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Our Flag Means Death Season 2 Review: Everyone's Favorite Queer Pirate Sitcom Is Still in Fine Form

Taika Waititi and Rhys Darby up the ante in the Max comedy's new season

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw
Rhys Darby, Our Flag Means Death

Rhys Darby, Our Flag Means Death

Nicola Dove/Max

A word-of-mouth hit last year, Our Flag Means Death offers a chaotic take on the Golden Age of Piracy. Reimagining 18th century pirate feuds as lighthearted workplace conflicts, creator David Jenkins mixes sitcom hijinks with a gleeful anachronistic approach to history. At the center is a love story between the notorious captain Blackbeard (Taika Waititi) and the foppish Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) — a wealthy airhead who launches an ill-conceived piratical career.

Tired of terrorizing the high seas, Blackbeard falls head over heels for Stede's sensitive side and pampered lifestyle. Meanwhile Stede is thrilled to co-captain a real ship, baffling the crew with his touchy-feely leadership style and lack of survival instincts.

After a whirlwind romance, Season 1 ended with a disastrous breakup. Splitting the crew into two factions, Stede is stuck on dry land while Blackbeard embarks on a nautical rampage. His behavior even alarms other hardened pirates — including his cynical sidekick Izzy Hands, played to the hilt by an entertainingly acidic Con O'Neill

Invested in maintaining his captain's badass reputation, Izzy originally saw Stede as a frivolous idiot who seduced Blackbeard away from his true calling. Now Izzy takes an unexpected leaf out of Stede's book, trying to mediate Blackbeard's post-breakup meltdown.

"The atmosphere on this ship is completely poisoned," Izzy says at one point. Last season, he probably would have thought that was a good thing.


Our Flag Means Death


  • Fantastic cast led by Darby and Waititi
  • Distinctive style of feel-good queer comedy
  • Satisfying romantic arc
  • Highly rewatchable thanks to the layered writing and performances


  • Supporting characters still lack depth
  • Hand-waves any political qualms about romanticizing IRL slave-owner Stede Bonnet

Like the brilliant Starz drama Black Sails, Our Flag Means Death embraces the real-life history of piratical branding. (I refer here to the marketing concept, not to the act of burning people with a hot iron.) Stede Bonnet labels himself "the gentleman pirate," and the real Blackbeard cultivated a theatrically frightening image, becoming a figure of public fascination. OFMD satirizes this by portraying Blackbeard as a celebrity who yearns to escape his own fame. Kickstarting his midlife crisis, Stede Bonnet represents an attractively different way of life.

Of course, the problem here is that while Blackbeard likes the idea of a quiet retirement, pirate fanatic Stede wants the opposite. Even before the breakup, there were hints of tension during their adorably wide-eyed courtship. 

We already know that Blackbeard's violent reputation is a blend of reality and subterfuge — and that his dark side emerged from lifelong trauma. At heart, he wants to be soft and playful. So when Season 2 reintroduces him as a grim, eyeliner-smeared berserker, he isn't actually going back to his old ways. By buying into his own bloodthirsty persona, he's committing an act of self-destruction. 

It's not a spoiler to confirm that Stede and Blackbeard reunite within a few episodes. Like any good rom-com, their story develops with well-structured predictability. After an angsty start, the show leans into its role as a workplace sitcom with distinctly modern vibes. 

Employing therapy-speak about safe spaces and conflict resolution, Stede is a sensitive, New Age-y kind of boss who remains blithely unaware of his own faults. But ridiculous though Stede is, his crew — a gaggle of slackers, castoffs and eccentrics — have come to value his management style. Open communication and corny pep talks seem pretty rad when your career typically involves keel-hauling and homicide. By contrast, Blackbeard has become a sadistic nightmare, playing mind games with his underlings when he's not actively trying to maim them. 

Before this blended family of misfits can reconcile, the crew must figure out how to handle Blackbeard's recent behavior. On a ship named the Revenge, in a community of outlaws, this becomes a story about restorative justice and the messy work of forgiveness.

