“Our Flag Means Death” Creator David Jenkins Answers All Our Episode 4 and 5 Questions


Watch out! This post contains spoilers.

David Jenkins, creator and showrunner of Max’s pirate comedy “Our Flag Means Death,” didn’t know that episodes four and five would be released together at the same time when the show’s creative team was first dreaming them up, but he tells POPSUGAR the pairing “makes sense” to him. “With a half-hour show particularly, the episodes can kind of build on each other in a nice way,” he explains. And four and five do that really well since the relationship between Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) and Blackbeard, aka Ed Teach (Taika Waititi) goes through some big changes during that time.

“Four is kind of them coming back together and talking again and even working through some of the issues and seeing a more f*cked up couple than them,” Jenkins explains, referring to the relationship between Minnie Driver‘s Anne Bonny and Rachel House’s Mary Read (both pirates who actually existed). “[Anne and Mary are] more mature, but it’s also a darker relationship. But at the end of it, [Ed and Stede] still think, ‘Maybe we’ll give this a shot.'”

“Five is more about them just having a day together, a ‘normal’ day, which is nice and means we can turn the show over to other stories,” he explains. Ed and Stede are starting to get past their differences, but they’re slow and intentional. And then, after exploring their relationship in different ways in both episodes, they finally share a kiss. “They’re willing to give this a try,” Jenkins says.

Ahead, Jenkins breaks down the two episodes with POPSUGAR, including Driver and House’s appearance, Izzy’s season two journey, Black Pete and Lucius’s big news, and Ed and Stede’s arcs.

POPSUGAR: What was it like bringing Minnie Driver and Rachel House in for episode four?

David Jenkins: They’re so good. Every take they give you is excellent. It was really fun to just get them in costume and set them loose in this world. You had Minnie, Rachel, Rhys, Taika, and Ewen Bremner [who plays Buttons] on set, and that’s an incredible group of actors.

PS: Watching these episodes, it feels like Stede is becoming Blackbeard in some ways. He’s becoming a better captain, he’s wearing darker clothes – even Anne calls him a heartbreaker. Can you talk about that transformation?

DJ: Yeah, this season is about making Rhys Darby as sexy as possible. He’s been through a season where he was out of his depth, and now this season, he’s becoming more credible in his own silly, stupid Stede way. I like the idea that he learns and grows and he doesn’t just stay a bumbling captain. He might be ridiculous, but he is getting better at it.

PS: But there’s also the dark side of it. Being a good pirate means doing bad stuff. How do you balance the ethics of a pirate show?

DJ: You’re killing people and you’re stealing things. You’re a criminal. And I think that’s the balance of the show. How do you have a show that’s a romance show but it’s also a workplace show and they’re criminals? You walk the line of, “How much crime can we have this person do and still be lovable?” He’s got to be a credible tough guy. It was fun building that out with Rhys.

PS: I was surprised with what a dark place Ed went in at the beginning of the season. Once you decide at the beginning of the season to go that hard into the dark side, you have to deal with that the rest of the season, which episode five starts to do. How do you honor the bad things Ed has done to the crew while still keeping him the romantic lead?

DJ: In this world, shooting somebody’s leg off, if you’re a pirate, it’s not necessarily inappropriate. But Blackbeard still has to come back and apologize and be part of the community again, and give his little press conference. It was fun for us to look at that in the context of piracy, where they all do terrible things to each other. But even by their standards, what Blackbeard did was a bit much. So the discomfort of him having to come in and wear the bell, it seemed right. You only want to see emo Blackbeard for so long. You want to see him come back. He’s kind of in recovery here. He’s more Ed.

PS: Speaking of the leg, we have to talk about Con O’Neill’s Izzy. He’s been through so much. How did you imagine that arc this season?

DJ: I love Con and I love the humanity he brings to Izzy. When Izzy shoots Blackbeard and they all mutiny on him, that’s Izzy breaking up with Blackbeard. And they’re both having their own journey in the wake of it, and Izzy’s having his own redemption arc. He’s trying to figure out, “Who am I if I’m not Blackbeard’s first mate? Who am I outside of this relationship?” And Con has just such inherent kindness and softness, and you just want to give him a cuddle. To watch his sweetness come out in Izzy is really fun. He’s just the most lovable guy.

The way that Con plays it, it’s like Izzy is your weird coworker. If Stede’s Spongebob, he’s Squidward. I don’t know what that makes Blackbeard. But there’s a real pathos to Squidward. He’s not like that because it’s fun for Squidward to be like that. That’s what it’s like for Izzy. This guy is uncomfortable in his own skin.

PS: Lucius and Black Pete’s romance also takes a big step forward at the end of episode five when they get engaged. How do you see that unfolding?

DJ: They really care about each other. In some ways, their romance is more mature than Stede and Blackbeard’s. We’re just going to see what happens with these guys who just clearly are a good fit for each other. They’re probably in a bit of a healthier place than Stede and Blackbeard, and I think that that might pay off for them.

PS:In real life, Stede and Blackbeard were both involved in slavery, and obviously that’s not present in the show. What do you make of some people’s criticism that this history should be part of it?

DJ: I think that’s a fine criticism to make. If you’re looking at the makeup of the writers’ room, there’s a lot of different perspectives that go into making the show. Being queer or being a person of color in this era, in lot of historical stories, leads to an outcome for these characters that’s traumatic. There’s a trauma based storyline about being gay and not accepted and then you’re punished for it. Usually, even if they fall in love, one of the characters dies. If you’re a person of color, in these narratives, they have to undergo trauma and having terrible things happen to them. As a diverse room in terms of sexuality, socio-economic background, and race, we thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a non-trauma-based story for these characters who don’t get that historically?” And that was the direction we decided to take it and I’m proud of that direction.

It gives people who are nonbinary, who haven’t seen themselves in a historical thing, a chance to see themselves in a world where it’s a feature more than a bug. And if you’re queer in this world, it’s a feature more than a bug. And if you’re a person of color, you’re not just relegated to former slave. It’s people that have their own narratives that aren’t totally trauma-based. And that was important to me and it was important to the writers of the show.

Related: “Our Flag Means Death”’s Costume Designer on How to Make the Perfect Pirate Halloween Outfit

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