“When I choose to see the good side of things, I’m not being naive. It is strategic and necessary. It’s how I’ve learned to survive through everything.”
Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)
dir. Dan Kwan, Daniel Scheinert
A woman went to town for shopping and she found this newagey shop. Curious she went in and looked around when she saw this huge dildo sitting in a corner behind some stuff. She asked the shopowner about it and he told her it's a magical voodoo dildo. Whatever you say, the dildo will magically levitate and do as instructed, just say "voodoo dildo" and tell where you want it to go.
She believed him and bought it. On the way back in the car, she couldnt wait to try it out and decided to test it so she said "voodoo dildo, shag my pussy!". Sure enough the didlo levitated from the back seat, went in and pleasured her intensely!
However she started to wiggle a bit with her car on the road while the action was happening and a nearby cop noticed and pulled her over.
As he inquired if she was under the influence of drugs or alcohol she replied it was because of this voodoo dildo.
The officer laughed at her story and exclaimed loudly, "Voodoo dildo?? My ass!".
While we like to joke about Izzy being in the wrong genre, I would argue that there are in fact at least five distinct genre universes in the world of Our Flag Means Death, and all of them have different rules.
Stede Bonnet, and his crew when they’re around him, live in a Muppet movie. I didn’t come up with this analogy but it’s so accurate. Insane physical comedy and comedy-action where no one really gets hurt. Mild peril but you know everything is gonna work out. Terrible puns and sight gags, but room for sweet, genuine emotional moments too. The rules of time, space, probability and logic will bend for a good joke.
Izzy Hands is in a grimdark action/drama where if someone gets stabbed in the gut they will behave normally and fucking die. (Probably slowly and painfully, of sepsis.) Crucially I think Izzy also lives in a genre where you can only be subtextually queer, and violence (done for or with or to each other) is the only acceptable form of intimacy between men. This is why being forcibly dragged into Stede’s world, where everyone is busy having silly low-stakes misadventures and being gay and emotionally available all over the main text--and seeing his Subtextual Boyfriend go into this world and love it--sends him round the twist.
The British, Spanish and other imperialist militaries are in a Master and Commander-style naval adventure where they’re the heroes. This is why they all take it completely seriously when Stede (unintentionally) kills Badminton and takes hostages, even though we can see that he bumbled his way into it ass-backwards. This is also why Stede is so shocked to get actually for real stabbed aboard the Spanish ship. (“Did you mean to do that?”) He didn’t realize until that moment that he’d stepped into a different genre. The stabbing is one of the first Surprise Genre Switch moments we get and in retrospect it’s very important for setting up that in this world, the threat of getting hurt or killed is very real--which we need to understand to know that there are real stakes much later, when Stede almost gets executed by the British.
Calico Jack is in Jackass. Everything is funny but especially pain--your own or other people’s. Everything’s a joke and nothing means anything and if you get hurt or hurt someone else (physically or emotionally) who cares, fucking laugh it off, cause genuine care and concern is for LOSERS. You can definitely be gay with your pirate bro but don’t even think about calling him your friend. Life is cheap and painful and short and you can’t trust anyone, so why not at least get drunk and have some fun before it’s over. Jack’s world is pretty fucking dark underneath the laughter, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we hear some of the most gruesome Blackbeard stories in this episode. It is not really that far from Izzy’s world, in that it’s also a place where violence is the only acceptable form of connection between men; it’s just played as slapstick around Jack. (Side note but I love that the humor in his episode gets progressively more strained, until we’re laughing uncomfortably, then not sure if we should be laughing at all, then convinced that we definitely shouldn’t be because the violence isn’t funny anymore.)
The fifth genre at work, of course, is romance. Ed and Stede follow the story beats of a rom-com almost perfectly, although in tone their romance ranges from comedic to earnest and heartfelt to bittersweet and heartbreaking, all played with complete sincerity in the moment. One of the reasons the ending is so gutting is that Stede has reached the Epiphany stage of a rom-com (the running-to-the-airport moment) while Ed is still stuck in Crisis (it’s over; I’ve gone back to my old life and I’m unhappy, but I haven’t figured out yet that I need to change things and how). And of course the writers had the brilliant-slash-terrible idea to end the season before the resolution stage, leaving us on an emotional cliffhanger and yearning for a continuation of the story. Bastards (affectionate).
Watching the characters navigate the different genres, and the moments of genre confusion that arise when the world we’re in abruptly shifts, is fascinating. While Stede is lodged so firmly in the rom-com genre that he takes it with him when he leaves the ship, Ed is a genre chameleon. He is able to genre code-switch better than any other character, and generally seems to know what genre he’s in at a given moment.
Underneath his fearsome reputation, we see that Ed is an incredibly lonely and insecure person, and he’s constantly presenting the version of himself that he thinks whoever he’s with wants to see. We see this most dramatically when he instantly shifts into frat boy mode with Calico Jack, but upon rewatch you can see that he is constantly editing himself depending on whether he’s interacting with Izzy or with Stede, presenting slightly different versions of himself that he thinks they will approve of. And I don’t think it’s quite so simple as Ed being his “real” self around Stede and putting on a persona everywhere else, although I do think that there are ways Stede interacts with him that are categorically much healthier than anyone else in his life. But ultimately all of these personas are the real Ed, which is why I tend to think that a big part of season 2 is going to be Ed’s self-actualization arc, deciding which parts of himself he wants to nurture, what can be accepted and integrated, and what maybe needs to be made peace with and let go of.
While the story is definitely a romance in structure (in that the romantic storyline is the main plot on which everything else hangs), and it’s mostly a comedy, tonally it ranges all over the map. There are times when it’s a pretty dark comedy, and there are times when I think it steps out of the comedy genre entirely (particularly, when talking about characters’ past trauma, and in the second half of the final episode). Managing these tone shifts so they’re impactful but not disorienting requires really good writing and acting, and the more you watch the show the more you see all the brilliant little setups that make this work.