Crossbones Review: “The Covenant” (Season 1, Episode 2)

Crossbones - Season 1

The second episode of NBC’s Crossbones, “The Covenant,” begins with a rather out-of-the-blue revelation: James Balfour (Peter Stebbings), Blackbeard’s (John Malkovich) wheelchair-bound inventor friend, has actually succeeded in repairing the shiny, golden longitude chronometer that Tom Lowe (Richard Coyle) took such care to destroy at the beginning of the series. How he got it fixed so quickly is beyond me. Anyhow, he has done so, and Blackbeard at last has the weapon that Lowe was so desperate to keep from him.

Soon, however, Blackbeard is faced with another obstacle: a crew of men led by Sam Valentine (Stuart Wilson), an old acquaintance of Blackbeard. The Commodore wants Sam to take the chronometer and sell it to the British forces, led by William Jagger (Julian Sands) in Jamaica. The payment that the Commodore wants: two hell-burners (powerful battleships). Sam has a rather adverse reaction to Blackbeard’s offer, feeling that the chronometer would actually hurt piracy, as it would allow the English to avoid the shipping lanes where pirates are able to prey on them. “This thing means the death of everything that we are,” he declares, much to Blackbeard’s annoyance. Before things can get really nasty, he makes his exit.

Humiliated, Blackbeard is left with a head-scratcher. He can immediately kill Sam, which would have the unfortunate side effect of lending validity to Sam’s claims that Blackbeard no longer has the best interests of his fellow pirates at heart. Or, he can let Sam go, which would bring the English down on the island if Sam betrayed them. Selima El Sharad (Yasmine Al Massri) suggests that Blackbeard should simply forgive Sam, a piece of advice he’s not willing to take. He distracts her by pointing out that he’s still waiting for her to agree to sleep with him. She’s unwilling, as always. It’s interesting to see Blackbeard in that light, as someone who still craves love and intimacy, but the exchange seems oddly shoe-horned in.

Meanwhile, Lowe is settling into the island, where he has been tasked with serving as a surgeon for the pirate community. Fletch (Chris Perfetti), on the other hand, hasn’t found a niche – Lowe says to him early on, “Go and be useful,” which seems more like a desperate plea from the writers than anything else. The character was clearly intended as comic relief, but he’s not very funny. Crossbones has a major problem with Fletch, and so it only features him in a few small scenes this week, preferring to leave him mostly off-screen. Lowe, on the other hand, is staying very busy, though his plans to kill Blackbeard have been shelved – for now.

At the insistence of the lovely Kate (Claire Foy), Lowe visits her husband James, who is in tremendous pain from his shattered legs. Lowe discovers that James has been dealing with the pain with rum and opium, and that part of the reason for his suffering is a feeling of helplessness related to his inability to be a good husband to Kate. We learn that James was incarcerated and tortured at Newgate Prison, which is how he lost use of his legs. It was only through Kate’s machinations that he was rescued and carted away to Blackbeard’s island. Lowe is faced with a pickle of his own – he has feelings for Kate, but sympathy for her crippled husband. Wisely, he chooses to back away from both of them, claiming that his initial session with James more than repaid Kate for her giving him accomodations.

After leaving Kate, Lowe oversees an encounter between Blackbeard and Sam in the town center. Sam, drink in hand, had been entertaining a group of pirates with a tale of Blackbeard’s ruthlessness at sea, in which the feared pirate killed a man simply to reinforce his reputation. Blackbeard overhears and doesn’t take kindly to Sam’s gabbing. The conversation soon turns back to Sam’s perpetual lack of faith in Blackbeard. As he storms off, Sam yells after Blackbeard, “Your ambition will kill us all, Commodore.” He doesn’t seem to realize that his own tongue could do the job for him far more quickly.

Next, we’re treated to a tame scene in a brothel which reminds us just how poorly Crossbones holds up against its TV-MA rated counterpart, Starz’s Black Sails. I wonder why the showrunners even bothered to portray the village whores grinding on top of some lucky pirates when it’s painfully obvious that Crossbones will never be able to match Black Sails in terms of more raunchy content. Luckily, what happens next is more interesting. A woman enters and commands that the whores leave them. She must speak with Valentine’s men… alone.