‘Mother, Mother Ocean/After all the years I’ve found

My occupational hazard/Being my occupation’s just not around’

                                    ‘A Pirate Looks at 40,’ Jimmy Buffet


The concept of the midlife crisis, particularly for men, is pervasive in many Western cultures despite its lack of inevitability (Wethington, 2000). Eriksen (2021)

…discusses the entanglement of masculinity, crisis and ageing and in doing so argues that cultural narratives about men’s midlife crises do more than merely comment on already existing understandings of ageing and should in fact be understood as important components in the ongoing medicalization of middle-aged masculinities (Eriksen, 2021 n.p.).

While this blog is not intended to focus upon medicalisation, the ties between masculinity, crisis and ageing are quite relevant to romantic comedy-drama Our Flag Means Death (HBO Max, 2022-2023). I have given a precis of OFMD before which covers the first series but a key element of the premise is the midlife crises which both Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) and Edward Teach/Blackbeard (Taika Waititi) are suffering when the series begins. That Stede wishes to become a pirate and Ed wishes to leave piracy illustrates that a career change can be associated with the resolution of such crises (Sagal and DeBlassie, 1981) and, indeed, by the end of the second and final series both characters begin new careers as innkeepers in order to achieve a stable relationship with each other. This is accomplished in part through accepting the queer masculinity of love (Alexander, 2020) – sex with people of the same gender is subculturally normalised – in contrast to the need for dominance and isolation of toxic/hegemonic masculinity (Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005; Sculos, 2017).

The second series picks up slightly after the first. Stede, having tried to abandon piracy and Ed for his former life because he was panicking over the change (and by yet another inadvertent death occurring near him), returns to the sea in search of Ed and his ship, the Revenge. For his part, Ed has become more brutal through a combination of madness and heartbreak due to Stede abandoning him, exacerbation of a pre-existing moral injury (murdering his abusive father as seen in 1.7) and drug abuse. He directly kills his victims of piracy[1] and abuses his own crew, up to and including shooting his (later stated) beloved friend and first mate Izzy (Con O’Brien) immediately after Izzy tells Ed that he ‘[has] love for him’ and suggests talking Ed’s pain through. Izzy’s unintentional mimicry of Stede is what causes the assault; subsequent trauma Ed inflicts upon Izzy leads to Ed having what is clearly shown to be a psychological breakdown. This culminates in threatening to destroy the Revenge in a storm which would kill everyone, if crewperson Jim (Vico Ortiz) and their girlfriend Archie (Madeleine Sami) do not fight to the death, something which is characterised as another attack on love (cf Alexander, 2020 on queer masculinities as a threat or challenge to toxic/hegemonic masculinities).[2] Instead of killing Archie, however, Jim realises that Ed is going to destroy the ship anyway and they and the rest of the crew attack him, nearly fatally. After a near-death experience which Stede, having found his way back to the Revenge, coaxes Ed back from, much of the rest of series two shows the characters dealing with their various traumas. Though the exact strategies differ slightly, they all focus on creating a narrative of survival and recovery.

Survival narratives related to trauma are sometimes considered to be an alternative to narratives of victimisation in which survival is equated with strength as opposed to victimhood which is equated with weakness. Crossley (1999) notes that such narratives can be read as either liberating or repressing trauma but notes ‘…this question can only be answered in the practical and social context of each individual’s life’ (Crossley, 1999: 1685). More recent work by Kosenko and Laboy (2014) finds that ‘narratives of growth and optimism, grief and loss, providence, self-reliance, and justice were common’ (Kosenko and Laboy, 2014: 1). Justice, however, is not to be confused with revenge in either the study or the series as OFMD explicitly rejects revenge as a useful or valid part of the survival and recovery narratives. Archie says of trauma: ‘they [the perpetrators] just get away with it and we move on,’ which in context is more associated with acceptance of the trauma as opposed to forgiveness, a need for revenge or dwelling upon it. That said, though most of the crew distrusts Ed until much later in series two, Lucius (Nathan Foad) in particular has difficulty moving on from the previous series when Ed pushed him over the side of the ship. After this (between the two series), Lucius was passed from ship to ship, and was abused and traumatised by the experience. Though he initially blames Stede (for ‘breaking’ Ed), Lucius’ ire is refocused upon Ed once the crew are reunited. In an attempt to atone and restore trust, Ed lets Lucius push him off the ship which, though temporarily making Lucius feel better, does not end the problem which has also caused difficulties with his relationship with his boyfriend Pete (Matthew Maher). It is only after Pete reminds Lucius that he also suffered by believing Lucius dead and that the fact that Lucius survived is worthy of acknowledgement that Lucius begins to reconsider. This culminates with a conversation with Izzy, whose own physical and psychological trauma becomes the focus for the rest of the crew to come together to support him, encourages Lucius to move on, giving him a wooden shark which represents the fiction Izzy uses to explain the loss of his leg. Much like Crossley (1999), Lucius notes that this is a form of repression, but Izzy counters by saying that not moving on is worse. As Lucius is an artist, this form of communication allows him to begin to move on through first making art of Pete and then asking Pete to spend the rest of his life with him. Though the series takes place centuries before same-gender marriages were legalised, to all intents and purposes they marry at the end of 2.8.

