Turn: Benediction review

The focus is on Benedict Arnold as the action heats up on the latest installment of Turn: Washington's Spies.

This Turn: Washington’s Spies review contains spoilers.

Turn Season 3 Episode 3

The action on Turn: Washington’s Spies heated up this week as several characters set out to spring murderous traps on others. Needless to say, none of those traps worked out entirely as planned.

“Benediction” begins with Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall) and his Continental company, dressed not unlike Pirates of the Caribbean, coming ashore at Rocky Point, Long Island. As established last week, they are on a covert mission to attack Capt. John Graves Simcoe (Samuel Roukin) and his Queen’s Rangers. The scene then cuts to Simcoe himself, lecturing his soldiers on their own own covert hunt for the elusive American spy known as “Samuel Culper.” But then another cut reveals that Robert Rogers (Angus MacFadyen), former agent for the king, is tracking the situation for vengeful reasons of his own. The coming collision promises to be a thrill, though it won’t be so much fun when someone loses an eye.

A few scenes later, we see Maj. Ben Tallmadge (Seth Numrich) stalking a traitorous Continental chaplain named Worthington as he ominously recites from Psalm 23 (the “valley of the shadow of death” one). Tallmadge dresses in civilian clothes, thus risking being hanged as a spy, to follow Worthington into a forest in neutral territory between the armies. After the chaplain leaves a letter in a hiding-place, the major jumps out and holds him at pistol point.

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The Rev. Worthington tearfully explains that working with the British was “an act of grace.” Then he adds, “Washington is a fool”— not a good way to win sympathy from Tallmadge. The major shoots point blank at the chaplain, who drops dead beside his dead drop. Unfortunately for Ben, he’s not the only armed person in that stretch of woods.

Back in Setauket, Anna Strong (Heather Lind) tries to convince Mary Woodhull (Meegan Warner) to convince her husband to give up spying and leave Long Island. But Maryinsists that she still trusts Abe (Jamie Bell) and will stand by him, even if he’s just taken their cute toddler off to his burnt-out cabin and plans to keep spying despite having almost no cover left. Mary’s motivations, though always clear, remain hard to fathom.

Faced with this obstacle, Anna comes up with—what else?—a duplicitous plan. She forges a letter from her husband Selah, not seen since season 1, saying he’s ready to “purchase a divorce.” (Divorces in the late eighteenth century varied under the laws of different states, but they didn’t come with a purchase price and always took a long time.) Anna takes this letter to Maj. Edmund Hewlett (Burn Gorman) and accepts the proposal of marriage he offered at the end of the last episode. But only, she insists, if he resigns his army commission and they move to Britain. (Retiring British officers usually sold their ranks to junior officers, a system that worked only a slight bit better than one would imagine.)

Hewlett is, of course, delighted by Anna’s suggestion. Abe isn’t, but not because his old flame is ready to go off with a man he plans to kill one of these days. Instead, he declares that Anna should stay to maintain the spy ring. Anna responds, “I love him. Enough. To be his wife.” Abe remains unconvinced. News of the marriage also offends Judge Richard Woodhull (Richard T. McNally), causing him to snap at Hewlett. The judge’s words so miff the major that he proclaims he and Anna will marry and stay in Setauket—just what she doesn’t want to happen. And of course her husband is still awaiting her on the mainland, not saving up for a divorce.

The title of this episode is “Benediction,” and there are several verbal allusions to blessings. But with Benedict Arnold now among Turn’s regulars, that title directs our attention squarely at him. Gen. Arnold (Owain Yeoman) is actually happy at the start of this episode. An inquiry into his actions as military governor of Philadelphia has cleared him. He’s arranged for a young man to be released from a British military prison and granted a lucrative job in Philadelphia, thus able to marry the eldest Shippen daughter. That frees up her younger sister Peggy (Ksenia Solo) to finally marry Arnold, as he desires and she dreads.

But then in the middle of a celebratory family dinner party, Arnold receives word that the inquiry is back on. He takes this news in Arnoldian fashion, bellowing like a wounded ox and stomping out of the room. Peggy Shippen tells the guests that he’s received sad news from his sister. In private she springs the episode’s final trap: she suggests Arnold can “destroy” his nemeses in the American government by working with an officer she met when the British occupied Philadelphia, a Maj. John André. “Now I see I can help the man I love,” Peggy tells Arnold, concealing how that man is really André.

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Turn continues to be a handsome production, using its Virginia locations well. Many interior scenes are lit by candles for dramatic effect. Indeed, the producers may even have chosen to stage dinners in the evening for those candlelit settings; in the eighteenth century, people actually ate dinner in the early afternoon with only a light supper at the end of the day. There are times in this episode when the authentic darkness makes it harder to follow the action, particularly in the three-way battle between Brewster’s soldiers, Simcoe’s Rangers, and Rogers. But overall the look of the show remains one of its strengths.

Since Turn is only up to the fall of 1778 and Arnold didn’t plot directly with André until 1780, will the show stretch out the process of Peggy Shippen’s winning over Arnold, or will it jump ahead to his betrayal of Washington? Other questions that demand answers this season:

  • Are we really to believe that Abe can take care of a toddler by himself?

  • In episode one, Maj. André made a big deal of warning his young house servant Cicero not to read the official dispatches bound in red ribbon. So when will Cicero secretly read the official dispatches bound in red ribbon?

  • Where is Akinbode, the Africa-born Queen’s Ranger who last season became Simcoe’s lieutenant?

  • Will Caleb Brewster ever get a private motivation or plot of his own?

J. L. Bell is the author of The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War (Westholme, 2016). In 2012 he completed a study of Gen. George Washington’s first campaign of the Revolutionary War, which included new findings about the commander-in-chief’s first successes and failures in espionage. Bell maintains the Boston1775.net blog, which offers daily doses of history, analysis, and unabashed gossip about the start of the American Revolution in New England. He is also an associate editor of the Journal of the American Revolution and an assistant editor of the Colonial Comics anthologies (Fulcrum).


4 out of 5