This Turn: Washington’s Spies review contains some spoilers.
Turn Season 3 Episode 8
All the regular characters on this season of Turn: Washington’s Spies appear in the latest episode, “Mended.” That includes the black domestic servants Abigail (Idara Victor) and her son, Cicero (Darren Alford), who become a crucial link in the Culper Ring’s intelligence network. Also back are Maj. Edmund Hewlett (Burn Gorman), suffering nobly through one more encounter with his beloved Anna Strong (Heather Lind), and Robert Rogers (Angus MacFadyen), skulking into New York in the guise of a one-eyed tinker.
At the start of the episode, Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge (Seth Numrich) has worked up the courage to tell Gen. George Washington (Ian Kahn) that the Culper Ring is defunct. “These wounds are self-inflicted,” the commander chides. Tallmadge offers to resign as intelligence officer.
This scene is intercut with a conversation between Tallmadge’s counterpart in New York, Maj. John André (JJ Feild), and the British commander, Gen. Henry Clinton (Ralph Brown). Clinton is dubious about the letter André has received from Benedict Arnold (Owain Yeoman), asking for money and a face-to-face meeting in exchange for information. Still, Clinton uses that message to deduce the location of the Continental camp. Things don’t look good for the Americans.
By the end of the episode, however, the Continental situation is considerably improved. The Culper Ring is back at work, Townsend’s very understandable personal grudge against Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall) and Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell) notwithstanding. In fact, one of the Setauket spies has learned about André’s intelligence coup. At the same time, Tallmadge has led one of the confused nighttime attacks the show specializes in, the biggest this season.
The espionage story has, however, some major holes. The plot requires the Culper Ring to learn about a coming British raid and transmit that information from New York City to the Continental camp in time for Washington to plan and prepare a major countermove. Turn accomplishes that by having Robert Townsend (Nick Westrate) read a report on the raid laid out for the next issue of the Royal Gazette. To be sure, the show has already established that printer James Rivington (John Carroll Lynch) likes to support the British army by running stories about its triumphs as soon as possible. But printing propaganda is one thing; setting sensitive secrets in type is another. (It almost makes one wonder if Rivington is secretly working for the American cause—such strange things have happened.)
Ottherwise, the dialogue by episode writer Andrew Colville is notably snappy, with one of the best uses of of the reply “I know” since The Empire Strikes Back. To be sure, Colville got help from historic sources: when Kahn says, “There is nothing more necessary than good intelligence…,” he is voicing words Washington himself wrote in 1756. Likewise, some of the details of battle preparation come right out of the Revolutionary War, though not necessarily the battle or even the army on screen.
Director Kate Dennis uses tracking and panning to get the most out of Turn’s investment in sets or CGI. The episode’s final zoom-in is on a more troubled place, however: the face of Peggy Shippen (Ksenia Solo). Though this episode includes an onscreen death, it’s not as bloody as some other recent shows. It does, however, offer two urination scenes.
By the end of this week, each side has become aware of, as André says, a “traitor in our ranks.” Events will undoubtedly move fast in the season’s remaining two episodes. Already, Turn’s version of the Revolutionary War is well ahead of the real historical timeline. This season has taken place in the autumn of 1778, and there’s now snow on the ground of the Continental camp, so we’re still in the following winter. Last week’s show depicted the court-martial of Benedict Arnold, which in our history concluded in January 1780. “Mended” includes the long-awaited wedding of Benedict Arnold and Peggy Shippen (historically in April 1779), a version of the Battle of Stony Point (July 1779), and Arnold’s acceptance of the command of West Point (August 1780). At this pace, we could see the Arnolds’ defection within two weeks.
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).