Rebecca Horton ‘25 / Emertainment Monthly Assistant TV/Misc Editor
For months, viewers of Our Flag Means Death waited for the return of the Gentleman Pirate—Stede Bonnet, as portrayed by Rhys Darby. In early 2022, they were introduced to Bonnet for the first time as a wealthy aristocrat who abandoned his comfortable life to pursue his true calling: piracy. Throughout that first season, viewers found themselves perfectly at home in his point of view. Like Bonnet, they too were unfamiliar with the strange and dangerous world of piracy. This is perhaps what makes the second season so much more jarring. With its darker, grungier color palette, it is clear that the rose-colored glasses worn throughout the first season have been thoroughly removed. The immediate assumption is that this is due to a change in Bonnet’s character; he is no longer an amateur pirate, after all. In fact, the shift in tone is due to a shift in point of view: while Bonnet remains the main character of the series overall, he is not the main character of the second season. That title would go squarely to the character of Israel “Izzy,” Hands, who is beautifully portrayed by Con O’Neill.
The tradeoff between Bonnet and Izzy occurs in the final moments of season one. Izzy seizes control of the narrative when he ressurects the persona of “Blackbeard.” As punishment for his insubordination, Izzy has his toe cut off and fed to him by his captain, Edward “Blackbeard,” Teach (Taika Waititi). This is a display of violence viewers have not previously witnessed in the seven episodes prior, and is a distinct result of Izzy’s actions. It serves as a preview of what is to come in the second season, which takes place from the point of view of a seasoned pirate—nothing like what viewers had previously seen from Bonnet.
The first episode of season two maintains this undertone of violence. Viewers are reunited with Blackbeard and the rest of his crew as they interrupt a wedding ceremony at sea, killing the guests and plundering the wedding gifts. This, too, represents the show’s departure from Bonnet’s point of view. The wedding marks the last time viewers see the familiar bright colors they came to associate with the first season. The notable difference, however, is Izzy’s response to such violence. Throughout season one, Izzy would relish in and encourage Blackbeard’s violent behavior, seemingly motivated by a need to keep the persona of “Blackbeard,” alive. The second season makes it evident that Izzy’s obsession was about more than serving as the first mate to the best or most powerful pirate: it was about survival. If “Blackbeard,” dies, so does Izzy. In the time between the first and second season, however, this belief has been challenged. The crew has evidently become victims of Blackbeard’s inordinate violence. As his first mate and oldest friend, Izzy specifically has suffered the brunt of Blackbeard’s wrath, to the extent that the crew expresses concern on his behalf. This sets the stage for the largest shift in Izzy’s character yet. It is the love from the crew which gives him the courage to not only challenge Blackbeard’s tyrannical rule aboard The Revenge, but to seemingly confess his love to Blackbeard—a confession which is promptly rejected. This is shortly followed by Blackbeard shooting Izzy in the leg for daring to mention Bonnet by name.
The shooting in episode one serves as the beginning of what is essentially Izzy’s “breakup,” era. Having relinquished the role of first mate, he no longer holds any formal allegiances to Blackbeard. Instead, Izzy’s priorities now lie in protecting the crew. Even after being subjected to an amateur leg amputation—necessity notwithstanding—he saves the lives of the crew when Blackbeard attempts to destroy their ship. In fact, it is solely due to his intervention that they survive.
Following the mutiny, Izzy struggles to establish a new purpose amongst the crew. His inner conflict reflects back on numerous other crewmates aboard The Revenge. In episode five, he instructs Bonnet in the ways of pirating—a critical moment of character development, considering Izzy and Bonnet were ostensibly enemies for the whole of season one. In a full-circle moment, Izzy is granted a new sense of belonging by the crew he made it his purpose to protect. After his makeshift peg leg snaps, they fashion him a new one out of the legs of the unicorn figurehead at the bow of The Revenge. In seafaring culture, the figurehead of a ship is supposed to offer protection from danger and ensure calm seas. By accepting this gift from the crew, Izzy becomes their unicorn—their protector—and he accepts this new role dutifully.
The celebration of Calypso’s birthday best demonstrates Izzy’s importance in the second season. As their unicorn, Izzy protects the crew both physically and mentally, encouraging the celebration of a made-up holiday for the purpose of keeping spirits afloat. This is an act which would have been unthinkable for season one Izzy, demonstrating the growth of his character in just six short episodes. His newfound comfort with the crew is further evidenced by the glamorous drag makeup he dons, as well as his performance of “La Vie en Rose,” a song about finding love and peace after a period of pain and suffering. By performing on the night of Calypso’s birthday, Izzy completes the arc the show has laid out for him—setting the precedent for his death in the finale.
In episode eight, Izzy is fatally shot by Prince Ricky Banes (Erroll Shand), the leader of an extensive anti-piracy campaign and the main antagonist of the second season. With his final breaths, Izzy tells Blackbeard that “‘Blackbeard,’ it was us.” This emotional confession provides a new level of context to his character growth. When Blackbeard himself began to turn against him, Izzy was forced to leave behind the comfort that came with the persona of “Blackbeard.” The result was a man in need of a new identity. Over the course of season two—with the support of a crew he nearly gave his life to protect—a new Izzy is born; not out of fear, but out of love.
Season two of Our Flag Means Death serves as a love letter to Israel “Izzy,” Hands. It is formed around the major arc in his character, making his death a natural—albeit tragic—conclusion. Throughout the season’s eight episodes, Izzy is the heart of the crew—and subsequently, of the show’s second season.