This Turn review contains spoilers.
Turn Season 4 Episode 5
The latest episode of Turn: Washington’s Spies doesn’t have much action. It doesn’t show many betrayals. There are no extended scenes of torture or other violence. We do get to see privies being emptied and a beautiful woman urinating under her gown if that’s what you like. But mostly this episode sets up more dramatic events down the road.
Instead of action, this show features maneuvers. Characters adjust to the big moves made in the last two episodes. Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell) is now a private in the American Legion, a Loyalist corps led by Gen. Benedict Arnold (Owain Yeoman). The new uniform makes Bell look younger, reminiscent of his Billy Elliot breakthrough. Of course, Abe is secretly working for the Continentals, trying to set up an operation to kidnap Arnold. But he must worry about being spotted by Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe (Samuel Roukin) and his Queen’s Rangers, some of whom killed Abe’s father earlier in the season.
Also inside New York City, as played by parts of Colonial Williamsburg, the British army quartermaster, Col. Jonathan Cooke (Jonny Coyne), is upset that Abe has become a lowly private instead of looking after his farm and Cooke’s interests on Long Island. Robert Townshend (Nick Westrate) is also none too pleased to see Abe walk into his coffee house; just when Townshend thought he was out of the spying game, they’re pulling him back in. In the Arnold household the general and his wife Peggy (Ksenia Solo) are sniping at each other, and the maid Abigail (Idara Victor) is worried about how her teen-aged son Cicero (Darren Alford) has become Arnold’s body servant in order to spy on him from close up.
Meanwhile, out in the American camp, Abe’s wife Mary (Meegan Warner) is having trouble adjusting to what’s essentially life in witness protection. She takes the completely non-suspicious name of “Mary…Smith!” She says her husband is serving with the local militia in the Carolinas. (Militia troops protected their home areas, not distant states.) She berates Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge (Seth Numrich) and Capt. Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall) about both how they’ve sent Abe into danger and how they’re keeping her cooped up. Mary Woodhull has always been one of the series’ loose cannons, unpredictable and dangerous. As Brewster says about the spies’ goal of killing Simcoe, “You got closer than any of us.”
Also in the New Windsor encampment, Anna Strong (Heather Lind) finally comes face to face with her husband Sela (Robert Beitzel). In Turn’s version of history, Sela is representing New York in the Continental Congress. In its story he represents the type of Other Man that Ralph Bellamy played in classic screwball comedies like The Awful Truth and His Girl Friday. Sela’s a handsome, decent, even admirable fellow, doing and saying the right things—and utterly ineffectual and boring. He recognizes the flaws of the Continental Congress, but can’t promise improvement. He’d like to have Anna return with him to Philadelphia, but won’t demand that. For all the buildup to Sela Strong’s arrival, the result is more pursed-lips thinking than confrontation.
The maneuvers inside New York come to a head in an extended evening party inside what this episode’s rare scene-setting subtitle calls “Kennedy House.” That refers to the lower Manhattan mansion of Archibald Kennedy, a retired Royal Navy captain who tried to stay neutral during the war but was later happy to return to Britain and become the eleventh Earl of Cassilis. Gen. Henry Clinton (Ralph Brown) did indeed use Kennedy’s house as his headquarters, as did American commanders back in 1776.
Pvt. Woodhull has been improbably invited to Gen. Clinton’s party alongside military officers and upper-class Loyalists like Townshend. The army officers compete for Woodhull’s services. The Arnolds quarrel under their breaths. Abe’s intelligence contacts unexpectedly slip him notes. People peer meaningfully at or listen in on other people’s conversations. Despite the life-or-death stakes, there’s an unavoidable touch of farce since the scene involves a lot of going through doors and being surprised by who’s on the other side.
Which reminds me—one major character who went away last season is back.
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).