Our Flag Means Death has just wrapped up its sophomore season, and it’s time to say goodbye to our favourite pirates for, well, at least another year. Streaming service MAX hasn’t renewed the workplace comedy/action-adventure show for a third season, but if the numbers are anything to go by, they would be foolish not to start talking about it.
David Jenkins, the writer/creator and sometime director of Our Flag Means Death, did a finale postmortem interview with io9, and we talk endings, piracy, and how comic actors and serious actors mesh. A quick warning, this interview is literally about the last episode of Our Flag Means Death, and contains spoilers. Proceed with caution.
So, here’s the thing; Jenkins and I have spoken a few times about Our Flag Means Death. He knows that I adore this show. He also knows that I adore Izzy Hands (Con O’Neill), the beleaguered first mate and jilted lover of the central couple of Blackbeard (Taika Waititi) and Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby). He has also been keeping a secret from me for months: In this last episode of season 2, Izzy Hands dies.
“Are you mad at me?” Jenkins asked, almost plaintive as we said our ‘Hello’s under the auspices of the designated MAX PR person. “Oh, well. I’m not really mad at you, but I am disappointed,” I responded. “I think I’m sad at you.” This, he says, is worse.
At the end of the season, Izzy Hands dies in Blackbeard’s arms, giving Blackbeard permission not only to “be himself” but to leave piracy behind for good. It happened in the kind of cruelly random way that people often die in this genre of action/adventure stories. That didn’t make it any easier though. And at the end of the season, Blackbeard’s inability to save Izzy meant that there was simply no more reason for him to be a pirate anymore. Who was he doing it for? What more did he have to prove?
Regardless of the narrative reasons why Izzy Hands died, I was devastated. Did it make sense in the context of the show? Yes. Was it a deeply moving and incredibly well-acted moment? Also yes. Was his death made all the more affective because of how Izzy had been ingratiated, accepted, trusted, and even, at points, loved by his crew? Absolutely. So, of course I teared up a little.
Jenkins looked slightly sad himself, saying that “Ghosts exist in this world.” I told him not to make promises he couldn’t keep. At this point such a comment feels like it was made to make me, personally, feel better. I’m not sure Izzy could make a return at some point, nothing is certain about Our Flag Means Death’s future right now. It almost feels like Jenkins feels bad that he made me sad. I don’t know if he realizes how sad he’s going to make a lot of people.
This isn’t going to be an interview entirely about Izzy Hands, but he’s a big part of it—after all, his death is arguably one of the show’s biggest shocks yet. Looking back at Izzy’s arc over the two seasons, Jenkins said that he doesn’t see Izzy as a pure antagonist in season one because on some level… Izzy was right in his hesitations about Stede. “His boss is falling for this manic pixie dream girl, and he’s got to keep his boss safe because that’s his job,” Jenkins explains. “And then he has to get this ship to operate like a normal ship would operate. And they’re all weirdos. So he’s got the worst middle management position. And on top of that, his boss is a lunatic.”
Towards the end of season one, Izzy does have a turn away from ‘reasonably upset at Blackbeard’ to ‘serious antagonistic force’. But when he gets what he wanted–Blackbeard back to legendary form–it doesn’t really work out. “Be careful what you ask your God for, because you just might get it,” Jenkins warned. “Izzy gets it and it turns on him. That toxic relationship that he wished were all his, becomes all his… he’s crushed by it, and both he and Blackbeard both have to rebuild themselves.”
In Izzy’s case, the rebuilding is quite literal–his leg is amputated and replaced with a wooden prosthetic, carved from the unicorn figurehead of the Revenge. After this, he has to go through a transformation, Jenkins said he has to ask himself “What am I going to do with myself? You know, who am I going to be? After [the crew] makes him the Unicorn leg, I think he kind of sees like, ‘oh, this crew cares for me’. And I don’t think he’s ever felt cared for in that way.”
This season also saw a lot of Izzy interacting with Stede, often in more fun situations than the snipes back and forth in the first season. When asked about how Con O’Neill and Rhys Darby got along on set, Jenkins just laughed. “I really love building a show with really funny actors and then really serious actors. And the funny people are usually scared of the real serious people. And the real serious people are scared of the funny people. They terrify each other.”