This love, both romantic and platonic, which leads to support, is shown to be a key factor in survival and recovery. The majority of the mutineers and the rest of the crew who rejoined the Revenge after the mutiny had taken place, Lucius somewhat excepted, find support in collectively helping Izzy, who loses a leg to gangrene after Ed shoots him and who also tries to protect the mutineers from being punished by the pirate queen Zheng Yi Sao (Ruibo Qian) for that crime. Neither love nor survival themselves are viewed as a means to an end, however. Instead, the focus on change is also shown to being key to recovery as well as a potential danger to love. Both Davis et al. (2015) and Kwasnicka et al. (2016) note that a desire for change is key to maintaining that change. Both Stede and Ed change a great deal across series two. On Stede’s side, he becomes poor, having renounced his fortune to his ex-wife in order to return to Ed and piracy, but he also becomes a murderer in 2.6. He throws a violin at torturer and pirate Ned Low (Bronson Pinchot) which knocks Low off the ship’s plank and into the sea after the crew thwart Low’s takeover of the Revenge. While this leads to Stede overcoming some fear and making love to Ed later that night, the infamy and attendant perceived popularity and strength lead Stede to, amongst other things, set an aggressor on fire and challenge Zheng to a duel. While their fight is interrupted by the destruction of her fleet and takeover of the Republic of Pirates by Prince Ricky Banes (Erroll Shand) and the English Navy, such a situation leads Stede back to his senses. His battle cry during the fight against the English, ‘for love!’, illustrates again within OFMD that love is positioned as true strength rather than the false machismo Stede initially attempts after he kills Low.

For his part, Ed tries to renounce plunder and piracy several times after his near-death experience. This is guided by Stede but encouraged by Buttons (Ewen Bremner) who has similarly had near-death experiences in what he terms ‘the gravy bucket.’ He tells Ed that what he learnt in his time in the bucket was ‘that to love the sea as she must be loved requires change,’ with the clear implication that Buttons means that Ed must change to be with Stede. That said, as Ed is also explicitly self-loathing in the near-death experience, it can also be read as referring to self-love as well, something long known as a key to the resolution of a midlife crisis (Sagal and DeBlassie, 1981). Ed renouncing violence also protects Stede from falling deeper into moral darkness; as Izzy points out prior to this, Ed and Stede balance each other. This is in contrast to Izzy himself, who encourages Ed and Stede to get together despite his own feelings for Ed.[3]

