Friday, June 06, 2014

Crossbones, Episode 1: The Devil's Dominion


Last Friday was the series premier of Crossbones, the new pirate show on NBC starring John Malkovich as Blackbeard. The show takes place after Blackbeard's historical death, which the notorious pirate somehow survived. He no longer goes on raids (if the example in this episode is representative), but commands his people from a base on a secret island.

It's too soon to make any solid predictions about the show (including whether or not I'll be able to blog about each episode as it comes out, but smart money there is on "not"). I'm not even confident that I understand where its primary focus will be. At least for this season though, it looks to be a cat-and-mouse game between Malkovich's Blackbeard and British spy Tom Lowe (played by Richard Coyle). Lowe has allowed himself to be captured by Blackbeard's crew in order to get close enough to assassinate the pirate king, but learns at the last minute that Blackbeard has something going on with the Spanish. Lowe changes his plan in order to learn more about what the villains are up to, saving Blackbeard's life in the process and perhaps earning some measure of respect and trust.

Based on this first episode, the draw of the show is going to be the relationship between Blackbeard and Lowe. Lowe is a cool and competent hero, but Blackbeard is menacing enough to suggest that Lowe may possibly be in over his head. Malkovich is bringing it with this role, mostly playing Blackbeard as a calm, rational man who knows how to build a legend around himself, but also convincing Lowe (and me) that he's capable of enormous cruelty in pursuit of his goals.

Adding to the intrigue are Blackbeard's crew and other colleagues, including a crippled scientist and his wife (who is herself some kind of disgraced noble). There already seems to be something going on between the wife and Lowe and there are lots of opportunities to explore shifting loyalties and power struggles among the large cast. And then there's the mysterious Lady in White who appears to Blackbeard at one point and immediately vanishes. Is she an actual ghost or just a sign that he's going crazy? It's too soon to tell.

The look of the show is great. David Slade (30 Days of Night) directed the episode and gives it the same cinematic look he's given the Hannibal series. The costumes are gorgeous and the sets are awesome. There's a newness to everything (especially the ships) that prevent the world from looking fully lived in, but that could be intentional. Crossbones isn't going for historical accuracy (already changing some of the details around Blackbeard's supposed death); it's a fantasy version of these characters. But I'm A-Okay with that.

Honestly, they had me at "pirates," so I know I'm not an objective critic for this kind of thing, but I know a crappy pirate story when I see one and this isn't that. There's a lot to love about Crossbones and more than enough to get me back tonight as I tune in for Episode 2.


Unknown said...

I am enjoying this one also. I am watching it with Black Sails as kind of a pirate double bill.

Michael May said...

I'm looking forward to eventually checking out Black Sails. Are you enjoying it?


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