The second season of Turn: Washington’s Spies reaches for a climax with the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse, which the British and Continental armies fought in New Jersey on June 28, 1778. The Crown forces were marching from Philadelphia, which they had held since the previous fall, back to their stronghold of New York City. The Americans attacked the British rear.
The two armies contained about 25,000 soldiers, slightly more British than Americans. They fought nearly all day to a standstill. The weather was so hot that nearly a hundred men died of heat stroke. The British then continued their march to New York, unhindered by further large attacks. The Continentals claimed victory because they had, after months of training at Valley Forge, performed better in a pitched battle than ever before.
Unfortunately, the scale of the Monmouth battle is simply beyond what Turn can portray. Last season’s fight at Setauket, which was merely a skirmish, was hard enough. But the series budget shrinks this extended battle involving thousands of men into a few thin lines of soldiers firing at each other and every so often flopping over dramatically but bloodlessly. No amount of slow-motion montage and auxiliary CGI can make the result look impressive.
As in history, the Battle of Monmouth leads to the downfall of Gen. Charles Lee (Brian T. Finney) after a confrontation with Gen. George Washington (Ian Kahn). In Turn, Lee has secretly been working for Maj. John Andre (JJ Feild) of British intelligence. In real life, Lee was probably loyal only to his own ego, and he didn’t go as quietly as his fictional counterpart.
That conflict consumes Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge (Seth Numrich) and Capt. Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall), as well as Washington, Andre, and easily several dozen extras. The rest of the episode is on firmer ground as all the series regulars, including some we haven’t seen in recent weeks, go about their usual desperate betrayals. At one point, Mary Woodhull (Meegan Warner) tells her husband Abe (Jamie Bell), “I believe in you.” Later, Andre snaps, “I believe in Peggy.” In both cases, they rightly believe those people are capable of traducing others.
Indeed, back in Philadelphia, Peggy Shippen (Ksenia Solo) feels bound to seduce Gen. Benedict Arnold (Owain Yeoman) out of loyalty to both Andre and her father. Yet she also insists she can’t marry the dogged American. So Peggy proposes an affair instead. We thus get to see Arnold having sex with her—from behind, of course—as she clutches Andre’s braid.
Meanwhile, in Setauket, Maj. Edmund Hewlett (Burn Gorman) is convinced that the way to get Maj. John Graves Simcoe (Samuel Roukin) removed from Long Island—and from proximity to Anna Strong (Heather Lind)—is to send Andre a full report on the intelligence Abe Woodhull has gathered in New York City. With some smugness, Abe’s father (Kevin T. McNally) tells him that he’ll have to give up real, useful information on Patriots in order to be convincing.
Abe decides to tell Hewlett such sensitive information and then murder him. (Why not do those things the other way around?) But at the last moment, the two ladies in his life pull him away and convince him there’s a better way. “You only have to kill his courier,” says Mary, showing who’s the most ruthless member of the family. Abe nearly does just that before the episode is over, but Hewlett’s knowledge and his coded report are both loose ends for next season.
The one set of characters who show real loyalty for each other are Akinbode (Aldis Hodge), Abigail (Idara Victor), and her son Cicero (Darren Alford), all once enslaved on Long Island but now reunited in New York. A potential family, they discuss whether they should light out for Canada—an unfortunate historical howler. In 1778 slavery was still legal in all British colonies and would remain so for decades. Ironically, the Crown official who set Ontario on a course to becoming a refuge for Americans escaping from slavery before the U.S. Civil War was its first lieutenant governor—a Revolutionary War veteran named John Graves Simcoe.