Taika Waititi Considered The X-Files Approach For The Big Romance In Our Flag Means Death

The central relationship in the pirate comedy series "Our Flag Means Death" is between Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby), a stuffy aristocrat who takes up piracy on a whim, and Blackbeard (Taika Waititi), a career pirate whose career is stagnating. While the characters are based on real-life pirates about whose personal lives little is known, David Jenkins, the show's creator, posits that the two men were engaged in a deeply romantic relationship. Throughout the show's first season, there's a lot of teasing will-they-or-won't-they hints that the two might be falling in love, and their attraction to one another remains hovering in the realm of speculation. It's not until the season's last couple of episodes that Stede and Blackbeard kiss and instigate a proper love affair.

In an interview with TV Insider, Jenkins said the romance was the logical explanation for why the two real-life men were so closely tied together:

"We're so conditioned for it to be like a bromance that I think looking at Stede's story, the beats of it, the biggest mystery in it to me is why did Blackbeard take him on? [...] The only explanation was that they had a relationship. [...] Like they fell in love, or at least at the very least they were having sex. It just seems to me like there was a relationship there. That's the only thing that made all of the beats of the story as it happened, come together for me. And very quickly it was like, 'Oh, that's the show.'"

The end-of-the-season timing of Blackbeard's and Stede's mutual affection was a relief, of course. The show's creatives could have been cruel about it. They could have pulled a Mulder/Scully on us.

The ****ing bee sting

A brief anecdote for context. In 1998, "The X-Files" feature film was released in theaters, presented as a stop-gap in between the show's fifth and sixth seasons. For those first five years, the showrunners found many times wherein special agents Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) would display small amounts of sexual tension. Typically, the characters were professional, but small moments revealed what might be an intense mutual attraction. Mulder and Scully were an early example — maybe the most significant — of internet "shipping."

The film features a scene wherein the situation had become desperate, and Mulder and Scully find themselves commiserating in a hallway. It's a sweet, intimate moment that is just right for the two characters to kiss for the first time. Mulder then leans in. This author recalls the electricity in the air at his screening at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California. Just as their lips were about to touch, Scully whipped her head away. It seems a bee caught in her collar stung her right at that moment. The bedlam that arose in the theater in that moment nearly broke into a legit riot. There were many screams of the F-word. The sexual tension, it seems, would remain unbroken.

In an interview with IndieWire in July 2022, Taika Waititi acknowledged that Stede and Blackbeard could have easily stayed in the realm of "sexual tension" for years. However, he argued, that would have been cruel. They could keep the romance academic, or they could actually do something about it. Perhaps remembering the 1998 bedlam, Waititi preferred the latter.

Two guys who happen to be on this boat

Taika Waititi was tired of tip-toeing around, and wanted to cut through the treacle and make the characters unambiguously queer. When asked about that famous kiss, Waititi was elated, saying: 

"Oh, it's been so good. I loved that. It was really exciting when we discussed whether or not that would happen or if we'd just annoy people for many seasons like Mulder and Scully by skirting around it for ages. Finally, we decided, screw that. We've got to give them what they want — or what they don't think they want. Let's just do it, consummate their relationship right there. It's cool. For some people, it's a comedy about pirates and some of them are gay. For me, it's a love story about two guys who happen to be on this boat."

As of this writing, "Our Flag Means Death" has only aired one season, which premiered in March 2022. The show has many passionate fans, with /Film's own Sandy Schaefer calling it "anti-queerbait." That is: the show doesn't tease that some character may be queer, and then refuse to depict them in a queer relationship. With "Our Flag Means Death," subtext is made text, and that goodness. Some are frightened, given the news constantly breaking about Warner Bros. Discovery, that the show may soon be canceled. 

Filming on the show's second season wrapped on December 12, 2022, per an update posted to David Jenkins's Twitter account. But until it actually premieres, fans can cross their fingers and hope that Stede and Blackbeard will have a long, happy, on-camera relationship.