These darker elements give Our Flag Means Death its unique tone. At times the show can be very silly, beginning the season with a schmaltzy romantic dream sequence rudely interrupted by farts. Elsewhere we're treated to depictions of gruesome violence, self-loathing, and PTSD. If not for the diehard sincerity of Stede and Blackbeard's relationship, those clashing elements might not hold together so well.

It's incredibly sweet to watch these two middle-aged guys experience their first love together, balancing raw vulnerability with adolescent melodrama. Best known as a writer/director, Taika Waititi delivers a wonderfully charismatic performance. Alongside New Zealand comedian Rhys Darby, he commanded feverish devotion from viewers last year — to the apparent surprise of HBO/Max.

Taika Waititi, Our Flag Means Death

Taika Waititi, Our Flag Means Death

Nicola Dove/Max

Admittedly, Stede Bonnet, with his marshmallow earnestness and careless vanity, is not a typical romantic lead. Yet OFMD's love story is a triumph. The writers pack a deceptive amount of material into a short season, with Darby and Waititi bridging the gap between goofy humor and deep sincerity, taking their emotional arcs 100% seriously.

On that note, one of the few downsides is that certain supporting characters still don't get much to do. This cast is stacked with talent — for instance, Joel Fry, who plays Frenchie, deserves to be a star — and their ensemble chemistry is off the charts. But there just isn't room for much individual development outside of the main couple. It's tricky because everyone in the crew is so present and brimming with personality, but only one or two feel fully fleshed out.

Plus, the established cast must now compete for space with newcomers like a recurring frenemy played by Ruibo Qian — a clever and competent leader who is blindsided (and reluctantly charmed) by Stede's messy crew. 

Elsewhere Minnie Driver and Rachel House show up for an uproarious interlude as the pirate couple Anne Bonny and Mary Read: another reminder that Stede and Blackbeard are not the only reason why Our Flag Means Death became a queer cult hit. In addition to the diverse array of LGBTQ+ characters and situationships among the cast, the show is founded on a queer attitude to identity and community. 

David Jenkins rejects the straight perspective of most mainstream TV and clearly has no interest in recreating 18th century attitudes to sexuality. Yet he also avoids the homophobia-free utopia of something like Schitt's Creek. Toxic masculinity is an ever-present antagonist in Stede and Blackbeard's lives. There's also a slyly complicated butch/femme dynamic between the two leads, who admire and absorb elements of each other's identity. Among the crew, Season 2 builds on the recurring themes of self-exploration and acceptance.

In both seasons, OFMD's charms far outweigh its flaws. For every dubious choice (e.g. a cringey running gag that the Revenge crew haven't heard of China), we get a dozen clever little background details or expertly delivered one-liners.

The purposeful anachronisms remain a highlight, from music choices (a heart-on-your-sleeve mixtape of corny pop tracks and sweeping orchestral classics) to costumes (Mad Max meets Ren Faire meets gay vegan cafe). Whenever someone gazes wistfully up at the moon, the luminous CGI skyline might as well be a mural in a tropical cocktail bar. Allegedly afloat on the rolling seas, the fake ships remain fully stationary on camera. 

These details are crucial to the heightened emotional tone. If everything looked painstakingly real, we wouldn't be so swept up in the cast's cartoonish behavior. Viewers must accept that in the world of Our Flag Means Death, people can suffer torture, mutilation and life-altering trauma — but they can also pause the drama for a slapstick dinner party episode or a drag show. Sentimental yet satirical, with thoughtful hidden depths: a rare and welcome combination.

Premieres: First three episodes premiere Thursday, Oct. 5 on Max, followed by two episodes weekly
Who's in it: Rhys Darby, Taika Waititi, Con O'Neill, Ruibo Qian, Vico Ortiz
Who's behind it: David Jenkins, creator/director; Andrew DeYoung (555), director
For fans of: Good Omens, What We Do in the Shadows
How many episodes we watched: 7 of 8