Unlike the preceding episodes of Turn, the fifth, titled “Epiphany,” doesn’t offer a complete story. Instead, it presses almost all the show’s plotlines forward and weaves in yet another layer of complexity. In addition to several period songs, this episode finally lets us hear some of the enslaved people shown in the premiere. What secrets do they hold? How will they figure in this war over liberty?
The episode begins on Christmas Eve with the slaves of Selah Strong celebrating the holiday by circle-dancing and singing “Read ’Em, John,” a song actually known from the Sea Islands of Georgia. After reading a notice nailed up by a British soldier, the young teenager Cicero (Darren Alford) brings his mother startling news: the royal authorities have seized all the property of their Patriot master and declared his slaves to be free.
Selah’s wife Anna (Heather Lind) goes to Maj. Hewlett (Burn Gorman) to protest this “Dunmore Proclamation.” That refers to a measure that Lord Dunmore, royal governor of Virginia, issued in late 1775, granting freedom to all enslaved people who joined him in fighting the Patriots. Historically, Dunmore’s proclamation had no effect outside Virginia, and his forces collapsed at the end of that year. Nonetheless, it set a precedent for the British army to offer freedom to the people whom Patriots held in bondage.
And yet, it becomes clear, the former slaves in Turn are still under a master’s control. Despite declaring slavery a sin, Hewlett requires all the “freed” black men to enter the army and Anna’s maid Abigail (Idara Victor) to work for Maj. John Andre (J. J. Feild). This lets the series keep portraying the British as villains and Anna as still sympathetic, despite her voicing the slaveowners’ argument that it’s “cruel” to free people not ready for freedom.
Desperate to convince her former mistress to look after her son Cicero, Abigail reveals that she’s seen Anna conspiring with childhood friends Abe Woodhull (Jamie Bell) and Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall) to send information to the American army. Since she’ll now be working for Andre, Abigail offers to gather more secrets for that ring. But will Abigail also become prey to Andre’s sexual appetite? Will she come to see her interests lying with him, and decide to share what she knows about the laundry signals back on Long Island? And what about the African-born man Jordan (Aldis Hodge), who’s been pressing Abigail to become his woman and is now also on Manhattan?
This episode gives us a limited view of the Continental Army’s famous attack on Hessian soldiers at Trenton on 26 December 1776, which was obviously too expensive to film. Brewster and Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge (Seth Numrich) join in the crossing of the Delaware River. But Tallmadge falls into the icy water saving a swivel gun (a small cannon used primarily at sea). When he regains consciousness, it’s the 2nd of January, and he and Brewster are stranded alone in New Jersey. We later get to hear about the Battle of Princeton, equally far off camera.
The start of Turn’s first episode showed a redcoat (Thomas Keegan) living in Abe and Mary Woodhull’s home. I’ve been waiting for that young officer to become involved in the Woodhulls’ strained marriage, and in this episode he does—but not as I expected. Instead, Ens. Baker interrupts Abe and Anna just as they’re about to have table sex. Once again Abe is flopping in every direction, propelled by Patriot politics, passion for Anna, and a combination of respect and resentment for his Loyalist father.
In other developments, Maj. Robert Rogers (Angus Macfadyen) identifies his nemesis among the American dragoons as Tallmadge. We’re still awaiting the reappearance of Capt. Simcoe. And the commander of the Continental Army, kept off camera as long as possible, finally becomes convinced of the value of intelligence from Abraham Woodhull.