Crossbones has managed to do in its first few episodes what few shows are able to do in their first (or even second) season. While MetaCritic reviewers have only given it 57% and professional critics have likened it to a ship dead in the water, I find it incomprehensible that people aren’t recognizing the genius of this show. I simply can’t understand why people don’t appreciate the genius that is Crossbones, particularly showcased in “The Return”.
“The Return” uncovers the theme of Crossbones. It’s trust. Not just “Who can I trust?” in a survival sense, but “Can I trust this system I was born into?” and even “Can I trust myself?” The main character, Tom Lowe, struggles with all of these questions. Blackbeard, the so-called “villain” (more on that later), deals with these questions. Each must take stock of their own selves and the people around them and find a satisfactory answer or else strike out alone.
We’ve seen Tom and Blackbeard (Edward) test each other, discuss their beliefs, and change their minds about each other only to second guess themselves when a new situation arises in which their own safety is compromised. We’ve also seen them deal with their own share of betrayal, loss, grief, and hope.
When do we get a show like this, one that focuses on the interactions between people in the philosophical, psychological, spiritual sense?
And if that wasn’t enough, “The Return” continues exploring the roles of women in this society. In Blackbeard’s world, a woman is an advisor to the ruler of the island. Another woman is a pirate, while another is a merchant and yet another is a businesswoman running a brothel. There’s also a woman in charge of mercenaries. We see women of various ethnicities taking on roles that have been denied them by mainstream television. They play real people full of paradoxes, complexity, flaws, and spirit.
Again – why isn’t everyone watching this show?
Not only do we get a show with fantastic diversity, the writing of this show is spectacular. I have rarely come across a television show with such dialogue that I am hanging onto every word that drops from an actor’s mouth. When Blackbeard encourages his advisor to overcome her fear and step outside of herself so that she can eventually take his place, he tells her, “When I wake, the first thing I feel is fear, and the second is shame for feeling. We cannot allow ourselves to become servants to what we can’t change, we must determine to become midwives to what we can.”
I needed to hear that tonight. I’ve been struggling with all the things that have happened to me that were out of my control. I am tired of rising every morning and going through the exhausting process of living. I am so dreadfully tired of having to push myself through life, wondering if I’ll ever amount to anything or if I’ll ever be able to reach that dream I have.
But Blackbeard is right. It does no good to serve fear as a slave. We must look at what we can change. We can change ourselves. We can become better. That is what Blackbeard is aiming for with this new civilization he is building. He wants to deconstruct the society that gave him nothing and rid his people of their caste systems, their prejudices, and their feelings of superiority and trust that we are all equal.
This is a difficult thing for Tom to trust at first. He does not understand Blackbeard’s dream. After the return to Jamaica, however, Tom begins to realize just how similar his ideals have grown to Blackbeard’s. William Jagger, the man who tasked Tom with the mission to end Blackbeard’s life, is a dangerous, cruel, and evil man.
While Tom pretends that he is a man without a conscience (rather piratical of him, I’d say), he cannot help but want to do right by the people who have trusted him with their lives. While he may not trust them because of their history, they trust him with their futures. It isn’t something he takes lightly.
“The Return” highlights this theme of trust in that Tom begins to distrust which side he belongs on. Does he owe Jagger anything? Not if it betrays the trust his aide, his love, and the people he has grown to respect have invested in him. Does he owe Blackbeard? That remains to be seen.
Crossbones has revolutionized the way I think about writing for television. This show could have been a cheesy summer show. That’s what people think they want. But Crossbones has pushed the boundaries of what can be enjoyable. I tune in every week because I want to hear the philosophical and religious conversations between Tom and Blackbeard. I want to see how the society Blackbeard puts his trust in will continue to thrive. I want to see if Tom will ultimately choose to side with Blackbeard.
I am invested in these characters and we’re only five episodes deep. I already have favorite quotes, favorite moments, favorite thematic elements. This show draws you in, enticing you with the thrilling words “pirate,” “treasure,” and “legend,” but it is so much more than that.
Crossbones deserves more attention than what it has received so far. You need to watch this show. If all you’re interested in is John Malkovich (mesmerizing as the fearsome Edward Teach), swordfights (dazzling!) or historical fiction that serves as a commentary on viewing history from all sides, just give it an episode or two. That’s all you’ll need. But trust me, you’ll want to see “The Return.” The tides have turned and there’s no going back.