Season Three of “Black Sails” begins in the wake of the burning of Charles Town. All the New World lives in fear of Captain Flint. When his campaign of terror crosses over into madness, and new threats emerge to challenge his supremacy, it falls to John Silver to locate the man within the monster, before Flint’s war against the world consumes them all. Meanwhile, on the pirate island of Nassau, it’s a new day. With Eleanor Guthrie facing judgment in London, Jack Rackham sits atop a fortune in Spanish gold, hoping to secure his legacy as a king among thieves. To do so, he’ll have to compete with the return of one of history’s most notorious captains, who holds a different vision for their home, as well as a complicated past with Rackham’s chief ally, Captain Charles Vane. All will be tested when a new opponent arrives to claim Nassau, one the pirates could never have anticipated. It knows them. It understands them. And in the blink of an eye, it will do the one thing they never thought possible…turn them against each other.
Many have said that we're living in the Golden Age of television, thanks to the influx of so many quality series over so many different platforms (network, cable, premium, and now – increasingly – via streaming). That's great if you're a lover of quality material, but also presents a problem of really good work being ignored. 'Black Sails' is one of those ignored series. It's every bit as good (and in many areas even better) than shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, but perhaps because its TV home is on Starz (where it's actually less popular with viewers than the inferior Outlander series), it's never gotten either the acclaim or attention it deserves. That's a shame, because 'Black Sails' is easily the best show on TV that virtually no one is watching or talking about.
For those not familiar with the concept of the series, 'Black Sails' is essentially a prequel to the events of Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Treasure Island', and features characters that are mentioned in that novel. However, it's also a take on real history and features many real-life pirates and historical figures as well. It's a pretty nifty mix, and although the majority of the series is fictional, the larger events that take place have their roots in fact.
Season 3 deals with the aftermath of much of what happened during Season 2 of the series, most importantly the impact that those events have had on the character of Captain Flint (Toby Stephens). Flint spent much of the previous season wondering if it were possible to redeem himself...which led to disastrous consequences for him and those close to him. This time around, it's less about whether Flint is capable of redemption and more if he can hang onto his sanity, as he finds himself haunted by the events of the recent past. Most concerned about Flint's well-being is his right-hand man, John Silver (Luke Arnold, whose character finally lost his left leg in the prior season's finale), who realizes early on in the season that a mentally unstable Flint is bad news for both him and the entire crew.
After a character arc that gave him little to do in prior seasons, when we last left Captain Jack Rackham (Toby Schmitz), he and his crew had recovered a vast amount of gold from a Spanish shipwreck that Flint and others had spent so much time trying to protect and obtain. But this newfound wealth isn't all it's cracked up to be, as Rackham finds himself trying to protect the gold inside an already damaged fort in Nassau where the men he tries to hire (who know he has the gold) want lots of wages and have little work ethic. Rackham has also bartered an alliance with both Flint and the pirate Charles Vane (Zach McGowan) to try and protect the island from the British, the Spanish, or anyone else who might threaten it.
Season 3 isn't without its share of new faces as well, most notably Ray Stevenson joining the cast as the notorious pirate Edward Teach...who most of us know better as "Blackbeard." Teach has an uneasy history with Charles Vane, but sees the current situation in Nassau as a way for him and his own men to get a piece of the action. Meanwhile, Eleanor Guthrie (Hannah New) – who had been taken prisoner by the British at the end of the last season – is on her way back to Nassau alongside British Captain Woodes Rogers (Luke Roberts), who hopes to restore order (and British rule) to the island with Eleanor's help. But to do so, Eleanor may have to betray the man she once loved.
Season 4 has already been announced by Starz as being the final one of the series (and will debut in January 2017), so it's probably already too late for this show to ever catch on with the viewing public. However, it's not too late to hop aboard ship and join this fantastically entertaining voyage. 'Black Sails' is a trip worth taking and deserves a look from anyone who is a fan of engaging, addictive television.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
Season 3 of 'Black Sails' walks the plank onto Blu-ray with packaging that matches the prior two season releases...in other words, really bad packaging. The three 50GB discs are tightly packed into a glossy five-sided cardboard fold-out that places the discs in sleeves. The discs are so jammed in there, it's nearly impossible to get one out without getting fingerprints on them, as well as running the risk of ripping the carboard itself. Two inserts are included here: one with a code for an UltraViolet digital copy of Season 3, and the other simply a one-sided promo ad for Season 4 (already announced as 'Black Sails' final season). The cardboard fold-out slides inside a carboard slip cover, which features a lenticular front cover.
Disc 1 of this three-disc set is front-loaded with promo ads for the Starz series Power and Season 2 of Outlander. The main menu maintains the same design as prior seasons, with a montage of footage from the season covering the top part of the screen and menu selections horizontally across the bottom.
The Blu-rays in this release are Region A locked.
'Black Sails' is shot digitally using Arri Alexa digital cameras, and the episodes are presented in their original television aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Season 3 continues the trend of Anchor Bay providing colorful and detailed transfers of each episode. Black levels, which have suffered a tad in prior seasons actually look a touch better this time around, and frequently seen issues like aliasing, banding, and the like are all but non-existent on this release.
If there's a downside, it has to do with the cinematography and not the actual transfer. The show continues to make frequent use of the "shaky" cam style throughout, and with such beautiful scenery (the show is shot in and around Cape Town, South Africa), you'd wish they'd hold the camera steady a little more often so viewers could enjoy the surroundings. Still, the level of detail here at times is quite amazing and among the best you'll see of any TV show on Blu-ray. Fans won't feel short-changed.
The featured audio for each of the 10 episodes is an English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track that is engaging, immersive, and all-around fantastic. The audio isn't just background noise for most of these episodes, it's almost a character itself – case in point, the second show of this season, where Captain Flint makes the decision to take his ship and his crew into a deadly storm. Not only will viewers/listeners hear the water rushing up onto the deck in waves, but there's a few instances of actual submersion into the water that will almost make one feel as if they are drowning.
Dialogue is primarily up-front (aside from ambient sounds of people murmuring in crowded sequences), and completely clear and distinct. LFE is frequently used and has a wonderful deep and booming feel to it. I have no hesitation in giving another reference-quality score to 'Black Sails' audio (something I did on the prior two releases). This is not only the best-sounding TV show on Blu-ray...it's among the best-sounding of any release you'll find out there right now.
In addition to the lossless track, 2.0 Dolby Digital tracks are available for each episode in Spanish and French. Subtitles are an option in both English SDH and Spanish.
Note: All of the bonus materials listed below are contained on the third disc in this release.
If there's a series that deserves more kudos from both fans and critics alike, it's 'Black Sails', which continues its impressive journey during this third season. With top-notch video and reference-quality audio for each episode, as well as the entertaining drama of the shows themselves, this release is highly recommended.