Our Flag Means Death E9 recap: “Act of Grace”

Released: March 24, 2022
Network: HBO Max
Showrunner: David Jenkins
Genre: Rom-com, Alternate history

In which Stede has a people-positive management style.

My Thoughts

The gang is boarded by the English royal navy and all of them are terrible liars. Chauncey Badminton has as much of a chip on his shoulder as his dead twin brother Nigel had arrogance. 

I think in the moment, Stede isn’t thinking about what Ed’s fake confession means on a deeper level. He understands the gravity of Ed’s choice, but I’m not sure it’s clicked yet the love also in that choice. Or the love in his choice to confess. He wants to save Ed as much as he needs absolution for himself. This is the first time Stede has had to own up to harm he’s caused and face the consequences. Thus far, he’s been able to skate by on his wealth, status, sheer luck, or Ed’s reputation. But for Ed he chooses not to run away or hide from his fears but face them head on. Even when it surely means his death.

I love the parallel back to the first episode as the crew recount their first act of piracy. Then they were willing to mutiny and now they come together to declare Stede a pirate. His face says it all: joy at having his friends back him up and relief to finally earn the recognition of being a real pirate. (Even if the other naval officers care more about taking down Blackbeard than Stede’s new title.) 

For Ed, an act of grace is a kind of death. It means the metaphorical death of Blackbeard. He was willing to die for Stede, and now he kind of is. The beard is gone, too. Now he’s just a middle-aged man folding socks. He’s back to being Edward Teach, who he hasn’t been since murdering his father as a lad. As Edward Teach, he doesn’t know how to relate to Stede, much less himself. And Stede still sees him as Blackbeard and Ed. All he can see is the man who taught him to fight, who wears leather, who shouts at people, who loves a good bit of fuckery. He’s never seen this side of Ed before, no one has, not in a long time. Edward Teach is the little boy with a square of red silk who is resigned to his fate.

But Ed isn’t the only one suffering a metaphorical death. Stede has been declared dead, and he’s unsure if his family genuinely believes him dead or if it was for other more practical reasons. We know he always harbored fantasies of reuniting with his family – it’s why he carried family antiques and mementos from home like the model ship and the lighthouse painting. He believed he could run away to live a life of adventure as a pirate and then one day return to his family or at least to the life of a gentleman. His affection for Ed complicates things, but I think he probably assumed he could take Ed with him back to shore. And now he has, but it’s nothing like what he’d hoped. Stede doesn’t know who he is if he is neither gentleman or pirate. 

I also love the parallel back to the wedding scene. Stede stood on a cliff and made a choice to become a new man, a husband and father. He was forced into a life he did not want and was too cowardly to say no. And now with Ed, he’s once again on a cliff faced with a choice that will determine his fate. (And in episode 10 Mary considers pushing him off a cliff to get out of their marriage.) But this choice isn’t so straightforward. He can run away (either from Ed or from his family) like he always does or stay and confront the things he’s done. He can choose to be an adventurer with Ed or a gentleman with his family. When Ed asks him if he wants to run off to China with him, Stede’s “I think so” is exactly that. He isn’t sure what he wants, but Ed and he are both so swept up in the adventure and romance of it all that neither of them think too hard on it. Stede wants to be with Ed, but if their foundation is made of whims and pretend it can never last. Not that Stede has thought that far ahead. Doing so would mean confronting things he doesn’t want to face. If he’d gotten on that dinghy, their relationship would’ve collapsed and both men would be broken and alone and very far from home.

And so Stede runs away once more, this time back home. He sees the damage he caused his family and the damage he will cause Ed and chooses them. Not out of any sense of morality but because that is the smaller wound and the one with (so he assumes) the least effort. Ed also takes the coward’s way out. He could’ve gone after Stede, gone to see what was wrong. Instead he lays down on the dock and accepts his fate. Stede always runs and Ed always falls back to anger. Both men are drowning in self-loathing and low self-esteem. I think they saw each other as a way to fix them. As in each man’s self-improvement was dependent on the other doing loving them. When the men split up, they both go back to their old ways.

Final Thoughts:

  • “Do you have a translator? I have very little English.”
  • Rory Kinnear is having a big year this year for playing multiple characters in a single property.
  • “I’m a ‘life is cheap’ kinda guy.”
  • When Ed confronts Izzy, we get a real good look at the ring holding Izzy’s cravat on. There has got to be a story behind it. Perhaps one that involves Ed???
  • A parallel I hadn’t thought of until now is that Stede doesn’t mind violence as long as he’s not doing or commanding it, just like Blackbeard doesn’t mind killing as long as it’s not by his hand. These two fucking lovebirds are perfect for each other. (Inspired this tweet.)
  • Ed is standing sooooo close to Stede while trying to keep him from getting executed. It’s so sweet!
  • That plant is loving the pirate life. It’s so much healthier now than it was with the fishermen.
  • Rory Kinnear’s line reading on “Measure!? Against me!?” is pitch perfect.
  • Izzy has a lot of nerve trying to shame Ed over signing over his life to the king to save Stede, given that he was willing to do the exact same thing to save Ed.
  • “Edward Teach, born on a beach.”
  • “I’m folding stuff. And that’s okay.”
  • “Work hard” Izzy says as Lucius fake sweeps the deck.
  • Izzy’s Revenge is a play on Queen Anne’s Revenge, the name of the real Blackbeard’s ship. He ran it aground (not unlike the fictional Stede) at Topsail Island, North Carolina.
  • Stede’s little startle when Ed says this has been the most fun he’s had in years.
  • Lucius has gone from “we don’t own each other” to “I love that man.”
  • Another parallel! In episode 1, Black Pete was vying for captaincy when they were planning their mutiny. This time, the crew picks Olu because they know from experience under Stede, Izzy, and Blackbeard that it’s better to have a leader who doesn’t want to rule than one who loves ruling above all else.

Closing credits song is “Perfect Day” by Lou Reed. The line “you’re going to reap just what you sow” will be very important in episode 10.

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