This is a scene read of Our Flag Means Death S1 E5 0:26:35 to 0:28:05. The idea is to describe the cinematography, dynamics, and subtle expression in the scene to tease apart exactly how and what it’s communicating. I suggest watching the full scene first, then replaying it stopping and starting while reading along so you can review it in a new context. Then watch the whole thing again with new eyes. Once you learn to read the subtle languages of cinematography and specific actors’ microexpressions, many new layers of subtext open up. Most viewers understand this subtext on an instinctual level, but being able to spot it consciously makes the meaning and intentions even clearer.
0:26:35 Across-deck shot on The Revenge showing the side rail with two cannons pointing out to the ocean. the Full moon hangs high in the sky directly overhead with a ribbon of light reflecting off the rippling water. Ed stands near the right canon running the handkerchief through his hands.
0:26:38 Cut to a close-up shot of Ed feeling the fabric.
0:26:41 Cut to a similar closeup inside in the daytime, with the handkerchief looking much newer. A young Ed holds it, his face coming in from camera left (the past). He looks across to camera right and the future to his mother’s voice.
0:26:45 Cut to Ed’s Mother saying, matter-of-factly with a sad smile: “We’re just not those kind of people.”
0:26:47 Cut back to Ed on the boat looking sadly over the side towards the future at camera right.
Voice over of Ed’s mother: “We never will be.”
0:26:50 Some faint sound pulls Ed’s attention back to the ship, his face lit with the distant fire on the party ship.
0:26:52 Camera over Ed’s shoulder as he turns around. At first intimately on his face turned towards the darkness, and then it refocuses across his shoulder to camera left (the past) with Stede stepping towards him, the railing on the ship, and camera right (the future).
Stede, gently: “Sorry tonight was a bit of a bust.”
Stede walks around so that he’s standing close to the rail where Ed will naturally look behind him towards the open water rather than the fire. Visually distracting and grounding Ed away from looking at what hurt him. It’s just Stede and the ocean, lit mostly by the moon from camera right (the future) with some lingering orange fire falling on Stede from camera left (the past).
0:26:55 Camera cuts to a mid-torso conversational shot over Stede’s shoulder as Ed turns around towards him.
Ed, resigned: “Nah mate, you were right. Wasn’t ready.”
0:26:59 Camera cuts back to Stede.
Stede, correcting like it’s a careless idle thought but with a gently subtle pointedness: “I dunno. I think you’re very sophisticated.”
Stede smiles and looks down at Ed’s hands.
Ed whispers with a plaintive mournful catch in his voice: “Thank you.”
Ed moves the red silk handkerchief into view, and we see that’s what Stede’s looking at. Ed’s fidgeting with it to calm his nerves down through physical touch. There’s an intimacy to Stede watching that touch and seeing Ed struggle to ground himself in this moment.
Stede, like he’s making idyl conversation, giving Ed privacy with his pain, low-stakes distraction, and a space to talk about it if he’d like: “Why that’s a lovely piece of silk you have there.”
0:27:06 The camera cuts back to Ed and we see the handkerchief fully in view now. Ed looks at it like he’s only now aware it has a visual form that anyone who’s looking can see, but Stede is the first one to look.
Ed, dejected, dismissing what it represents to him: “Oh, this tatty old thing?” There’s the sense he’s also talking about himself, aging and out of place.
0:27:07 Cut back to Stede.
Stede, earnestly and almost boyishly wistful: “Well sometimes the best things are the old things.”
Stede reaches out his open hand towards Ed and the handkerchief as a request, giving Ed permission to refuse, but with the authority of a teacher.
Stede: “May I?”
0:27:14 When Ed freezes but relaxes his grip, Stede gently but firmly pulls it from Ed’s hands. Ed’s eyes follow him with suspicion, waiting to be hurt by this but still taking a chance on hope.
0:27:17 Camera cuts to that first distanced silhouetted side-shot of Stede on the left and Ed on the right between the canons towards the center of the shot (the now). The moon hangs over them, lighting them, with its trail of light in the water dividing them. A post of the rail also visually divides them, and the top of the rail divides Stede and Ed from the water, keeping them from both the ocean’s dangers and its freedom.
