Our Flag Means Death’s excellent Season 2 was not shy in altering its characters. Hell, one transmogrified into a seagull. But most transformations were internal. Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) found confidence and something suspiciously approaching capability, climaxing in his first cold-blooded kill and resultant infamy. Blackbeard (a.k.a. Edward Teach, played by Taika Waititi) has the opposite trajectory: after going on a raiding spree and becoming more homicidal than ever before, he became serious about giving up piracy for good.
[Warning: Spoilers for the Season 2 finale of Our Flag Means Death below.]
But arguably Season 2’s most dramatic and fascinating character arc belongs to Izzy Hands (Con O’Neill), Blackbeard’s first mate. Before Season 2, the idea that I would cry at the death of Izzy Hands was unlikely. But I did; after serving as a roadblock for the show’s greatest relationship in Season 1, Izzy Hands became the standout character—a well-written, brilliantly acted, complicated man whose journey sculpted the fabric of the show.
Even in the first season, Izzy had a large, loving fan base. I say “even in the first season,” because the series drops in on Izzy and Blackbeard when their long relationship has turned toxic. In Season 1, Izzy has a very specific idea of who he wants Blackbeard to be, based on who he was when the two began sailing with each other. Izzy desires the leather-clad, devious, cunning, murderous version of Blackbeard.
But Blackbeard spent the season questioning whether he wants to be that person anymore. He admitted to being bored with piracy, drawing him toward Stede, the “Gentleman Pirate.” Blackbeard increasingly just wanted to be Ed, and when he spent time with Stede, he got that opportunity. This did not sit well, however, with Izzy.
As a result, Izzy constantly tried to separate Stede and Ed throughout Season 1. As Izzy tried to pull Ed back into his old patterns, he became a deeply complicated character—within the show and the fanbase. Even the crew turned on Izzy for his extreme attitude. And when, at the end of the season, Ed had the opportunity to stay “Ed”—not Blackbeard—after his break with Stede, Izzy intervenes, telling him, “I serve Blackbeard. Not Edward.”
With the hindsight of Season 2, it’s easier to see that Izzy’s actions stemmed from a genuine love for Blackbeard and grief that Blackbeard no longer seemed to feel the same way. That’s what made Izzy such an electric, if initially polarizing, character: The reasons for his actions were empathetic, but his means became unjustifiable. If, like me, your primary concern is for the blossoming romance between Stede and Ed, Izzy could be construed as a straight-up antagonist.
The second season became the exploration of what happens when Izzy gets his wish, when a toxic relationship keeps someone from their natural growth. Ed became an especially maniacal, hardcore version of Blackbeard, dragging everyone around him into survival mode. Izzy eventually had to own up to the fact that he’s the reason why this transformation occurred, so he has to be the one to fix it. It loses him his leg.
It took the loss of his limb for me to start warming up to Izzy. Long gone are the days the crew would think of tossing him overboard: To watch him then go through his own transformation into, in the crew’s words, “the new unicorn” was astounding to behold. It takes courage to change yourself, and perhaps even more to accept that the people you love have changed. Izzy, in a very short span, was brave and reflective enough to do both. He became impossible not to love and root for.
The extent of the transformation is clear by the sixth episode “Calypso’s Birthday,” when Izzy accepted Wee John’s (Kristian Nairn) invitation to glam himself out. A character previously defined by his contempt and hard-assery now was entering a party in beautiful makeup and hair to sing “La Vie En Rose.” That’s quite the shift. Fans—newfound and old—adored it.
Which is why it’s all the more gutting that, at the end of the Season 2 finale, Izzy receives a fatal gun wound. Prince Ricky Barnes’ shot (Erroll Shand) is random and haphazard, but it hits in a damning spot. As an aside, though—who the hell thought it was a good idea to let a hostage keep a loaded gun, hm?! Izzy, Stede, Ed—no one thought of this? Really?!
In the moments before his death, Izzy asks for “Eddie.” He brings full circle the realization of the nature of his toxic relationship: “I fed your darkness, Blackbeard. For years, I egged him on, even though I knew you’d outgrown him, but the truth is—I needed him. Blackbeard, it was us.” His final words are, “Just be Ed. There he is.”
On one hand, it’s cruel to kill a character at the crest of their redemption—especially for a show like OFMD, where fans connect to the characters so deeply. While Izzy had a hearty fanbase during Season 1, the entire OMFD fanbase came to love him in Season 2. His pain was palpable, his struggle was empathetic, his growth was genuine. The “La Vie En Rose” moment is likely to go straight into the metaphorical pop culture hall of fame, especially for how that moment of tenderness and beauty reflects in light of Izzy’s death.
On the other hand, what an absolutely incredible character arc. I’ve begun to judge character deaths by the following metrics: whether their personal arc comes to a satisfying close, and if their death drives other characters’ narratives forward in a meaningful way. Here, the answer to both is yes. Izzy went from the root of a toxic relationship to a champion of his community, and in his death, his grave became the seed upon which a healthier future for the man he loved could be born.
Critically, I don’t think Izzy’s death was the sole instigator of Ed’s growth. That growth was already happening—Izzy’s final permission to leave piracy, which he had already expressed in encouraging Ed to listen to how good it felt to ditch his leathers, just hastened a process. Hoping that Our Flag Means Death gets a third season, we’ll see how his influence lingers.