Paste had a chance to chat with the stars of Black Sails, Luke Arnold and Toby Stephens, about their evolving roles as pirates, as well as their feelings about the show’s fourth and final season. While Stephens’ Captain Flint began the series with all the power, we all know from reading Treasure Island that the power will shift. Arnold and Stephens took a few minutes to discuss this transition, and the ending to come, before Black Sails returns to Starz on Sunday, January 29 at 9 p.m.
The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Paste: What can we look forward to this season with Long John Silver?
Luke Arnold: Season Four is a big one for John Silver. I have to say, I got to do a lot of things with the character that I never thought I’d get to do. You know, when we pick him up, he’s got the moniker of Long John Silver, he’s just become aware of that, as everyone else is starting to hear about it. And it shows the beginning of him deciding whether he’s going to take that name on, and what it means, and the beginning of him starting to feel what it would be like to be this Pirate King.
Obviously, as well, his relationship with everyone in Nassau, both the pirate side and with the marooned, he kind of becomes central to all these relationships, and all these sides. So there’s a lot more pressure and responsibility on Silver’s shoulders than there ever has been before.
Paste: What’s something we can look forward to in the final season? Can you tease us with something?
Toby Stephens: This season is inevitably the endgame of the relationship, primarily the relationship between Silver and Flint. You know, when Flint’s vision of the New World will be realized. This kind of revolution and emancipation of the pirates and slaves from the kind of evil empire of England. Whether that’s going to happen.
The thing is, we know that it doesn’t happen, so we are adding some tragedy, but it’s really about how Flint and Silver will operate together, and what will happen to their relationship, because you know that Silver is going to be compromised at some point because he has this care for the crew, which Flint is always willing to compromise. He’s always like “the end excuses the means,” you know, and Silver is like, “we can’t do that because it’s killing everybody.” So you know there is going to be some point where it’s going to break down. This season really charts that.
Paste: Most people know the story of Treasure Island from school, so we know how this ends. What’s it like taking your character from what I would consider a high place and then watching Flint evolve in a downward way?
Stephens: I really enjoy it, because what’s great is you take the audience with you. It’s that complicated relationship, the audience to Flint. It’s not an easy one. They want to like him and they do kind of admire him, but at the same time they are appalled by him and troubled by him. But the great thing about the way John Steinberg and Robert Levine shaped this character is that he is so human. I’m really interested to see how the audiences react to the end of this series because of where they are left and what they think of Flint. In the end, what is so great is that he is so human. He’s a human character.
Paste: Do you think Flint becomes more in touch with his humanity?
Stephens: He’s true to himself. There’s a kind of purity that he is so unrelenting, you know what I mean? In this last season, where the wheels come off and it ends up coming to pieces, it’s really hard, I hope for our audiences, to watch that, to watch this person that they’ve followed all this time, that it comes to an end game. In the course of his relationship with Silver he cedes power to Silver willingly. He needs an accomplice. I think that’s something he learns about himself. He needs somebody to be partnered with and Silver becomes the ultimate person. He’s had Thomas, he’s had Mrs. Barlow, and then finally it’s Silver. In the end, that the sort of love of his life really. Not in a romantic way, but he’s found his match. He sort of ceded power to him, but once you cede that power you can’t get it back. It’s about the ascent of Silver and the descent of Flint.
Paste: Has it made you feel any sympathy toward pirates? Or do you think pirates are all the way bad?
Arnold: No, I don’t think they were all the nicest guys, but I think absolutely, I hope, the intention of the show was not to glorify pirates and make them heroes.
Arnold: But it was to really give an idea of who these men and women were at this time and absolutely, I think, you know, not every pirate would have gone through the things these characters went through, or were fighting for causes as noble or were trying to create the social changes the characters in our show are trying to do, but, it’s that’s definitely a part of it. The social pressures of the time, and this really was in a lot of ways the beginning of saying, “Hey, everyone should have a say in how they live their lives.” They began on the ship and joined the Navy at that point and to follow orders, but in the pirate world everyone got a boat and that was really the beginning of a lot of things that affect society today.
Paste: I think it’s almost an American ideal too, not the bad parts, but as far as the “stand up for yourself” idea.
Arnold: It’s tough to talk about all the amazing benefits of democracy with the current political climate, you know, but that’s definitely a part of it. Democracy kind of happened on the pirate ship, in a way. There’s a way to do this where everyone gets their say.
Paste: How do you feel about it ending after four seasons? Do you feel like you’ve found a good spot?
Stephens: I have mixed feelings. Primarily, I was kind of relieved in a way. Four years is a long time to spend with a character, and especially in this kind of show, because it’s so exacting. It’s a very physical show and a very arduous show and it was tough shooting it. I’m incredibly proud of what we achieved, and also I’m really glad that it came to a coherent ending.
It wasn’t lopped off in some sort of “we’re going to pull the show.” The ending feels right. I don’t think there’s much more we could have done with this, you know? We’ve done everything. And also you’re caught in a spiral of every season needs to be bigger. You don’t want to get to the point where it’s so operatic and ridiculous that it’s lost its center. I think this last season is epic and satisfying, but it holds itself together.
Keri is a professional chatterbox who loves watching TV & movies, reading about pop culture, and gawking at any craziness on the internet. You can follow Keri on Twitter.