For those that might not know, Darby is a stand up comedian and has been in many of Waititi’s darkly comic films. O’Neill, on the other hand, has been taking dramatic roles since his twenties, and has recently appeared in productions like The Batman and Chernobyl. “I think from the beginning people saw Con and were like, ‘Oh, man, I got to be like, really have to be in my game’,” Jenkins said, imitating Taika Waititi’s lilting Kiwi accent. “And then Con was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know what he’s doing, he saying I should just follow along with the improvisations’—” again, imitating O’Neill’s raspy drawl. “And then they’re both so good that by the end of the season they’re not scaring each other as much. But that admiration remains, and I think that was very much true between Rhys and Con.”
The decision to have Izzy die wasn’t one that Jenkins took lightly. “It was hard. It was hard to kill off Izzy. It was hard to tell Con that he was going to die. And he was so lovely about it. But, at the same time, he took it hard,” Jenkins said. “Like this thing we built together is going to die. It’s one thing to write it, it’s another thing to produce it, and to see Con carry that knowledge through the episodes, knowing what was going to happen to that character. Con took it really seriously.”
Jenkins also thinks that Izzy was able to say exactly what he needed to at the end of the show. “I think he gives his own eulogy. It’s about belonging to something. And that we do this for each other, you know? He came to view piracy as a thing we do for one another. And being on a crew is something you do for each other… he gets to a place where he eventually sees that it works because everybody is helping each other. Everybody cares for each other, and there needs to be some structure, but for him, it became less about dominance and more about belonging to something.”
The final shot of the season is actually Izzy’s grave, outside of Ed and Stede’s cottage. “I think him being buried near them is a lovely image,” he said. “And there’s a reason that that happened. I think they both were sad to see their friend go. And I think they’re both thinking, ‘let’s make this work not just for us, but in memory of Izzy’.”
One of the prevalent rumors about Our Flag Means Death this season was that it was originally supposed to be 10 episodes rather than 8. But Jenkins says no; it was always going to be 8. They were looking for ways to cut budget, and moving the production to New Zealand and cutting down the episodes really helped with the bottom line, as well as being better for the cast and crew. “It takes so much to make one episode happen. Every department is strung out by the time you get to the end of the season,” he explained.
“The story of Stede and Blackbeard is a three-season story,” Jenkins said, looking ahead to where the show could go from here. When asked if the ending of season two–Frenchie taking over as Captain of the Revenge, Stede and Ed in a shack on the beach, preparing to open their inn, and Izzy Hands buried in front of their home–was a kind of “safeguard” in case the series didn’t get that third season, Jenkins shrugged. “In a way,” he said. “The first season ends on such a downer, so it made sense to end the second season in a kinder spot.”
But he says that he “still has questions” about what happens next. The Republic of Pirates has been destroyed, Izzy’s killer is still out there, and does Frenchie have what it takes to captain a pirate crew? Our Flag Means Death is not a complete story yet. “I think there’s plenty of story left for season three, but I think that it was important to end this as if it was the end of the show, and on upbeat note and avoid the kind of “kill your gays” trope. I don’t want to see Steve and Ed punished for giving it a go. I want to see them really say, ‘yeah, we’re going to we’re going to try to have a relationship’.”
When asked how he would approach the third season , Jenkins thought about it for a few seconds before answering. “I would very much like to see pirates come to America. Historically, they were in New York City and the Carolinas. And now, in the story, the Republic of Pirates is gone… I think that stories about piracy are a little bit like stories about the West. They’re stories about these things that are going to end inevitably,” he said this sadly, like the inevitability comes from looking back on the past and thinking the present couldn’t come out any other way. It’s a bit of a eulogy. “In some ways, I think then seeing them have to deal with some of these things in a country that’s coming together would be good. And I think it would be a good way to end the season, and see how they adjust to it.”
The final scene with Izzy and Blackbeard is incredibly, desperately sad, and clearly required a lot from both O’Neill and Waititi in the moment. “When Izzy died, I said, ‘Would you like to play music on set?’” Jenkins recalled. “ He went ‘Yeah’. And so I made an Izzy Death playlist and put it on during the takes.”
This is the second time I have been teased with an Our Flag Means Death playlist. The first time was from music supervisor Maggie Phillips after the first season had ended. I had to ask for this playlist, but Jenkins didn’t want to share. He mentioned Carole King, implying that “Bitter with the Sweet” was played. I was not doing well with this information, especially after I put my face in my hands. He tried, once again, to console me but I was lost in my Izzy Hands feelings. Maybe taking the good with the bad was personal advice. Or, more honestly, I just think he felt a little sad too.
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