This Turn: Washington’s Spies review contains spoilers.
Turn Season 4 Episode 6
How many of the regular characters on Turn: Washington’s Spies have found out that Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell) is a spy for the Continentals under the name “Culper?” When the show started, only Abe’s Long Island friends, Benjamin Tallmadge (Seth Numrich) and Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall), were in on the secret. Then Abe’s old flame Anna Strong (Heather Lind) learned. And Abe’s wife (Meegan Warner) and his father. And of course the tavernkeeper Abe recruited inside New York City, Robert Townshend (Nick Westrate).
Then officers of the British army discovered Abe’s secret, starting with Maj. Robert Rogers. In this fourth season, after a period of doubt, Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe (Samuel Roukin) is back in the know. And Maj. Edmund Hewlett (Burn Gorman), who made a surprise return to the drama last week as the new head of British counterintelligence, signals that he remembers Abe’s double identity quite well by spitting out the first syllables of the words “culprits” and “culpable.”
That last episode showed that knowledge of Abe’s double life extends to Cicero (Darren Alford), the teen-aged servant of Gen. Benedict Arnold (Owain Yeoman). And Arnold’s wife, Peggy (Ksenia Solo), overheard Cicero and Abe exchanging information about her husband’s habits.
In fact, the only major characters who don’t know that Abe is “Culper” are Gen. Arnold, who has just enlisted the Long Island farmer in his Loyalist legion; printer James Rivington, who might have secrets of his own; and, ironically, Gen. George Washington (Ian Kahn). To maintain security, Washington has refrained from ever meeting his top intelligence channel.
As a result, most of the maneuvering in this week’s episode of Turn, scripted by Alexander Rose and directed by Eagle Egilsson, isn’t about who might learn the “Culper” secret. It’s about what different characters will do with such knowledge. People who are on the same side can also be at each other’s throats—literally, in the case of Woodhull and Townshend. The most treacherous of characters exposes new depths, and even the most innocent can betray the person he’s closest to.
The major action in this episode arises from the renewed rivalry of Lt. Col. Simcoe and Maj. Hewlett, each eager to quietly kill the other. We also see Simcoe engaged in sadomasochistic sex with a prostitute named Lola (Riann Steele)—a liaison all the more dangerous since we know that he expects to kill her later as part of his murder plot. But Hewlett receives help from an unexpected quarter. The major also reveals a new motivation driving his actions. Once the show’s most principled principle, Hewlett is now at aphelion to his earlier ethics. Will he be able to maintain such cynicism?
This episode also introduces a new agent: Sgt. John Champe (Chris Webster), an American horseman who volunteers to pretend to defect to the British. His assignment is to enlist in the Loyalist legion, contact “Culper,” and set up an operation to kidnap Arnold. As Champe flees to the British lines, the Continentals give chase to make the defection look authentic. Such a scheme sounds like an outlandish television plot. In fact, that was an American intelligence operation launched in October 1780.
The main detail that Turn adds to its version of the Champe story (so far) is that Capt. Brewster wings the fleeing sergeant with a musket shot—shooting closer than he was supposed to. In the first scene of this episode, Brewster cuts himself while sharpening his hatchet. Clearly the captain has not recovered from the torture he endured at Simcoe’s hands toward the start of this season. Brewster finally has a storyline all his own.
Looking ahead, the French have arrived as a force in Turn, as signaled by their sentries’ outrageous mustaches. In a conference with his new colleagues, Gen. Washington insists on a plan to assault New York. Gen. Rochambeau ever so politely but persistently suggests an attack on the British in Virginia. The Turn timeline might be running a little ahead of history—we are still in the winter of 1780-81—but all roads appear to lead to Yorktown.
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).