by Jane Kenyon
I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.
The terrible rattle of the chains, [Caretaker] thought it would echo on their ears until the day they died. Even when the time took the sharpness of details from their memory, the metallic sound would prevail sharp and crystal clear.
When [Whumpee] was lowered to the arms of their team, was when fear snapped [Caretaker] into action. It had only been a moment, it had not been more than a few hours and yet—There were lacerations to take care of. Wounds to tend. Their fingers immediately started checking the [Whumpee]'s pulse, checking their pupil response, checking for fractures, for anything life threatening the plain eye could miss—
A hand gripped their wrist.
[Whumpee] was barely on the edge of consciousness, tethering between alertness that seemed to gradually give way to exhaustion. However, their eyes were present and focused, while they took the [Caretaker] wrist. A pull to the present of sorts, not the frenzied run into their tasks.
"I'm here. I'm here [Whumpee]." It was [Caretaker] turn to take a deep breath, as they covered [Whumpee]'s hand with their own. The rest of the team mates had moved around giving them both a defense and a moment. "I need to let me care of you, then we all would be out of here."
[Whumpee] squeezed (or tried to), once. [Caretaker] gently took the hand to their lips. "I'm here. I promise."
Just then, [Whumpee] seemed to finally let themselves relax.
"We're gonna be home soon." And this time, it was [Team leader] that echoed their thoughts.
So I have a lot of thoughts about Our Flag Means Death, and now I want to talk specifically about the scene where Blackbeard tells Izzy they should kill Stede, and Blackbeard should take Stede’s place as captain, so that he can retire the Blackbeard name. I’m of the opinion that, at the time of this scene, Blackbeard wasn’t actually planning to kill Stede. Instead, I think it was a spur of the moment comment to temporarily settle things with Izzy. I’m not sure if this is a popular or unpopular view, but I have opinions, so get ready for some textual references!
Putting this under a read-more because this is about to get DETAILED.
In this post, I’ll be focusing on Blackbeard’s interactions with Stede before he proposes this plan (primarily episode 4) – There are details about Blackbeard’s background that I think could also back up my point, but I’m saving them for another post, mostly because I think that Blackbeard’s “no kill” policy and the event that prompted it both need a lot of unpacking. I’ll also be exclusively referring to Ed as Blackbeard throughout this post for clarity, since I typically switch based on context.
So let’s start with Blackbeard’s interactions with Stede before he suggested this murder. Obviously, Blackbeard doesn’t know Stede well at this point -- they just met! But it does seem like Blackbeard was genuinely smitten with Stede from the time they first met, possibly even before so -- Blackbeard was always fascinated by what was in Stede’s cabin, and even when Stede was unconscious, and Blackbeard spent a decent chunk of time sitting by his bedside. And when Stede is disrupted in his sleep, mumbling that he was a coward, Blackbeard reaches for him, seemingly in a comforting gesture
Once Stede finally wakes up, we know explicitly that Blackbeard is fascinated by the ways in which Stede differs from other pirates. If we hadn’t picked up enough from Blackbeard’s body language, he says as much to Stede:
“You know how hard it is to find someone doing something original out here? It's impossible, man. And here you come with your library, and your fancy quarters, and your secret little closet full of, full of frilly shirts and, and summer linens. Fuck. There's two chandeliers. That's overkill. An open fire on a wooden vessel surrounded by bits of paper. You're a fuckin' lunatic, and I like it.”
Once Stede is awake, we can’t ignore that Blackbeard introduces himself as Ed, intentionally not mentioning that he’s Blackbeard. While that could be a way to throw someone off their footing, that doesn’t seem to be suggested by the context. Instead, Blackbeard wants Stede to interact with him like he’s a normal person, just another pirate. And even after Blackbeard reveals himself, Stede continues to refer to him as Ed. Considering that, as far as I remember, Izzy is the only other person who *ever* calls Blackbeard by Ed, that’s a pretty special place for Stede to hold.
