isn't something she's forgotten about, and it's become a defining moment for her. She starts to realize that this place is every man for himself. She has spent enough time watching Eleanor be successful playing that game, and now she's wanting to play it too. The intent of them standing on that bridge between those two buildings was to show that she is molding herself a bit in Eleanor's image, but in a darker tone.
The final shot proved that, despite all the terrible things Flint has done, he was right about the Urca. What's his next step?
Steinberg: It's a bit of a test. It's almost an impossible puzzle to solve. He's been exposed to his crew, so they know what he's done. They have clearly put him on the out, and he's looking at this gold that he's sacrificed everything for and it looks pretty well guarded by a lot more guys than he has. So, the puzzle of Season 2 is how does a guy who has just about nothing react, given this drive that we've already established he can't put away? Season 2 is a chance for us to do some examining of what he is. He's starting to be consciously aware of the fact that he is behaving like a monster. It's something that he spends the entirety of Season 2 wrestling with. Am I?
Sometimes monsters make the best leaders.
Steinberg: Exactly. He's starting to feel a little bit like the villain of this story. He's aware of it and not liking it. He's a guy who's trying to do the right thing and somehow ends up in these situations where the only way to continue doing the right thing is to do the wrong thing. So, it's about how somebody in this world has to lead and the toll it takes, especially for somebody who doesn't want to make those kinds of moral compromises.
And finally, can you tell us whether Billy is still alive?
Steinberg: He's in the book, so... [Laughs] I think to ask if he is alive or dead may not be the right question to ask. There are fates worse than death. What was interesting to us isn't the surprise of whether he's alive or dead. Given what he has gone through and what we will reveal he's gone through, what is he now and what has it done to him? He is a factor in this story going forward, hopefully in a surprising way. What did you think of the finale?