This episode of Turn, like the last, offers one complete story involving some of its characters while the rest make incremental progress along the longer series narrative. This time, the protagonist of the one-and-done story is Maj. Ben Tallmadge of the Continental Army (Seth Numrich).
As the hour begins, Tallmadge is struggling to transport the captured, wounded, and still annoying British captain Simcoe (Samuel Roukin) across northern New Jersey to the rest of the American army. Above Tallmadge is Gen. Scott (Michael Gaston), threatening to court-martial him for mistreating Simcoe and dismissing his pleas to install “friendly eyes in New York.” Below him is a set of unreliable private soldiers from County Donegal by way of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, we don’t get to know most of the characters in the conflict that ensues, so its deadly conclusion packs only a feeble emotional wallop. On the other hand, it does offer this immortal dialogue:
“This is mutiny. This is madness!”
“This is New Jersey.”
Meanwhile, back on Long Island, Abe Woodhull (Jamie Bell) accompanies his father, a Loyalist judge (Kevin McNally), into British-occupied New York City to arrange for the sale of their livestock and vegetables to an officer of the king’s army. This offers the series a chance to display some reasonably impressive CGI cityscapes, as well as some clichés of period drama, such as child pickpockets. Abe displays a surprising shrewdness at bargaining, pleasing his father.
But then the judge makes the mistake of revealing his scheme to confiscate the farmland of the Strongs, the family’s Patriot neighbors back in Setauket. As we know by now, the only thing that galvanizes Abe into action is a threat to Anna Strong (Heather Lind). Soon he discards the rosette that identifies him as a Loyalist and starts collecting military intelligence big-time. Symbolically, taking off the rosette makes sense; practically, it would be more effective for Abe as an undercover spy to keep it on.
Now if Abe had seen Anna being so chummy with their childhood friend Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall) back in Setauket, would he be eager to collect information for Caleb to take to Tallmadge? (You remember Tallmadge, right?)
“Of Cabbages and Kings” at last explains why Turn’s producers chose to set the show in 1776, two years before the real Benjamin Tallmadge set up the real Culper Ring on Long Island. Not only is that the year most Americans associate with the Revolution, but that autumn was a famous low point for the Continental Army. As this episode discusses, Washington’s troops have been pushed off Long Island, off Manhattan Island, and across New Jersey. But all is not lost—different characters drop the news that the general is “camped across the Delaware” and that Hessian soldiers will march to “Trenton.”
One character who becomes more prominent in this episode is Abe’s wife Mary (Meegan Warner). She reveals that they married only because her original fiancé, Abe’s older brother Thomas, joined the British army and got killed. Furthermore, Mary says, she and Thomas had met only once; their fathers had arranged their marriage. That’s the way many eighteenth-century marriages came about…in India. In Britain and its North American colonies, about a quarter of all first-time brides were pregnant on their wedding days, implying much closer acquaintance with their new husbands.
Again, Turn seems to be treating the past as a source of exoticism, not as a specific, documented culture. Wouldn’t there be enough drama in Abe marrying Mary to ensure his late brother’s child would have a father when it’s born?