Our Flag Means Death E4 recap: “Discomfort in a Married State”

Released: March 10, 2022
Network: HBO Max
Showrunner: David Jenkins
Genre: Rom-com, Alternate history

In which Ed can’t stop staring at Stede.

My Thoughts

The symbolism here isn’t subtle. They’re standing on a cliff on a cold, foggy day as a lighthouse blares in the background, their tombstones waiting for them. Even with his own children, he can only relate to them through his obsession with pirates. This is a strange scene because it’s a flashback (normal lighting) that merges into an unreliable narrator memory (when his children have captured him, the candlelight gets all soft and hazy). Watching it for the third time, I can see Mary’s frustration with her side of the relationship much more clearly than the first time. The audience is trained to see Mary’s role as the bitter harpy, so we’re already siding with Stede even though this scene shows he doesn’t deserve our uncritical adoration. 

So, we’ve had Stede do his extremely flouncy introduction (poorly received), Blackbeard’s theatrical introduction (well received), and Blackbeard and Stede’s delightfully weird introductions as each other (confusingly received). There’s so much going on here! Stede trying on his new identity, Blackbeard goofing around in his old one, and both of them giggling over playing pretend with the lives they wish they had. 

As Blackbeard notices, Stede’s crew may be pathetic but they look like a pirate crew you might find in a book. The crew is filthy, dressed in rags and ropes, and they have “a Bird Guy,” whereas Blackbeard’s real crew is washed and dressed in black and leather. (Not that leather, a material famous for shrinking when wet or left out in the sun, is all that realistic or practical.)

Thinking more about the lighthouse painting. At first I thought he took it because he missed home and wanted something to remember his family by. Now I think it’s more than that. I think he took it because he thought he could be Stede the pirate, that he could have both his old life and his new simultaneously. Yes, he loves his family and yes, he wants to be reminded of them. But it’s also a warning. If he fails, that’s what he has to go back to. The lighthouse painting is love and a threat all wrapped up in one. I also think there’s a small part of him that keeps it so he can find his way back home again, that once he’s done having grand adventures he can follow the lighthouse home and go back to being plain, ordinary Stede again. We’ll table that part for episode 10.

Ed is as much trapped in a monotonous marriage as Stede was, except his is a thruple with Izzy and Blackbeard. They both fell into their roles, Stede as the gentleman and Ed as the pirate, and succeeded despite their private desires for something, anything else. Everyone demands they continue playing those parts regardless of whether or not they want to, and rejection of those roles leads to chaos within the family unit (in Ed’s case, Izzy freaking the fuck out). Stede is Ed’s chance at breaking the monotony. It’s why he can’t tear his eyes away from him, why he’s so interested in Mary and Stede’s cabinet of curiosities, why he’s spending all his time hovering over the sick bed. He’s not in love yet, but there’s something…

“We have to try, don’t we? Otherwise, what’s the point?” This is another line I didn’t think too hard on until this rewatch. At first it felt like an admonition of Stede. He certainly takes it as her wanting him to resign himself to his fate. But now I see it as her offering him an olive branch. She’s as stuck as he is, but where he has trapped himself in a closet of his own making, she’s offering him a chance to find a way to be happy together, whatever that might mean. She wants a romance as much as he does, and maybe they’ll never truly be that for each other but at least she’s willing to try and make something of their life. Stede can only run away from things. He can’t confront the difficult part of his life or accept any criticism that might lead to growth in ways he can’t control. He’s lived in a box for so long that even when Mary offers him a way out of it he rejects her and jumps into an entirely new box.  

It says something that Ed meets Stede when Stede is at his worst and likes him anyway, and that Stede meets Ed when he’s at his most discontented and is impressed by him anyway. They each can see the good in each other even when the other can’t. 

I adore the way Ed is so excited by Stede’s eccentric cabin. Where Nigel mocked and belittled Stede for his ridiculous cabin, Ed is delighted by it. Especially the secret closet. Because of course Stede has a literal and metaphorical secret closet.

Final Thoughts:

  • “Peasants marry for love. Mary has acreage.” The way he just barely touches the hem of her neckline.
  • “This guy is fuckin’ fascinating!”
  • Thank you writer whose genius idea it was to have Lucius stand around in various places on the ship lightly hammering nothing.
  • Don’t think I haven’t noticed how Stede calls Ed “Ed,” Ed calls himself “Blackbeard” when he’s with the crew, and Izzy calls Ed “Edward” in private.
  • “Do you fancy a fine fabric?” GAAAAAAAAAAAAAY
  • “Hey, do you wanna do something weird?”
  • “You know, I thought I’d have a cooler death than this. Something like being eaten by a tiger…” Hold that thought, buddy boy, because Stede has got you covered in a few more episodes.

Frenchie’s Fun Facts

  • “Because women have crystals in their bodies and the crystals attract demons. And demons attract misfortune.”

Fashion Corner

  • The black scarf returns, this time sans cravat. Watching Stede and Ed pass it around is le sigh.
  • OK, seriously, what is up with Izzy’s one glove thing?

Closing credits song is “The Empty Boat” by Caetano Veloso.

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