Izzy’s growth over the course of the two series is marked; though his life crisis is more to do with injury than ageing per se, it is the support of the crew, coupled with his own perspective upon piracy, which allows his crisis to be resolved. In series one, Izzy routinely expressed toxic/hegemonic masculinity, particularly with regard to deriding emotion as weakness. As shown in series two, this was due to his own feelings for Blackbeard/Ed which he begins to acknowledge in 2.1. The support of the crew, including an intervention in 2.1 about Izzy’s ‘unhealthy’ relationship with Blackbeard before the injury, helps him move beyond that toxic/hegemonic perspective as well as seeing the damage done to Ed by Stede’s absence and Izzy’s own presence as he acknowledges to Stede in 2.3, blaming himself and Stede both for Ed’s breakdown. He then tells Stede that they cannot let the crew suffer more for their mistakes, showing that he can express emotional connections by this point. Having been captured along with most of the Revenge crew in the final episode (2.8), Izzy tells Prince Ricky that piracy is ‘…about belonging to something when the world has told you you’re nothing. It’s about finding the family to kill for when yours are long dead. It’s about letting go of ego for something larger. The crew.’ While this not only deepens the nuances of the character and of pirates in general, this also illustrates that lasting change must be wanted and that support and love are key. Near the end of the episode, when (spoiler, sorry) Izzy is dying, he apologises to Ed. ‘I fed your darkness, Blackbeard. […] I needed him. But you’re good now, you’re ready. […] You’re surrounded by family. Just be Ed. There he is…’ While this is a clear callback to the identity crisis of series one relating to Ed and his Blackbeard persona, it also is a renunciation of the toxic/hegemonic masculinity Blackbeard represents, an acknowledgement of the harm toxic/hegemonic masculinity does, and an encouragement of queer masculinity, here meaning both Stede and Ed, in the context of emotion. Indeed, as part of Stede and Ed leaving the Revenge and opening an inn together in order to continue to grow their relationship, Ed explicitly chooses not to seek vengeance on Prince Ricky for Izzy’s death. Instead, Izzy’s grave is on their property, keeping him close.[4]

Growing older can be difficult. Toxic/hegemonic masculinity and its need for isolation, dominance and repression of emotion only make things worse, particularly in times of crisis. As OFMD shows throughout its entire run, midlife change can be by turns beneficial and catastrophic and take people’s lives into unimagined directions. With support and love, however characterised, these changes can lead to self-renewal, stability and meaning. A pirate’s look at forty, though somewhat melancholic in Jimmy Buffet’s song, need not be an ending. Instead, as with Stede and Ed’s inn, and Lucius and Pete’s marriage, it can be a new beginning.


Dr Melissa Beattie is a recovering Classicist who was awarded a PhD in Theatre, Film and TV Studies from Aberystwyth University where she studied Torchwood and national identity through fan/audience research as well as textual analysis. She has published and presented several papers relating to transnational television, audience research and/or national identity. She is currently an adjunct with Southern New Hampshire University and is under contract with Lexington for an academic book on fictitious countries and Palgrave for a book on Canadian crime dramas. She has previously worked at universities in the US, Korea, Pakistan, Armenia, Ethiopia and for a brief time in Cambodia. She can be contacted at tritogeneia@aol.com.



[1]     Previously Ed had left people to die but did not kill them directly.

[2]     That the demand can be read as misogynistic is also explicitly acknowledged in the episode.

[3]     In 2.6, when Stede and Ed finally make love (mostly off-camera) it is while Izzy is singing ‘La Vie en Rose’ on deck to the rest of the crew.

[4]     A gull lands on Izzy’s grave at the end of the series. This implies that Buttons, whose encouragement to Ed to change for love was immediately followed by his metamorphosis into a gull, was also still present.



Alexander B K (2022) Queer(y)ing masculinities: Revisited. In Cooper L R (ed). The Routledge Companion to Masculinity in American Literature And Culture. London: Routledge, pp. 93-118.

Connell R W and Messerschmidt J W (2005) Hegemonic masculinity: Rethinking the concept. Gender and Society. 19(6): 829-859.

Crossley M L (1999) Stories of illness and trauma survival: liberation or repression? Social Science & Medicine 48: 1685-1695.

Davis R et al (2015) Theories of behaviour and behaviour change across the social and behavioural sciences: a scoping review. Health Psychology Review 9(3): 323-344.

Eriksen C B (2021) Men in/and crisis: The cultural narrative of men’s midlife crises. Journal of Aging Studies 57: Article 100926/n.pag. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaging.2021.100926

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Sculos B W (2017) Who’s afraid of ‘Toxic Masculinity’?. Class, Race and Corporate Power. 5(3): n.p.

Wethington E (2000) Expecting Stress: Americans and the “Midlife Crisis.” Motivation and Emotion. 24(2): 85-103.