Taika Waititi as Blackbeard and Rhys Darby as Stede share a moment on deck

How ‘Our Flag Means Death’ Nailed Its Most Romantic Moments  

Our Flag Means Death had us thinking we were once again being teased with a queer romance between the leads that would never be made explicit—and then BAM, it proved us wrong in one fell swoop. Our Kaila Hale-Stern wrote about how the show’s final two episodes dismantled queerbaiting and delivered a story of queer love and positivity. Beyond making its central couple officially canon, the show also depicts two other queer relationships, and fans can’t get enough.

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We are especially not used to seeing such sweet, funny, earnestly tender interactions between the star swashbucklers of a piece. The amount of enthusiasm for Edward “Blackbeard” Teach and Stede Bonnet that is exploding online shows how Our Flag Means Death absolutely nailed its most romantic moments, leaving no doubt that we were witnessing a blossoming love amidst the laughter. These moments instantly sent Ed and Stede to the top of my OTP list.

When it comes to comedy, there are some shows that really know how to write a love story in a way that never leaves its audience. For me, TV creator Mike Schur (Parks and Rec, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Good Place) has long had a chokehold on my heart with his hilarious yet devoted couples. Now Ed and Stede feel like they can fit right in there with the Ben and Leslies and Chidis and Eleanors of the world. In an offbeat show about pirates that has its share of silly humor, I didn’t expect something like a comforting foot touch or Blackbeard sharing his feelings to hit me so hard and make me fall in love with the relationship coming into focus before me.

There are three queer couples on the show, all of whom have found enthusiastic fan support. There’s even-keeled Oluwande (Samson Kayo) and non-binary badass pirate Jim (Vico Ortiz), the droll Lucius (Nathan Foad) and bragging Black Pete (Matthew Maher), who also share a tender kiss, and then of course there’s Taika Waititi’s Ed and Rhys Darby’s Stede. Adding to the excitement online, many of the cast and creatives behind Our Flag Means Death have joined in on the fun post-finale. They’ve been sharing fan art and fan videos at nearly the same clip as fans, as well as providing behind-the-scenes looks and answering questions. Everyone seems thrilled to be involved and proud of what they’ve made.

This series is filled with beautiful explorations of love and acceptance throughout the entire crew, and they demonstrate how well creator and showrunner David Jenkins and his team understand how to bring a love story to life. Since I’m losing my entire mind over Stede and Ed at current, let’s take a closer look at some of their best moments, and why they worked so well.

Nurse Blackbeard

From the jump of Blackbeard’s introduction into the show, we watch as he connects with Stede in a way that goes beyond just being fascinated by the other captain’s antics. Blackbeard cares for Stede instantly—it’s love at first stabbing—and we can see this in how he tends to Stede when Stede is wounded (all this before they’ve even been properly introduced). Blackbeard keeps vigil at Stede’s bedside and appears to be the complete opposite of the terrifying pirate the show (and the history it loosely draws from) has made him out to be.

He likes what he’s heard about Stede’s attitude, and he appreciates Stede’s fancy clothes and lavish lifestyle, so different than his own. Blackbeard already cares about this man enough to be sitting with him when he’s healing, and he wants to be a helpful comfort to him. You know, as a boyfriend might do. And this is, again, before they really even know each other. Blackbeard essentially heard about Stede, was fascinated, and ran with that feeling—and that’s a hell of a romantic move.

The foot touch

I have never in my life wanted to talk about something more than this scene. Blackbeard’s rowdy friend Calico Jack (Will Arnett) arrives to cause trouble, and the entire episode is like meeting a crush’s old friend and seeing how different they are with them than they are with you. Stede and Blackbeard have a fight and though it seems like Blackbeard has left the ship (and therefore Stede), he comes back when it’s clear that the ship needs him (the ship also referring to his relationship btw).

The arrival of the Navy then sees the two captured and bound. Stede is thrown to the ground and looks at Ed who is also thrown down. Stede says to Ed, “You came back,” and Blackbeard, without missing a beat, says “I never left.”

Now this would have been fine, and just been a regular OTP tag for me, but then Waititi threw in the wink and my soul fully left my body. I didn’t think it could get better than that—and then Ed slowly inches his foot over to comfortingly tap Stede’s and whatever was left of my heart went to these two pirates falling in love with each other.

This scene perfectly depicts romance, and how it can be understated and writ loud all at once. When I think about my OTP couples and the moments that made me want that kind of love, it is things like this. A foot touch, a comment, a wink, a fun instance before they’re even really open with each other and together.

I was already starting to adore “Blackbonnet” because of Stede showing Ed new things or Ed teaching Stede how to be a better pirate, but this was what sealed the deal for me.

What makes Ed happy is … you

Is there anything hotter than someone you have a crush on telling you that you’re what makes them happy? I do not think so! And so when Stede is trying to unpack everything going on with Ed’s life as Blackbeard and help him open up to his own emotions, he asks him what makes Ed happy.

Watching as Taika Waititi says “What makes Ed happy is … you” felt like understanding love for the first time, coming home after long last, and drinking a hot cup of happiness all rolled into one.

Their kiss is also something out of the book of pure tenderness, because it isn’t the passionate grabs we know from other shows or the “FINALLY” moment, it’s two men who have been told to hide their emotions expressing their feelings and their love. It’s a sweet kiss of discovery that tells the other exactly what they’re thinking and experiencing.

Pair that with Stede responding in kind to Ed, and saying that Ed makes Stede happy, and I instantly want to hurl my body into the ocean out of my own loneliness and love for these two. They’re showing everyone watching what it feels like to love someone and be loved in return.

Blackbeard’s pining and Stede’s realization

While Blackbeard doesn’t know that Stede was kidnapped and forced to watch as Admiral Chauncey Badminton accidentally shoots himself, he does sit on the dock all night and wait for Stede so they can run away together. When Stede doesn’t show, this ushers in a world of Blackbeard moping about the ship in a breakup depression that is so relatable it was hard to watch.

This includes him crying in a blanket fort in an extravagant robe, and who amongst us has not? Ed clearly loved Stede so much that it destroys him to think that Stede didn’t want to be with him after all.

But even when we think that the “old” Blackbeard is back in the finale and he’s ready to be the pirate everyone feared, we then see him sobbing while looking at Stede’s painting of a lighthouse that he didn’t get rid of while clearing the ship of Stede’s belongings. Ed is still there too.

Pair this with Stede’s own understanding of his feelings when he goes home, only to see that his wife and kids have moved on and are happier without him. Stede has a great exchange with his wife (now “widow”) Mary, where they discuss what it means to be in love while the show intercuts scenes of Stede and Ed’s relationship developing over time. Stede comes to the realization that he’s truly in love with Ed (and Mary is happy for him, another wonderful moment). It’s clear that he needed to see that he could love Ed unconditionally and not still think he was hurting his family. Stede needed that closure.

Before he arrived at this realization, Stede thought he needed to go home, which he couldn’t exactly explain to Blackbeard. So Ed thinks he’s been broken up with, and is trying to “throw out” all the signs of Stede. It’s the perfect dramatic way to leave the season on a cliffhanger. The central characters are madly in love with each other, but circumstances now separate them. It will be interesting to see how Ed and Stede gain their trust in each other again, because I need them to be together for my own personal well-being.

_______

If you haven’t yet watched Our Flag Means Death, I’m jealous. You get to experience this love story for the first time, and it’s one that will stick its claws in your heart and refuse to let go.

(images: HBO)


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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.