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  • Isabelle Morley, PsyD

Realistic Romance: Our Flag Means Death (Season 1)

If you love this show, then you'll also love to hear that the examples of relationships in it are top notch. Keep reading to find out why.

Welcome to the Realistic Romance series, where I analyze and assess popular relationships in television and film. In each post we will explore an on-screen couples and look at relevant psychological concepts to better understand the quality of their relationship, and determine if these partnerships are setting realistic expectations for a good relationship.

Spoiler Alert!

For each of these posts I will be discussing examples and plots, if you haven't seen the movie or show, you may want to watch it first and read this after.

This show is exactly what we needed this year. A tale of one gentleman pirate and one renowned pirate learning from one another, creating a bond that allows them to be themselves. A tale of a motley crew who embrace their individuality, sexuality, and creativity.

It's no wonder there is a cult following. And it's also no wonder that it has been renewed for a second season.

So let's look at what makes this show such a great example of love.


Stede Bonnet

Stede Bonnet is the self-named Gentleman Pirate. A man who, dissatisfied with his cozy but boring life, leaves his wife and two children to sail the high seas on his ship, The Revenge. What he lacks in experience or expertise he makes up for in politeness, kindness, and enthusiasm. Eager to make a name for himself, Stede attempts to overcome his fears while still maintaining a baseline of decorum. He has no idea what he's doing, but he pursues his dream with verve and optimism.

Ed (Blackbeard)

Then there's Blackbeard (or Ed, as we come to know him), who is an infamous and far-renowned pirate. He has all the experience and expertise that Stede doesn't, but is tired of the pirate's life. He is equally as bored and longs for something more sophisticated, relaxing, and meaningful. Ed tries to challenge his crew's expectations of him so that he can embrace new parts of his identity.


Opposites Attract

This is a well-known phrase for a reason. While we might imagine we want a partner exactly like us, who shares the same personality traits and priorities, the truth is that dating ourselves is not as great as we think. Humans do well with balance, and our partners can provide excellent balance by being different than us in helpful ways.

For example, ever noticed how extraverts and introverts tend to pair up? Or how very outgoing and energetic people end up with quieter, calmer partners? And two type-A people don't mix well; they each need too much control to be with someone just like them, and do much better with a more relaxed partner who is willing to let them take the lead. Opposite values might be a problem, but opposite traits is actually a strength.

Stede and Ed provide this balance for each other. While Stede is refined, level-headed, and eager to find a diplomatic solution to any pirate problem, Ed is rough around the edges, hot-headed, and defaults to violence and intimidation when faced with a problem. They don't have the same educational background, skill set, knowledge base, or problem solving strategies.

These differences come together as a relational strength. Some problems need Stede's calm approach, while others require Ed's more impulsive and aggressive tactics. They are able to see and appreciate each other's abilities, and accept influence from one another when necessary. These differences may also become points of contention if Stede and Ed lose sight of how they provide a wonderful balance to their union, as often happens in relationships, but we can hope that they continue to enjoy and appreciate the different strengths that the other person offers.

Good Communication

These two are excellent communicators. You wouldn't expect Blackbeard to have this skill down, and at times he resorts to old behaviors (drinking, violence) instead of saying how he feels, but generally speaking he is able to communicate his feelings and needs. And Stede, raised a gentleman with all the verbal skills that entails, is adept at this as well.

When their relationship hits bumps in the road, they talk about it. When Calico Jack shows up and causes trouble, Stede voices his concerns and hurts. And Ed listens, is willing to see Stede's perspective, and takes action to make it right.

Notice how neither is defensive and angry in response to the other's complaints or requests. They are open and interested. This is a key aspect of good communication- a willingness to really hear the other person without immediately defending yourself.


Lucius and Pete

I can't write a post on Our Flag Means Death without mentioning the relationship between Lucius and Pete. Though not a main plot point, this relationship speaks volumes about the show's general approach to romance.

Lucius and Pete are incredibly different. Lucius is the only crew mate who can read and write, and seems the least pirate-y in many ways, whereas Pete sees himself as the ultimate pirate who (allegedly) served under Blackbeard and has all the pirate answers. Their clandestine romance, at first kept to secret encounters below deck, soon surfaces to a more established relationship.

What I love about this relationship is that although these two are very happy together, they are not wed to unconditional loyalty. They are differentiated. They have their own opinions and relationships outside of their bond. When Pete is made first mate to Izzy and the crew complains, Lucius is right there with them, agreeing that although he loves Pete he knows that Pete is not meant for leadership. They share a romantic love but also maintain the rest of their individuality.

And they, too, are good communicators with clear boundaries. When Izzy attempts to control Lucius by threatening to reveal to Pete that Lucius drew another crew mate naked, Lucius smirks and tells him, "We don't own each other."

We don't own each other.

This one short, simple sentence is everything. It reminds us that we do not get to own our partners actions. We can disagree, we can request change, but end of the day, our partners can do whatever they want. And this sentence also highlights that there is open communication and understanding in these relationships, that Pete knows Lucius draws other men naked and doesn't have a problem with it, whereas Izzy assumed that Lucius would keep this a secret from his lover.

Another good example of this is when Calico Jack enters the scene and reveals to Stede that he and Ed had a romantic relationship in the past. Stede calmly expresses his acceptance of this fact. He doesn't snap back at Calico Jack, or become angry at Ed for having a romantic history with other men, or anything that we might expect to see. There is a general acceptance that everyone's life is their own. There is no attempt to romantically control people.


This show is a shining example of romance. Stede and Ed's affection for each other is sincere and beautifully navigated despite the many obstacles they encounter. The other romances (aside from Izzy and Calico Jack) are also wonderful examples of how one can be authentically themselves, open, and connected.

The pirates of The Revenge learn to embrace and share their feelings. They create secure relationships with each other, where they can express their needs and challenge each other when appropriate. As a crew, they are generally open, direct, honest, and receptive.

I can't say I expected to write a glowing review of pirate relationships but Our Flag Means Death has warranted it. If you're looking for a solid example of a healthy and growing relationship, look no further than Stede and Ed. We can only hope they are able to repair the sudden rupture in their bond in Season Two.

Want More Like This?

If you have a favorite on-screen that you'd like to be a focus of this series, let me know! I'll be writing on all couples, from the obviously healthy to the clearly destructive, and everything in between.

1 Comment

Dec 27, 2022

This series (and this post) is such fun and great to read!

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