Our Flag Means Death (2022-)

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Everything Taika Waititi touches seems to turn to gold, and this time he’s turned his touch to the Golden Age of Piracy in the new series Our Flag Means Death (2022). The first three episodes dropped last week on HBO Max and the fourth is set to come out today, with new episodes debuting every Thursday.

Set in 1717, aristocrat Stede Bonnet (played by Flight of the Conchords alum, Rhys Darby) decides to abandon his family and strike out for adventure and fortune on the high seas, rebranding himself as the “gentleman pirate”. His methods are… unconventional to say the least, winning the begrudging loyalty of his largely skeptical crew of hardened brigands as he blunders his way across the Caribbean. He quickly comes to the notice of the legendary pirate Blackbeard (Taika Waititi) who is intrigued by his ineptitude as well as the possibility of advancing his own standing in polite society, so they strike a deal: Bonnet will teach Blackbeard how to be a gentleman, and Blackbeard will teach Bonnet how to be a pirate.

The first three episodes also introduce a large subplot concerning Jim, an allegedly mute man who is absolutely lethal with throwing knives and hand to hand combat (played by non-binary actor Vico Ortiz), and Jim’s sidekick Oluwande (Samson Kayo), who are both hiding a deadly secret while on the run from a deal with Spanish Jackie (Leslie Jones) that went sideways when Jim murdered Jackie’s favorite husband (out of 20 or so husbands).

As you can probably guess, the costumes are not exceptionally historically accurate. They’re basically as much as a caricature of 18th-century clothing as the characters are of actual aristocrats and pirates. That said, I thought there were a few costumes worthy of commentary, starting with Stede Bonnet’s, as they are by far the most accurate of all of the costumes in the show so far (future episodes show more women’s costumes, so we will definitely be returning to this topic for discussion as warranted).

 

Are you watching Our Flag Means Death? Talk to us about it in the comments!

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

8 Responses

  1. Emily

    Just on an entertainment level, I didn’t find the first episode as funny as I hoped given the provenance, but the second episode got a few chuckles out of me so I’ll be keeping up with it.
    Costume wise I personally like the circa 2007 one shoulder purple stripe top a crewmemeber wears ;)

    Reply
  2. Sam Marchiony

    Did not know Vico Ortiz was enby, but I like them even more now. I think this is a really fun show— Rhys Darby is always so delightfully poncy in everything, and even if Waititi isn’t the showrunner/creator, his influence is present in the mix of filth and politeness that dictates so much of the show. Absolutely WEPT in the third episode when all that lovely white 18th century wear got stained.

    Reply
  3. Lily Rose

    Oh gosh I do hope this comes to a non-pay channel before I’ve forgotten what it is. Because a funny look at pirates (and Bonnet is a good place to start) would be super welcome!

    Reply
  4. Karen K.

    I’m thrilled you’re watching as well, I know it’s not historically accurate but I love this series. I binged the first three episodes last week and the next three the night they dropped, it is TOO FUNNY. I love how it explores non-toxic masculinity and the costumes are GORGEOUS. I love all the side characters especially Oluwande and Jim. Also love Joel Fry as Frenchie and now I’m so annoyed that the Persuasion adaptation was cancelled, would have loved to see him as Wentworth. Harrumph.

    Reply
  5. Sheryl

    Love this show and the whole amazing cast. (I’ve seen Darby’s live stand-up three times now, and watched his series Short Poppies over and over.)

    The costumes are just so much fun. And not accurate at all,but still perfect, like how Blackbeard is just wearing a biker jacket sans zippers.

    Waititi uses Toronto bespoke cobbler Jitterbug Boy for a lot of his films/shows (all the shoes worn by Scarlett Johansens’s character in Jojo Rabbit, for instance), so keep an eye on the footwear, because it’s also fabulous.

    Reply
  6. Vincent Briggs

    I’m 4 episodes in and I LOVE the show, but hate the costumes. 18th century menswear is my very favourite thing and these are all so sad. There’s bits and pieces here and there that are ok, but overall it’s a very weird and sad mishmash. I love the colour of that blue suit, but have so so many complaints about it. What’s with all the short 1760’s length waistcoats?? 1710’s waistcoats are LONG! Just above knee length! It’s such an under represented decade and I’m sad that they have so many later styles everywhere.
    Stede’s yellow wrapping gown is probably the best individual garment in terms of accuracy that I’ve seen so far.

    I know they weren’t going for accuracy and that it’s a fun silly show, but if I were going to design historical fantasy outfits based on the 1710’s I’d do it so very very differently.

    But the show makes me smile and I’m trying to pretend that I’m watching a low budget local theatre production and they’re just wearing whatever they could find in storage, which makes the costumes a tad more bearable.
    I expect I’ll probably re-draw some screenshots.

    Reply
    • Vincent Briggs

      Update: Having rewatched it I will now say I don’t hate all the costumes, I hate certain specific outfits, garments, and details, but there are others that I find interesting and appreciate.
      I am, however, annoyed by the fact that nearly everything is from Not the 1710’s. So many different decades mashed together and most of it’s mid 18th century.

      Reply
  7. Max

    I adore the show but the costumes are definitely from a fun alternate universe with only a loose relation to our own. On the other hand, the way the characters interact with the costumes shows a lot of care and attention; particularly with Stede and Ed, whose wardrobes both start to evolve and even merge as soon as they meet each other. Clothing and fabric and color are important to them (“You wear fine things well”) and to how they communicate with each other and the world at large, so that definitely works for me. More emotionally true than historically accurate, I guess is how I would put it?

    The only costume where I absolutely went “aw, not this” when I saw it was on Kristen Johnson. She was great, but for the type of character she played, I think it could have been more memorable/distinct. Fang also clearly fell onto a Hot Topic rack and said “I’ll take it!” (h/t Bianca del Rio), but I can’t stay mad at Fang. He can wear a pyramid stud belt as a headband if he wants to.

    Hannah Greene worked on the show and posted some detail pics of some of Stede’s looks on her Instagram (@hannahgreencostumes), I liked getting a good look at them. I can’t believe they did all the soutache on Jeff the Accountant’s jacket in one night, that’s absolutely wild.

    Reply

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