When the HBO pirate comedy Max by David Jenkins Our flag means death When it first premiered, the obvious question was whether the film would find the audience for which it was clearly designed. The series leads – Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi and his frequent project partner Rhys Darby, as versions of real-life pirate allies Stede Bonnet and Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard – are compelling reasons to watch the show. But Waititi doesn’t fully show up until episode 4, and before he meaningfully steps into the story and brings the big drama with him, the series is mostly a light-hearted comedy about the bad guys. incompetent people consider themselves fools at sea.
However, when the 10-episode series was released, it gradually revealed itself as a touching story about reinvention and self-discovery. Word of mouth quickly went viral on social media, as it seemed that Stede and Blackbeard were headed for a romantic moment, and a vocal, invested fandom wondered if they were being teased. and bait or not. As the moment of truth draws nearer, fans started create tender art fans belong to Stede and Blackbeard, and spark their relationship further. The final two episodes of the season tackle that question – and then wrap up in a puzzle game that opens up an invitation to speculate about the future. Polygon recently spoke with series creator, writer, and producer David Jenkins about what happened in the series and what’s next. Spoilers ahead for the first season of Our flag means death.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity and brevity.
I think everyone who watched the finale will have one key question: When do we start season 2? How did potential customers looking for HBO green light a sequel?
David Jenkins: I think they look good. I think we are very lucky. It was nice to see how many people responded to the program. Just last week, fandom exploded – just saw it on Twitter, to see fan art, Very pleased. And people are so smart! I checked some topics, people wrote while the show was running, and it was like they were in the writers’ room. They understand what we’re doing and they’re having the same conversations we’ve had. So the fact that that’s happening is, I think, really a good sign, and bodes well for season 2.
If you plan on continuing to follow Stede’s life as closely as before, that limits the outlook on how long the show can run.
[Laughs.] Yes, it has.
What does the ideal version of this series look like to you now, in terms of how long it would take for you to tell the story you want to tell?
I think three seasons is good. I think we can do it in three times. I mean, I don’t know – your perception of what’s really the story is changing a lot in the writing room. If not, you are doing it wrong. Because you have all these other super smart writers who have their own life experiences, and you talk all season with them, and then you say, “Oh, man, there’s all these something else is there.” But right now, I feel like maybe we can do it in three days. What drew me to this story and made me want to write the show was asking who Stede was to Blackbeard, and who Blackbeard was to Stede. For me, that’s the point that runs through the entire series. And I didn’t know you wanted to see that happen in five, six seasons.
You don’t even start telling that story until episode 4. That’s the response I’ve seen over and over again from people – it’s episode 4 where the show’s plans really start to come together. What went into how you structured the season?
We break the story down into action sequences. We need to see Stede alone, to see how that plays out for him, which sucks. And then witnessing his transformation when he met the love of his life – it seemed so important to me, to see how badly he did himself. And we need to understand the suit. When Stede and Blackbeard got together in the first season, they merged a lot of the story and we didn’t learn much about our crew anymore. We can’t see them doing everything as much as I would like, because there’s only a finite amount of time.
So we needed to give the first act a little more breathing room, to set the tone of the show, who the characters are, who they are to each other. And then Stede got into this horrible thing, where he got stabbed. I love to see a man become arrogant. And he became arrogant, and he paid the price for it very seriously. For me, when you see him getting stabbed, and blood all over his finger, it’s like, “Oh, no, the clown got stabbed! And not comedy– stabbed, he has stabbed stabbed! “That was great for me. And then Blackbeard finds him as the end of what will be the first act of our story that feels good to me.
You’ve got this story popping up in the midst of another national moment on gay vision and rights, from Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill and Disney’s Response to one new wave of oppressive law proposals. What’s better than bringing a passionate gay love story out in the midst of this moment?
It’s the unfortunate time it’s happening, and it’s the great moment when Florida says “Don’t say gay,” and HBO Max is saying “Our flag means death.” That’s great, I think. The goal for me was to create a show that didn’t feel appropriate. It has these relationships and these characters, but it’s mainstream. I wanted to create a quadrant – I hate that phrase – a four-quarter shot that still has these relationships, because “Of course, this is life.” We don’t say, “This is a gay pirate show.” This is a pirate show, and that’s it.
