Crossbones Series Premiere Review: “The Devil’s Dominion” (Season 1, Episode 1)

Crossbones - Season 1

Lowe, representative of everything Blackbeard hates, is made to understand that he’s merely tolerated on the island, but he has snark of his own for the pirate. Their dance is short-lived, however, seeing as Lowe manages to successfully poison Blackbeard on his first try. Lowe is fleeing with Fletch, ready to dash off in a rowboat, when the two randomly witness a beachside meeting between a high-ranking Spanish official and the pirates. In a particularly unconvincing piece of dialogue, Lowe realizes that an attack on Britain is imminent and he must stick around to prevent it. So, he dashes back to Blackbeard’s side, slipping him an antidote and tricking the pirate into believing that he should be thanking Lowe instead of hanging him.

That twist is handled quite poorly and distracts from the main battle between Lowe and Blackbeard – it appears that Crossbones is aiming to put the two on the same team, though watching Malkovich and Coyle face off is really the only fun to be had in the pilot. Neil Cross did himself no favors with writing on this episode. Lowe’s success in poisoning his foe undermines Blackbeard’s status as an all-powerful, teeth-gnashing big bad for the show, but Spanish militarymen are far less interesting enemies for Lowe to combat.

Looking at Crossbones as a whole, the show has a few things going for it. First and foremost in that category is Malkovich – he’s a terrific actor, and his Blackbeard is very fun to watch. The marketing team was smart to focus almost exclusively on him, as he’ll be what audiences keep coming back for. Coyle, too, could be a good lead if his character is made more interesting – the actor is certainly not bad in the role, though he may be a tough sell to American audiences. The strong production values, which do an excellent job of selling the show’s 1729 setting, are also a plus for Crossbones.

That brings us to where the show falls short. The writing is weak in the pilot, and it will have to improve quite a lot for it to remain watchable. The unlikable supporting character of Fletch is also a problem, though admittedly a lesser one. The biggest offender, oddly, is the camerawork. Crossbones wants to be received as a jaunty pirate caper, complete with swashbuckling action and political intrigue, but the flat, dull way in which every scene is shot works to squeeze the life from it.

The weirdest thing about Crossbones, though, is that for a primetime network show, it’s shockingly ill-crafted to sustain itself through multiple seasons. The battle of wits between Blackbeard and Lowe is already over in some ways, with Lowe as the clear winner, and having the protagonist waste an entire season translating a code for the pirate would send the show’s credibility completely out the window.

So, where Crossbones is going next is still uncertain. The show has a lot of flaws, some of which are pretty glaring. Malkovich’s performance is what will have to carry it going forward, and though the next episode, “The Covenant,” will hopefully establish how the show can sustain itself, “The Devil’s Dominion” doesn’t have Crossbones off to a very promising start.