Turn: Eternity How Long review

Despite its historical inaccuracies, Turn remains an entertaining hour of television. Here's our review of Eternity How Long...

In this week’s episode of Turn, the main battlefield became the burying-ground of Seauket, Long Island, as a British officer determines to fortify that position using—gasp!—gravestones (That’s based on a twentieth-century legend about desecration of the Setauket Presbyterian Church).

The story begins with the Woodhull family—Judge Richard Woodhull (Kevin McNally), his son Abe (Jamie Bell) and daughter-in-law Mary (Meegan Warner), and his grandson Thomas—gathered in the burying-ground to memorialize the judge’s elder son, killed fighting as a British soldier. Mary says that the Woodhulls’ strength as a family was what reconciled her to an arranged marriage. This sounds somewhat odd since in the 1700s a family of only four would have seemed tragically small.

Soon, the British army commander in Setauket, Maj. Hewlett (Burn Gorman), demands that Judge Woodhull choose which stones will be removed from their graves and used to shield his cannon. In tense nighttime conversations, Abe urges his father to resist that task, complaining that Hewlett is “acting like a king.” But the Loyalist judge feels that if he doesn’t select the stones, the army will do so without regard for local sentiment, and the situation will get worse. It doesn’t help that Setauket’s housewives prove their own skill in worming sensitive information out of Mary. Soon villagers are marching to the judge’s house with torches (I didn’t see any pitchforks, though).

Off-island, Maj. Ben Tallmadge (Seth Numrich) of the Continental Army complains how his commanding officer has made him a mere “secretary” (though in fact a general’s military secretary was a position of trust and honor). Tallmadge and Lt. Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall) scheme to go over the head of their stubborn commander and send Abe’s intelligence from episode 3 to headquarters. This storyline ends with a nice wordless tracking shot that raises the suspense about whether Gen. Washington will ever learn of Hessians in Trenton.

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And finally, Maj. John André (J. J. Feild) and Philomena, the actress he recruited in New York (Amy Gumenick), lure Gen. Charles Lee, the Continental Army’s second-in-command, into a trap. In real life, Lee was indeed captured at a tavern in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, in December 1776. Gumenick has some clever scenes in this story. But even more striking is seeing the “Marco!” “Polo!” game not only played in the eighteenth century, but used as eighteenth-century foreplay.

I’m not sure viewers unfamiliar with the 1776 New Jersey campaign would be able to follow that plotline. Gen. Lee hasn’t appeared in Turn before, and characters don’t mention his name for quite a while. The show does a poor job of reflecting the historical Lee’s celebrated past career in the British Army and his high standing in the Continental Army. Both Lees’ loyalties were muddled, but in different ways.

This episode has no sign of Maj. Rogers, Capt. Simcoe, or Anna Strong. And we have yet to see more of the enslaved Long Islanders who were so prominent, and yet so silent, in the pilot. But surely more is coming.

J. L. Bell is proprietor of the Boston 1775 blog, which offers daily doses of history, analysis, and unabashed gossip about the start of the American Revolution in New England. He is an associate editor of the Journal of the American Revolution and an assistant editor of a forthcoming Colonial Comics anthology.

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3.5 out of 5