In its first episodes, HBO Max’s Our Flag Means Death seemed as though it was poised to just be a silly pirate comedy. But by its final episode, it morphed into a heartfelt story about the power of romance, kindness to others, and loving yourself. And the Season 1 finale — spoilers ahead — contains a rare TV moment where queer subtext becomes actual text, as series stars Stede (Rhys Darby) and Blackbeard (Taika Waititi) finally kiss.
“That was in the pitch,” series creator David Jenkins told Decider. “That was the reason, to make them fall in love with each other.”
Most of Season 1’s best moments revolve around Stede’s evolving friendship with Blackbeard, aka Ed. As Ed teaches Stede how to be a real pirate, Stede walks Ed though what it takes to be a proper gentleman who fits into polite society. It’s a friendship that often sees both of them at their best. Under Ed’s guidance, Stede learns to command the respect he so desires, while Stede teaches Ed how to be kind. When Ed sacrifices his life at sea to save Stede, it speaks to the power of their relationship. So when the pair kiss in Episode 9’s “Act of Grace”, it’s a moment that feels both inevitable and wholly unexpected.
“The main thing to me was to side-step coming out,” Jenkins continued. “I just want a romance. I want a Titanic romance between these two people. We don’t have to do the coming out story and then the non-binary story for Jim [Vico Ortiz]. We don’t have to do the ‘I am whatever,’ the pronouns, however they would do that. I thought it was just really good to skip it because we’ve seen it. Those stories often become about the struggle of breaking through, which I think are really valid, but I’ve seen it a lot.”
“You can read it all in what we’re doing,” Waititi added. “I also really thought that everyone in the show accepts it in a way like, ‘Ohhhhh,’ – it’s like high school. It’s like when everyone finds out there’s something going on, instead of going, ‘Oh, yuck!’ they’re like, ‘Ooooh.’”
Despite the power of the moment, depicting this sweet romance put Darby and Waititi in an interesting position. After being friends for over 15 years, they had to kiss on screen — and sell their romance to an audience.
“You know, we’ve had each other’s back for a long time through this Hollywood journey, if you like, coming from small town New Zealand and taking on the world,” Darby said. “And so it’s a hell of a lot easier when you know each other, and you can feel and think what each other is saying and thinking. We’ve got a good connection. And so it just made it easy.”
“I thought it was more awkward than anything, just kissing my friend,” Waititi added. “Because it’s my friend. I’ve known him a long time and we’re both like old men. We’re both kissing each other’s faces, it’s odd.”
That all said, the friends harnessed the love they have for each other to make their onscreen connection work. Waititi noted that he wasn’t sure “how emotional I felt doing it,” but that the moment when the two kiss on the beach still had to include, “some degree of love between you and another person.”
“We don’t talk about love enough and the levels of love,” Darby said. “And of course we love our friends and we know we want every day to spend time with them because they make us feel at ease and you can be yourself. That’s all you want to wish for is just to be around people that let you be yourself and you let them be themselves.”
For Darby, Stede admitting his feelings for Ed is more than just a nice moment in his life; it’s evidence that Stede is finally growing up. “He’s a learning character. That’s the whole thing about Stede is that he doesn’t really understand a lot, you know? He’s so pampered. He’s such a dreamer,” Darby explained. “But someone needs to be there sort of holding his hand to remind him to take it in. I guess that’s a good lesson for anyone to kind of just take a minute and accept their feelings… The end of love, I think, is loving oneself. And if you don’t have that, then it is hard to move on from that point.”
Speaking of moving on, if Season 2 were to happen, it will all come back to Stede and Ed. “The show is the relationship,” Jenkins said. “So, we end in a place where there is this breakup. What happens after a breakup between these two people who, one’s realized he’s in love and the other one is hurt in a way that he’s never been hurt before? What does that do to each of them in an action, pirate world with them trying to find each other again? So again, I really love those rom-com beats.”
As thrilled as Waititi is to see this budding couple’s tense reunion, he’s adamant that if the show returns, one thing needs to change: he doesn’t want to wear Blackbeard’s giant beard anymore. “It was all that hair and beard, I felt like no one would talk to me,” Waititi said. “It was so hot. I would sit in this little tent with the air conditioning on. I would feel lonely.”
“You would have your legs stretched out cause you couldn’t bend them and you looked so sad,” Jenkins recalled. “There was one day, and I was like, ‘Do you want sushi, man?’”
“It was so uncomfortable,” Waititi added.