Stede neatly and silently folds the handkerchief in front of him so that Ed can follow what he’s doing. The silhouette also recalls a schoolmaster reading to his pupils. Ed can’t read and was never educated because “they weren’t those kinds of people.” Stede is the first person to teach Ed things like he could belong to that world if he wanted, and no rocky start was the end of the road. Stede is helping him to learn, not waiting for him to fail, however many tries that takes.
When Stede finishes folding the cloth he brings it closer to his chest on the left (the past) and then reaches to the right (the future) over the dark divide between them. Stede moves in front of the rail post, blocking it, which expands the moonlight on the water to encompass them both united. Only then does Stede come in close and linger there as he adjusts the square in Ed’s pocket.
Stede, softly: “There we go.”
0:27:21 Next is an intensely intimate shot of Ed. We see the shot is directly over Stede’s shoulder and perspective as he rocks one step back to admire the pocket square. Ed’s wearing a white shirt and dark vest with a white lacy blouse. The bright light of the full moon is coming from camera left (the past) shining towards camera right (the future). From left to right, past to future, the eye is drawn by lighter contrast across the curve of Ed’s shoulder in the bright white shirt, the streaks of white in Ed’s greying beard, the way the light plays off his soft gruff curls as they cascade onto the lace ruff, his ear, his brow, the curves of his nose, and his shadowed dropped left shoulder. Since Ed is turned away from the light, we can’t easily see his eyes, vest, or pocket square.
Ed looks to his left (his past, the show’s future) towards the pocket square, which also represents the painful memories he’s been dwelling on remade by Stede’s hands into something beautiful that shows he could have a place here. Ed turns towards the light to see the pocket square better and we see Ed more clearly through Stede’s eyes. Ed tenderly pulls at his vest just millimeters away from the pocket square clearly wanting to touch it but being afraid he’ll disrupt its delicate nature and presentation with his gruffness. The eye is drawn down the lighting of Ed’s forehead, the ridge of his nose, his beard, the pocket square, and his very short nails and hand to his wrist with a visual triangle also pulling the gaze to his previously dark shoulder partially framed into the future. We are very intimately aware of Ed’s physicality as he moves, like a visual caress.
Stede, gently, with a sense of ordinary wonder: “Look at that!”
Ed looks back up at Stede timidly.
0:27:28 Camera cuts to Stede, much closer than before, cocking his head to the side with a smile looking at it.
Stede, lilting with pride: “You wear fine things well.”
0:27:31 Cut back to Ed looking back at Stede like he’s wondering what this man could possibly be seeing in him. He exhales nervously with an edge of disbelief and a desire to know.
0:27:33 Cut back to Stede with a shot partially blocked by Ed’s neck framing only Stede’s kind face lit by the moonlight. Stede also exhales back with satisfaction.
0:27:36 Cut to a much closer side shot of them. The moon is cut off and all is in dark silhouettes except the reflection of the moon on the ocean between them. Ed steps forward to bridge the divide this time as if to meet Stede in a kiss, but Stede freezes.
Ed is afraid he’s missed the cues and pulls himself up short, putting up his hand like he wants to reach out to Stede and doesn’t know how or if that’s wanted.
Ed, unsure of where to go now: “Okay.”
Stede awkwardly yips: “Yep!”
Stede redirects his hand into a fist to bump on Stede’s arm, reasserting the walls of his bro-y masculinity that Stede had disarmed with the fine cloth.
Stede, reacting like this is the natural order of things: “Good night.”
Ed, gently: “Night-night.”
Ed reaches out and claps Stede on the shoulder in the sort of fatherly affection way Ed probably never got and always wanted. They turn away from each other going in opposite directions.
0:27:44 Camera cuts to Stede’s face so with that as they both walk in different directions, they’re both angled into the future. Stede starts to turn like he’s going back towards the past and the lights of the party and watches Ed walking into the dark towards the future. Ed stops to look back at Stede. Again, with the white shirt and the light, we are aware of the form of Ed’s body.
0:27:49 Camera cuts to Stede from Ed’s perspective standing towards camera left, the disastrous party, and the past again. The moment of connection is receding as Ed pulls back into himself for protection. Gentle, solemn piano music starts to play. Stede steps out of the shot and the camera refocuses on Ed turning back towards the moonlight and camera right to look at the pocket square. This time he reaches out and runs his hand over it in a caress of longing before he too walks off camera.
0:28:00 We return to the shot looking over the railing where they once stood in that moment of intimacy, but they’re no longer there. The moment has passed. The boat feels lonely in their absence. The shot fades to black.