Turn: Blade on the Feather Review
Betrayal begins to eat at West Point in the latest episode of Turn: Washington's Spies.
This Turn: Washington’s Spies review contains some spoilers.
Turn Season 3 Episode 9
This season’s penultimate episode of Turn: Washington’s Spies opens with a panning shot of West Point, the Continental Army’s fortified position at a strait of the Hudson River forty miles north of New York City. For people who know even a little of the story of Benedict Arnold, that’s a key location, and a sign that this season is approaching its climactic confrontations.
All the big secrets come out! “Culper is a cabbage farmer named Abraham Woodhull,” Maj. Edmund Hewlett (Burn Gorman) tells Maj. John André (JJ Feild). “Benedict Arnold is a traitor,” Anna Strong (Heather Lind) reports to Capt. Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall). But after those revelations, can André and Brewster pass on their crucial new intelligence fast enough? We see many shots of horsemen galloping through autumn woods.
This episode of Turn offers fewer surprise twists than others this season. The double-dealing of Gen. Benedict Arnold (Owain Yeoman) is a foundational fact of American history, recounted in many books, most recently Nathaniel Philbrick’s Valiant Ambition. We viewers have therefore spent all season anticipating the moment when Gen. George Washington (Ian Kahn) finally tumbles to his protégé’s betrayal. The show can shift the timing of that event by nearly two years (from late 1780 to late 1778 or early 1779). It can tweak some details. But Arnold will not change his mind, André will not make it back to the British lines, and Washington will not be captured—even in the Turn universe.
That leaves less room for maneuvering in this episode’s script, which was written by Alexander Rose, author of the series’s nonfiction inspiration, Washington’s Spies. It forges some links between Arnold’s defection and the show’s other plots. André’s love for Peggy Arnold (Ksenia Solo) within the Turn universe resurfaces. The three ragtag militiamen who capture the British intelligence chief, finding incriminating evidence in his boot, aren’t operating on their own—they’re guided by Robert Rogers (Angus MacFadyen). But nothing can derail the outcome ordained by the past.
Reflecting both historical fact and the popularity of Broadway’s Hamilton, Lt. Col. Alexander Hamilton and Gen. Lafayette appear with Washington at West Point. They flirt a bit with Peggy Arnold. Hamilton gives Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge (Seth Roukin) the go-ahead to investigate mysterious cannon fire no matter what Washington has said in front of Arnold. This is a mildly clever moment, but it’s undercut by how we’ve seen Tallmadge working closely with Washington on intelligence matters for two years while we’ve never met Hamilton before—surely Washington and Tallmadge have their own signal system down already? Regardless, Tallmadge really was dashing around West Point trying to figure out what André was up to.
In contrast, life in Setauket has long since floated free of any ropes tying it to historical events. Maj. John Graves Simcoe (Samuel Roukin) is terrorizing the Long Island community, armed with all the juicy gossip that Judge Richard Woodhull (Kevin R. McNally) could supply. Abe Woodhull (Jamie Bell) is determined to foment a rebellion against the Queen’s Rangers, even if half the people he conspires with betray him. Curiously, the one person Abe doesn’t speak to in this episode is his own wife, the character who’s come closest to taking Simcoe out for good.
What will next week’s season finale of Turn bring? I hope to see Peggy Arnold’s meeting with Gen. Washington, a highly dramatic event that offers multiple interpretations. Will she also have a fictional reunion with André? If that show is also the last of the series, we can certainly expect a hanging; previous episodes have firmly established how a military man caught behind enemy lines in civilian clothing was treated not as a prisoner of war but as a spy, subject to execution.
If, however, AMC decides another season of Turn is in order, we could see an extended argument over what to do with André while Gen. Arnold leads British troops in a destructive raid on the Connecticut coast. The stories of Hewlett and Rogers seem to have come to natural stopping-points, but they could be brought back into the mix. The printer James Rivington might have secrets. Strong’s husband is still alive somewhere, as is former slave and former ranger Akinbode. Brewster might even get a storyline of his own. The further Turn ventures from well-known history, the more anything can happen.
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).