This Turn: Washington’s Spies review contains spoilers.
Turn Season 4 Episode 3
This season’s third episode of Turn: Washington’s Spies was one of the best in the entire series—an action-filled thriller with added twists for several main characters promising hard times ahead.
The first two episodes this season left me worried that the final run of the series would succumb to its biggest flaws. But this installment, written by Scott Gunnison Miller and directed by Keith Boak, gives reason to hope for a fitting finale. (To be fair, I should credit the series’ entire writing and producing staff for setting up the plotlines that played out in this show.)
The core story of “Blood for Blood” involves a prisoner exchange. Under pressure from a fellow royal officer, Gen. Benedict Arnold (Owain Yeoman) has agreed to return the suspected spy Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall) to the Americans. In return, the British will gain the freedom of two kidnapped supporters of the Crown: Judge Richard Woodhull (Kevin McNally) and his son Abraham (Jamie Bell). The Americans will also get a ransom of £500. (“Is that all?” the judge asks.)
Of course, we know that both Woodhulls are now actually secret agents in league with their supposed kidnapper, Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge (Seth Numrich) of the Continental spy service.
Col. John Graves Simcoe (Samuel Roukin) of the Queen’s Rangers has also concluded that Abe Woodhull is an American spy. As soon as Simcoe figures out that an exchange is in the works, he is perfectly happy ordering his soldiers to attack the meeting and kill everyone involved, including the British agents, in order to eliminate Abe.
And if that’s not complicated enough, one of the men recruited to carry out the exchange for the British is Akinbode (Aldis Hodge), a deserter from Simcoe’s regiment of rangers. The same rangers who now have orders to ambush the meeting. And did I mention that Akinbode knows the Woodhulls, Brewster, and Tallmadge because he was once enslaved in their home town?
Yet another major player in this story is the location where it was filmed: the gristmill at Stratford Hall in Westmoreland, Virginia. That mill has a water wheel and mill race—a stone-lined channel for the water which also happens to be large enough for men to hide in. Turn’s creators have cleverly shaped the action around that setting.
When the rangers start shooting, some men from both sides are trapped inside the mill while others are loose outside. Half the fighters just want a share of that £500. In the end Tallmadge, like the series producers, makes maximum use of the opportunities that mill building provides.
The result is an episode full of suspense, action, and interesting visuals. The whole exchange sequence is intercut with glimpses of Simcoe playing billiards in the New York coffeehouse, providing himself with an airtight alibi while racking them up and knocking them down. I was also struck by the point-of-view shots as a ranger chokes Abe. And this fight is not just a set-piece standing apart from the overall series plot: one of the characters we’ve followed since the first season of Turn doesn’t survive.
Some of the show’s marriages are also headed for rougher waters. A hint from Simcoe causes Arnold to start ferreting out how his wife Peggy (Ksenia Solo) has been manipulating him, leading to one of those confessions that a spouse can never take back.
Anna Strong (Heather Lind) chooses to alert her husband Selah, who in this version of history is serving in the Continental Congress, that she is in Gen. Washington’s encampment. Anna hopes Selah will be able to do something about the shortages that are pushing the Continental troops close to mutiny. But she may just end up losing her autonomy and her ability to help the cause.
Finally, this season has shown Akinbode moving closer to his beloved Abigail (Idara Victor). But just as she and her son return to New York City, he gets stranded out in Connecticut. At least he has some of that £500.
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).