I think it’s a powerful move and a simple one. We just say [casually], “Yes, OK, we have queer and non-binary characters.” The fact that it’s lined up with this national moment means that I feel good that people can watch the show and see themselves, and feel like, “Yeah, we’re mainstream. We are not skewed to the side. ” It’s not a special program. It’s for everyone. I’m glad it was so well received.
Are you ready for Taika and Rhys kiss scene?
What was it like filming that moment, working with them and the directors?
I wanted a closed shot on that day, I just wanted a very focused, self-contained scene where Rhys and Taika could do the scene. And they do a great job running it. By the third time they run the scene, it’s clicking, it’s working. Taika is fascinating to watch, because he directs himself – he’s used to directing himself. He’s really good [saying] for a director [surprisingly accurate Taika Waititi accent], “Tell me where you want me to be, tell me what you want me to say.” He’s the actor I think he wants to be, he’s going to be the director. I saw this famous director whose directorial mind was still active as he acted.
So it was interesting to watch them replay these scenes over and over, to see how they formed for Rhys and Taika. They listened to each other very well in that scene. They were very kind to the script – they followed every word that was written. And then they were so comfortable with each other that I said, “Let them run. Let them run. No adjustments, no ticking notes. Let’s just see what will appear. And they led each other to a really beautiful place. And [episode 9 directors] Bert and Bertie did a great job in setting that whole scene up the way it was.
Imagine you are kissing your best friend of 16 years. It’s awkward! Getting anyone to kiss their friends is going to be awkward to a certain extent. Romantic scenes, in general, are uncanny in the work environment. So there’s that level of it. At the same time, you’re like, “We’re just kissing, it’s okay.” So the closing shot was important because they really had to focus and go into the shot, but it was like, “It was just a kiss. It’s not a big deal. Anyone who has ever acted in a high school play has done it.” I think an equally intimate scene is the one where Blackbeard is in the bathtub saying he’s going to kill Stede and burn his face and take his life, but he doesn’t want to take him there. doggy paradise. It was beautiful to hear in that scene. It was an intimate scene. They are very similar. The scene is devoid of any kisses, but equally intimate, and just seeing them open up to each other like that is a joy. And since they’ve known each other for so long, you can get the shots to these places much quicker than the normal ones.
In particular, when we’re with Blackbeard in the finale, we’re in dark, dramatic places, but whenever we’re with Stede, we’re back in a broad comedy. If you get the next two seasons, exactly how you want them to, how much will you want to lean back into the big comedies or dramas? What will the balance be like?
That’s a really good question. I think the last three episodes of the season are really working. There’s an absurd amount of fun, with Will Arnett doing stupid things with a bull ship and crab fight. It’s amazing, the stories really come out. There’s like four different stories going on there, which I think is “Eughhh, it’s a lot!” But it flows really nicely. I think the fun for me in building this show was having some really violent moments, because pirates are criminals, and moments that were really broad and really funny, and then there were moments where we really just need to blend in and have it for everyone to see. As long as all three of those things alternate, I’m happy. One might get more precedence in an episode, but if all three are there, it’s still good and working.
I think Stede and Blackbeard will remain the focus of Our flag means death fandom. But as you say, there’s a lot of other stories going on. Where do you most want to direct your viewers other than your central pairing? What do you hope people are focusing on in their reviews or are wondering about the future?
Oh Boy. It’s a great cast. I just like everyone, you know? I think Con O’Neill did a great job. He’s a complicated character, and it’s a tortured relationship. And there is also a love story between him and Blackbeard. It’s a very dysfunctional story, but very enjoyable to watch. Watching it over and over again can see where their relationship goes in the end. And I think a lot of that for me is just really enjoying the concert. Ewan Bremner is there, it’s amazing, playing things of that size, and they’re grounded. I love it. It is a shame of wealth. There are all different flavors of acting.
So I think it will be necessary to revisit the main story, to see how Stede and Blackbeard’s relationship comes together, but also to see what the crew is paying attention to and how they interact with each other. All of that is fun to watch.
Part 1 of Our flag means death streaming on HBO Max.