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Friday, April 1, 2016

Woman of the Month: Max


Max from Black Sails
TW: mention of rape
There is a striking monologue made by Max at the start of season three, one which I'll type out here in its entirety.
"I own a tavern, a brothel, a tanner, a butcher. Interests in a dozen other concerns on the street. I am the one they come to here when they need things. Want things, fear things. In another time, in another place, they would call me a queen. I built this from nothing. And none of it is real. It is built upon things I cannot control; cannot predict. It is built on sand. And when the day comes when that foundation shifts, when civilization returns, do you know what they will call me then? The whore that lost everything."
She says this while bathing, listening to the sounds of the brothel around her, reminding herself not only of the precariousness of her current position, but her own past and the comparative reliability of the world's oldest profession. The dialogue encompasses all that Max is: ambitious but cautious; powerful but vulnerable; seductive but sincere, and intelligent enough to know all of this.
Black Sails is a show whose characters are constantly in flux, but none more so than Max. In three seasons she's gone from a prostitute to a madam to a tavern keeper to the chief fence and supplier of the pirates on Nassau, and finally a respected advisor to Governor Woodes Rogers. Sharp-witted and cool-headed, she's initially driven by a desire to escape a life of prostitution that puts her in cahoots with John Silver – but which also leads to a prolonged gang-rape that casts her into the role of Distressed Damsel.
What prevents this turn of events from being too gratuitous is that her rescuers are two women – women who despise each other, but who care enough about Max to work together in pursuit of her safety. Even before Max becomes a player, she is a catalyst for extraordinary change among the pirate leaders, and from the ashes of her ordeal she finds herself slowly climbing the ladder of influence.
By the third season we glean a little insight into her backstory: that she was born into slavery (presumably in Haiti given her French creole accent) as the illegitimate child of the slave-owner, given to watching her white half-sister through the window of her father's home. In light of this it's obvious why she strives for a life of financial security, but her newfound power forces her to make terrible compromises and betray those she was once close to.
If there's a single word I would use to describe Max, it would be "dignified". Despite everything she's been through, she remains gracious, composed and poised – almost regal in her bearing and mannerisms. In three seasons she's grown into one of the show's most fascinating characters, and her ability to retain her kindness and compassion (even as she excels in manipulation and seduction) is one of the many reasons why I hope she'll make it out of Nassau alive.

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