And THEN, we have the scene where Blackbeard and Stede have swapped clothes -- Stede claiming to be Blackbeard and Blackbeard claiming to be Stede. Izzy, of course, confronts Blackbeard, claiming that he’s not acting like the pirate he signed up to work with. And yeah, the pirate he signed up to work with would likely have already killed Stede and taken control of the ship. For the most part, Blackbeard ignores him -- He’s too busy looking at Stede. Eventually, though, he realizes that Izzy is actually angry -- Izzy even threatens to resign! At this point, Blackbeard realizes that he needs to do *something* to keep Izzy in his corner.
And now, things escalate -- Izzy is threatening Stede, with Fang and Ivy at his back. They could kill Stede and take over the ship easily, the rest of the crew falling into line. But instead, Blackbeard steps in and completely redirects the tension. He continues to refer |to Stede as Blackbeard, and mentioned that Spanish ships are in their path. He claims that if Stede doesn’t make a decision, everyone will die. But as Stede is panicking, unable to decide what to do. Blackbeard interjects, “Death it is… But wait!” And Black Pete breaks in, “You’re a genius, Blackbeard!” because, of course, Blackbeard already had a solution in mind! If Blackbeard had wanted Stede dead, it would’ve been the moment when they had Stede cut off from his crew -- They had Stede on his own, AND they would’ve had a grateful crew, happy that Blackbeard had saved them.
But let’s keep moving forward through the episode… Obviously, Blackbeard’s plan didn’t go as he’d intended. He misremembered the date, and as a result, his plan to save the crew had failed! He goes back to Stede’s quarters to drink until they were attacked. But Stede follows him (because of course he does). And as they talk… they both realize simultaneously that there’s a solution they hadn’t considered!
And this leads us to the lighthouse scene. I’m not going to talk too much about this scene because a lot of it hinges on symbolism, and I want to focus on Blackbeard’s textual motivations in this episode. But on a literal level, this scene very much shows us that these two are capable of working together and working together WELL. And considering the small size of Blackbeard’s circle (Fang, Ivan, and Izzy, with Izzy being the only one who calls him Ed), I cannot imagine he doesn’t notice and appreciate this. And as a side note… Blackbeard’s line, “Would you blow into those flames there? -- Careful of your face” is a very ironic choice if his real plan is for Blackbeard (i.e., Stede) to show up dead, “his corpse disfigured beyond recognition.” Personally, I just think he doesn’t want him dead.
But now, let’s jump past the lighthouse, we have the conversation between Blackbeard and Stede where Blackbeard suggests, “If you were to show me the ways of an aristocrat I could probably show you a thing or two about being a bloodthirsty pirate,” and when Stede asks him if he’s serious, Blackbeard replies “It’s the most fun I’ve had at seas in ages.” Again, Blackbeard could *potentially* be speaking with the goal of throwing Stede off his guard. Maybe he’s planning to learn more from Stede and THEN kill him? But personally, I just don’t buy that -- His words feel too true, and they match with what we’ve seen throughout this episode -- He HAS been having fun on the ship with Stede, and he’s clearly already attached.
So finally, we’ve reached the moment where Blackbeard tells Izzy that he plans to murder Stede. Again, it feels pretty noteworthy that this happens during the same episode that Izzy says he’s going to resign. It feels like Blackbeard is offering this as a band-aid solution to fix his relationship with Izzy. If Blackbeard was actually going to kill Stede now, after rejecting the previous opportunities, now would be another good time to do it -- they still were wearing swapped clothes, and the crew was as likely to defect to Blackbeard as ever. Instead, the episode ends, and the next time they’re seen, they’ve swapped back to their regular clothes. Blackbeard never mentions the murder plan again until Izzy gets impatient and brings it up again, even bringing Fang and Ivan along as backup.
Anyway, my personal opinion is that Blackbeard never intending to kill Stede, which I hope is backed up here.