The latest episode of Turn: Washington’s Spies is titled “Hearts and Minds.” That Vietnam-era phrase was spoken in the show’s first season as the British army sought to pacify Long Island, but here it seems to recall Thomas Jefferson’s 1786 letter to Maria Cosway describing a dialogue between his head and his heart as he (unsuccessfully) pursued an affair with her.
In this episode, the series’ love stories take center stage. Characters struggle to choose between what their hearts want and what their minds tell them to do. There are no physical battles, large or small. (For the episode’s requisite glimpse of gore, we see a bit of surgery.) The warriors Rogers and Simcoe don’t appear at all, and Brewster pops in for only a second. There are no feats of espionage. Instead, the intercut storylines are all about women and men seeking love, even as they betray themselves or others.
At the end of the last episode, Maj. Ben Tallmadge (Seth Numrich) escaped from a British agent, but only after having been beaten unconscious, tied to a horse, and shot. This episode begins with a woman living alone in neutral territory, played by Elizabeth Blackmore, finding Tallmadge and nursing him back to health. He learns she is a young widow named Sarah Livingston. She learns that he is a traveling minister named Benjamin Brewster, “not on any side,” who has been attacked by thieves. Their affair moves fast, but lasts only until that British agent and two locals come looking for Tallmadge.
Meanwhile, in Setauket, the love quadrangle of Anna Strong (Heather Lind), her absent husband Selah, Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell), and Maj. Edmund Hewlett (Burn Gorman) edges toward a wedding. Eighteenth-century law and etiquette would not actually allow this story to play out as it does, but Turn has established the characters well enough that it works within this reality.
We know that Anna loves Abe, admires Hewlett, and will do whatever she must to keep them from hurting each other. We know Abe will do anything he can think of to get everything he wants now. And we know Hewlett will do the decent thing, even if he doesn’t get what he wants at all. By the end of the episode, this quadrangle collapses. One or two of the characters are leaving Setauket, apparently for good.
Finally, there is the long-distance triangle of Maj. John André (JJ Feild), Peggy Shippen (Ksenia Solo), and Gen. Benedict Arnold (Owain Yeoman). They correspond through secret letters carried across the front lines by André’s black servant Abigail (Idara Victor). Arnold is, as always, touchy: Why should his code name be “Monk,” after one of Cromwell’s generals? He’s suspicious about the depth of Shippen’s contact with the British officer: “How much of this have you discussed with him beforehand?” But Shippen expertly plays on Arnold’s ego and manipulates him deeper into betraying the Continental cause.
Peggy Shippen also establishes a ticking clock for the upcoming episodes: She tells André that she and Arnold will be married on March 1, 1779. (In real life, the Arnolds married on April 8, and the general’s secret correspondence with André didn’t begin until the next month.) Shippen clearly wants André to finish traducing Arnold and rescue her from that engagement. Unlike Anna Strong, she does not actually have feelings for both the men pursuing her.
André is just as clearly in a funk over not having Shippen for himself. Yet his first response is not to go after his Peggy, but to ask for a stronger drink. Later, he asks actress Philomena Cheer (Amy Gumenick), whom he hired to seduce Gen. Charles Lee in season 1, to dress her hair like Shippen’s. This does not bode well for Peggy’s hopes. In Turn, women betray men for other men they love and to forestall killings, but men betray women to carry on the war.
“Hearts and Minds” is quite artfully constructed by writer Michael Taylor, director Deborah Chow, and their colleagues. The opening scenes of Livingston rescuing Tallmadge are played without words. There are flashbacks in both black-and-white and color (depending on characters’ moods) and multiple voiceovers, one provided by a phantom Shippen sitting beside André. One scene fades out as Ben and Sarah start to make love and another fades in on a couple in bed, the light hiding for a second that this is another couple in a parallel situation. The dialogue is more oblique, and thus more interesting, than in most other episodes. The result is one of Turn’s strongest episodes to date.