It's war in the West Indies, and the shores of New Providence Island have never been bloodier. While Eleanor Guthrie and Woodes Rogers hold Nassau, Captain Flint sails to strike the final blow . . . and from the interior, an insurgency builds, fueled by the legend of Long John Silver. But the closer civilization comes to defeat, the more desperately, and destructively, it will fight back.
While the rest of the world has been obsessed with Game of Thrones, my premium TV passion has been Starz's Black Sails, a 1700s pirate drama that takes real history and mishmashes it with fictional characters that appear in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. The result has been some of the most consistently entertaining episodes that any TV show has featured in the past few years, yet shows that only a small minority of the available TV audience were ever aware of or tuned in to see. Regardless, these four seasons of Black Sails have been fun to watch, and here we are at the end – as Starz finally pulled the plug on their quality, yet no doubt costly, series. The good news is that fans need not worry about getting a resolution. Everything here is tied up just as you hoped it would be...although in ways you might not have expected.
Season Four picks up with Captain Flint (Toby Stephens) and John Silver (Luke Arnold) hoping to re-take Nassau from the British and the governor of the Bahamas, Woodes Rogers (Luke Roberts). Things don't go well, however, and Flint's ship is destroyed, causing him and his men (the ones that don't get killed or captured) to retreat. During the battle, Silver goes missing as well. He's presumed dead by the others, but washes ashore later and is found by Israel Hands (David Wilmot), a pirate with ties to the notorious Edward Teach, aka "Blackbeard" (Ray Stevenson). The relationship between Silver and Hands is one of the major plot threads of the episodes that follow.
One of the big goals in Season Four is Flint's plans to retake Nassau from the British and the conflict he has with Billy Bones (Tom Hopper) on how exactly it should be done. While the Nassau location and most of its characters will be familiar to followers of the series, these ten episodes introduce viewers to some new characters and locales as well – most notably the introduction of the Spanish into a prominent role (by far the biggest power on the high seas in the 1700s), as well as sending some of the characters to pre-revolutionary America when the city of Philadelphia is visited.
But even the most casual follower of Black Sails can figure out where this season must conclude: Skeleton Island (the "Treasure" island of the novel) and a final showdown between Flint and "Long" John Silver. Those of us who have read the book know by the time its story begins, Silver is alive and Flint is dead – but just how this series places both those characters in their proper Treasure Island places may surprise you. The series ends satisfactorily, but certainly not how I expected.
From a production value viewpoint, these episodes are stunning, offering all the big action sequences one would expect in a high-seas drama, all while capturing the look and feel of the time period with outstanding costuming and set design. Many theatrical films I see don't match the quality here. Of course, it doesn't hurt that this show was shot almost exclusively in and around Cape Town, South Africa – one of the most beautiful locales in the world. As you might imagine, seeing each episode in 1080p on Blu-ray only enhances the visuals.
It's a shame Black Sails never captured the imagination of mainstream America (and the world) in the way other, arguably less entertaining, TV series have. As I've pointed out in reviews of prior seasons, I expect that this will be one of those shows that people will discover – be it through streaming services or home video – over the coming years and realize what they missed out on. For those of us who have been with the show since the beginning, it's been a wonderful voyage.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The fourth and final season Black Sails battles its way onto Blu-ray in packaging different than the prior three releases, which results in both positives and negatives. The biggest positive, of course, is that the three dual-layer 50GB discs are now housed inside an Elite keepcase (with a plastic hub holding the second disc) instead of the cardboard fold-out of prior seasons where the discs were so tightly packed it was almost impossible to get them out of their sleeves without smudging them up with fingerprints and risk ripping the cardboard. The biggest negative comes from a collector's standpoint, as this packaging is different than what came before. The case includes an insert with a code for an UltraViolet digital copy of the season. A lenticular slipcover with artwork matching that of the slipcover slides overtop. The first Blu-ray in this set is front-loaded with trailers for American Gods: Season 1 and Power. There are no front-loaded trailers on the other two Blu-rays. The main menu features a montage of footage from this final season, with menu selections horizontally across the bottom third of the screen.
The Blu-rays in this release are Region A locked.
Each episode of Black Sails was shot digitally on Arri Alexa equipment and is presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Like the Blu-ray releases of the previous seasons of this series, the video quality here is pretty impressive – with detail, depth, and well-defined facial features that allow viewers to see every crack and wrinkle (where applicable) of the actors/pirates weather-beaten faces.
The scenes in Black Sails go from sunny island environments to the darkened shadows of below deck on the ships, and everything here shows remarkable clarity, with impressive black levels and only the slightest hint of noise here and there. The bottom line is that this is one of the best presentations of a TV show you'll find on home video, and fans of the series should be quite pleased with the quality found here.
The featured audio for each episode is an English 7.1 Dolby True HD track. From the booming sound of canons to being submersed deep in the ocean, you won't find many TV series that sound better than Black Sails on Blu-ray, as this final season set presents a collection of episodes with reference-quality audio – many sections sounding better (or at least comparable) to big budget action movies.
This is the kind of audio that really will bring one's home theater set-up to life. Not only do we get low rumbling LFE use when the ships in this series do battle, but there's an overall immersive feel to the presentation – as even quieter conversations between the actors are often surrounded with the sounds of weather and wildlife. Dialogue throughout (primarily front and center) is crisp and clear, and the mix here is properly done – so one need never worry about the musical soundtrack or ambient noises drowning out the spoken word. This is about as good as 7.1 audio gets on Blu-ray, and I have no hesitation in giving this final season yet another reference-quality score in terms of the audio presentation.
In addition to the 7.1 lossless track, 2.0 Dolby Surround tracks are available for each episode in Spanish and French. Subtitles are an option in English SDH and Spanish.
Note: All of the bonus materials listed below appear on the third Blu-ray in this release.
Inside the World of Black Sails (HD 18:10) – A collection of short recaps that cover each of the 10 episodes of this final season, including spoiler alerts not to watch these until you've watched the episodes being covered. These segments feature comments from Co-Creators/Executive Producers Jonathan E. Steinberg and Robert Levine.
Creating the World (HD 2:58) – This is a brief, behind-the-scenes look at the making of the final season, with comments from members of the cast and crew.
Roundtable: Women in Piracy (HD 1:53) – An all-too-brief roundtable discussion (moderated by The Daily Beast's Senior Entertainment Editor Marlow Stern) with actresses Hannah New, Jessica Parker Kennedy, Clara Paget, and Zethu Dlomo. I find it hard to believe these women only sat down with Stern for less than two minutes...so where's all the interview footage? Seems strange that this segment is so short.
Roundtable: The Legends of Treasure Island (HD 2:03) – Another frustratingly short roundtable moderated by Marlow Stern – this time featuring the male leads of Black Sails: Toby Stephens, Luke Arnold, and Tom Hopper.
Roundtable: Fearless Fans (HD 1:18) – More footage from the above roundtable, with Stephens, Arnold, and Hopper discussing their interactions with fans of the series.
Black Sails wraps up its four-season run with a final 10 episodes that not only bring this well-made series to a deserving end, but properly sets the characters that remain up for their Treasure Island story arcs. Once again, Starz/Anchor Bay has provided an outstanding presentation of each episode in terms of audio/video. Even despite some rather slim pickings when it comes to bonus materials, this final season set is still Highly Recommended.