This Turn: Washington’s Spies review contains spoilers.
Turn Season 3 Episode 5
Most of the latest episode of Turn: Washington’s Spies is directed toward setting up conflicts for later—unlike last week, when we saw some chapters come to a clear end. One recurring character dies in this episode, but he’s not a major role. The clearest sign that this show is merely Act One is how right after the opening credits we see Mary Woodhull (Meegan Warner), of all people, firing a musket, yet we don’t see that gun again near the end of the show. Per Anton Chekhov’s rule, it will go off in Act Two.
Last week’s love affairs are mere memories. Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge (Seth Numrich) is mopey since he came back from the neutral ground in New Jersey. Anna Strong (Heather Lind) is focused on proving herself as an asset to the Continental Army, showing no interest in a reunion with her husband. And Abe Woodhull (Jamie Bell) actually seems content with his wife Mary, now that she’s apparently the only white woman in Setauket, Long Island.
As for poor, jilted Maj. Hewlett, he’s nowhere to be seen. Likewise, we don’t get an update about Benedict Arnold and Peggy Shippen. But really, do we need any more information about them?
Instead, Turn turns to an actual attempt to win the American War for Independence. Maj. John André (JJ Feild) has obtained a skilled engraver from London and a supply of special paper, all that he needs to commission counterfeit Continental dollars. “False Congress notes for a false Congress,” the printer James Rivington (James Carroll Lynch) purrs to his coffeehouse partner, Robert Townsend (Nick Westrate).
Townsend, of course, sends that information off to Long Island, hidden in a musical score by an “Austrian fellow” presumably named Mozart. Abe Woodhull hustles the news to his contacts among the Continentals. But then Gen. George Washington (Ian Kahn), who’s rather a downer in this episode, declares, “We received the news too late” to stop the spread of the counterfeit currency.
It’s up to Strong to convince Tallmadge and Capt. Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall) that they can figure out where André’s agents will go to put some of that money into circulation. That feat of deduction is quite unconvincing, but it does allow for the episode’s requisite confusing but telegenic nighttime skirmish.
Meanwhile, the private wars among the first season’s British officers continue. Maj. John Graves Simcoe (Samuel Roukin) returns to Setauket with grudges against both Hewlett and Robert Rogers (Angus MacFadyen). Or perhaps it’s better to say he feels even more animus toward those two men than before. Finding Hewlett gone, Simcoe takes over his space in the house of Judge Richard Woodhull (Kevin R. McNally). He takes over some of the judge’s space, too. In this commander of the Queen’s Rangers Judge Woodhull has finally met a royal officer he can despise enough to take steps against. But it’s hard to get ahead of Simcoe in the paranoia race.
Those men’s maneuvers provide the episode’s funniest and scariest moments. One is the sight of Simcoe dandling a toddler on his lap. The other is Rogers growling, “There’s nothing to be afraid of from me,” while stomping across a cabbage patch with a stolen pistol and blood running from one eye. As to which moment is funny and which is scary, that’s for you to decide.
At the end of the episode, Rogers is headed for André, who he knows was disappointed by a love affair in Philadelphia. Simcoe is hunting Rogers, convinced he’s “Samuel Culper.” But the show’s next big meetup may be at Oyster Bay—Samuel Townsend (John Billingsley) has invited both his son from New York City and the Woodhulls to “Thanksgiving dinner.” The script acknowledges that holiday, a hallmark of Puritan New England culture, would be an odd custom for a Quaker like Townsend. But it’s presumably a dramatic set-piece for next week.
A final note about the episode title “Hypocrisy, Fraud, and Tyranny”: the only way such an unsubtle label would be clever is if it came from some Revolutionary-era writing. Instead, it’s a quotation from the Victorian clergyman Frederick William Robertson. Between the Mozart score and the counterfeit dollars, we should think of this episode as “False Notes.”
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).