This Turn review contains spoilers.
Turn Season 4 Episode 4
After last week’s intense episode, which killed off a long-running major character, the characters on Turn: Washington’s Spies needed time to regroup. And to squabble among themselves.
There’s really no fighting between the British and the Americans in this week’s episode, titled “Nightmare.” The commanders and their subordinates make plans for future operations that we’ll see in the coming season. But the real drama is conflict within each side.
Among the British inside New York, Gen. Sir Henry Clinton (Ralph Brown) grants the wish of Gen. Benedict Arnold (Owain Yeoman) to command an “American Legion” of fellow defectors and Loyalists. Clinton even assigns one of his most effective fighting units, the Queen’s Rangers, to that legion. But he also gives that unit’s colonel, John Graves Simcoe (Samuel Roukin), the green light to depose Arnold whenever he seems irrational. Which, given the way Arnold has been stomping around in a snit for over two seasons now, could happen any minute. Simcoe professes loyalty to his new general, not revealing that he planned last week’s murderous ambush at Lyme.
Also behind British lines, printer James Rivington (John Carroll Lynch) and tavern keeper Robert Townshend (Nick Westrate) quarrel before reinforcing their business partnership. But what about Townshend’s work as a spy? As Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge (Seth Numrich) admits to his commander, “Culper Junior has gone ghost”—frightened by Arnold’s roundup of suspects in New York City, Townshend hasn’t sent out new intelligence in weeks.
During their conversation, Rivington tells Townshend that before the war he tried to issue a politically neutral newspaper. But the times were too divisive, he says, and New York’s Sons of Liberty drove him away. (Patriots did destroy the historical Rivington’s home and press in May 1775, though by then he was clearly on the side of the Crown.) So now the printer has thrown in with the royal cause. The real Rivington’s loyalties weren’t so solid, and that character bears further watching.
The discussion between Rivington and Townshend plays out in the basement print shop, with the two men turning out copies of the Royal Gazette all by themselves. When Turn introduced Rivington early last season, his print shop bustled with workmen. The lack of such journeymen and apprentices in this week’s scene doesn’t seem to have any narrative significance, however. The nearly empty print shop seems to be an anachronism driven by production budgets. (Unlike the headlines in Rivington’s newspaper, which are a historical anachronism driven by storytelling needs.)
Out in the American camp at New Windsor, all four of the show’s original Setauket spy ring have been reunited. They’re in mourning for Judge Richard Woodhull (Kevin McNally, making some further appearances as a figure in a nightmare and a corpse). But otherwise they’re divided. Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell) once again threatens to quit spying altogether. Anna Strong (Heather Lind) remains committed to the American cause, despite sacrifices.
Capt. Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall) is weak from Simcoe’s torturous interrogation and nearly broken psychologically. He knows he inadvertently told Simcoe that Abe is the notorious spy Culper. He fears he may have endangered others. Brewster is still hungry for action, but he can no longer throw a hatchet accurately. Another odd detail: in his delirium Brewster recites the Hail Mary, a Catholic prayer. The real Brewster was a New York Yankee, but Henshall is Irish and sounds it. Will we discover more about this fictional Brewster’s past as he struggles to recover?
Maj. Tallmadge is shuttling between Abe and Gen. George Washington (Ian Kahn), trying to rebuild his team and its mission. The commander-in-chief refuses to meet with “Culper,” insisting that he either join the army or help to capture Arnold. Finally Abe agrees to return to the British side, even enlisting in Arnold’s American Legion to get close to him. But secretly Abe’s main goal is to kill Simcoe. Tallmadge gives Abe a password that will identify the next spy sent into New York: “I miss the summer of ’73.” Abe’s wife Mary (Meegan Warner) gives him more practical advice: “Don’t miss.”
The major historical event portrayed in this episode is another internal conflict among the Americans: the Continental Army mutinies of January 1781. The first and larger one is known as the mutiny by the Pennsylvania Line, the second as the Pompton Mutiny after the camp in New Jersey where it took place. Turn combines elements of both. The show’s mutiny is put down by Gen. Anthony Wayne, as in the Pennsylvania Line dispute. The drama concludes with mutineers ordered to execute selected leaders of their rebellion; the Pompton Line mutiny ended that way, though with only two sergeants shot instead of ten.
Although Turn alters the facts of the mutinies, it does a good job of showing the spirit and issues behind them. In essence, those uprisings were strikes by workers with a strong grievance against their employer, the Continental Congress. The American government was overprinting dollars, causing inflation to spiral, and even that shrinking-value money was coming late to the soldiers. Furthermore, the Pennsylvania veterans pointed out, they had been made to reenlist at the same pay while new recruits were getting better terms and bonuses. The soldiers who mutinied didn’t try to defect, endanger their fellow troops, or change military policy. As the show depicts, they declared they were not turncoats like Benedict Arnold.
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).