This Turn: Wasington’s Spies review contains some spoilers.
Turn Season 3 Episode 6
The latest episode of Turn: Washington’s Spies starts with a flashback to a crucial turning-point in season 2: when an attack on Samuel Townsend’s farm in Oyster Bay, Long Island, prompted his son Robert (Nick Westrate) to abandon neutrality and join the Culper Ring in spying on the British military.
The episode then returns us to that farm for a Thanksgiving dinner. Samuel Townsend (John Billingsley) has urged his son to come out from New York, and has also invited Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell) and family to join them for the holiday. Several other major characters invite themselves in as well. Weapons are drawn. Secrets are spilled.
In these reviews I try to avoid spoiling an episode’s main surprises, especially those that come out toward the climax. In this case, the show’s biggest revelation arrives early as we learn an important secret that some ring members of have been keeping from others. The rest of the episode shows that knowledge spreading out among the characters, and the ripples are still going at the end.
Since I won’t divulge that central secret, that doesn’t leave me a lot more to say about that extended Thanksgiving dinner. Except that it offers several dramatic twists and would be visible if staged at midday, which was when eighteenth-century Americans really ate their dinners.
The other major setting for this episode is the Philadelphia mansion where Gen. Benedict Arnold (Owain Yeoman) and his fiancée, Margaret Shippen (Ksenia Solo), host a ball for important people in the Continental Army and Congress. Gen. George Washington (Ian Kahn) is there, enjoying a reunion with his wife Martha (Lilli Birdsell). So is the Pennsylvania politician (and former Washington aide) James Reed, who has been pushing for an inquiry into Arnold’s accounts. Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge (Seth Numrich) hovers, not sure how to behave at a ball.
The big question in this sequence is whether Arnold can convince Washington to use his influence to speed up the inquiry and clear his name. Will the commander-in-chief defer to the civil government or lobby for his army’s most successful battlefield general? The ball also brings news for Shippen from New York: her beloved Maj. John André (JJ Feild) is besotted with an actress. We viewers know that André’s really still mooning over Shippen, distressed that he has to leave her with Arnold for the royal cause, but of course Shippen can’t know that.
Early on, we see Arnold wavering in his decision to provide information to André. After the ball, he might be ready to back out of that plan. Given the news from New York, what will Shippen want to do now?
Another question for the coming weeks is whether Washington will convince the Congress to withdraw all its currency from circulation in order to thwart André’s counterfeiting effort. Either course would be damaging for the Continental government, but which would be disastrous?
Finally, seeking faster intelligence, Washington has ordered Tallmadge and Brewster to cut their childhood friend Woodhull out of the transmission of messages from New York. As a result, Abe is ready to leave Setauket with his wife and son. But are those plans really feasible? How will the Culper Ring members view each other now?
This week’s Turn was written by Mitchell Akselrad, who produced several earlier episodes. It includes a clever sequence of Arnold and Shippen discussing their scheme intercut with André trying to convince his superior, Gen. Henry Clinton (Ralph Brown), to give their potential defector the money, guarantees, and battlefield command he’s asked for. Dubious, Clinton declares that Arnold can stay with the Continentals and “be branded beside Washington as one of history’s greatest traitors.” Oh, the irony!
Washington himself voices the title of the episode, “Many Mickles Make a Muckle.” The general’s enslaved manservant William Lee (Gentry White) translates it for Tallmadge and for us: “The little things add up.” Washington did indeed quote this adage in a 1793 letter. In fact, he misquoted it. The Scottish words “mickle” and “muckle” are synonyms, different pronunciations of the same word meaning a big mess. As presented in Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac and other sources decades earlier, the traditional saying was, “Many a little make a mickle.” And for all the regular characters in Turn, many little things are indeed adding up.
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).