At the conclusion of last week’s episode, Caleb made a daring — if not exactly clever — sailboat escape from British-held Setauket with the help of Anna’s brew and bosom. It seemed rather tacked on to the episode, which otherwise dealt with Abe’s rededication to the patriot cause, but his derring-do made waves that set tonight’s plot in motion.
A panicked Major Hewlett is worried that his depleted garrison is now vulnerable to rebel attack, and the only course of action is to maneuver the British artillery to more open ground — and shield the heavy guns with the tombstones of the town’s dead. Obviously, the town, and even Judge Woodhull, is adamantly against the plan, but Hewlett is insistent and requests that Woodhull himself select the 10 stones that will be recycled into a barricade.
In earlier episodes, Hewlett was more conciliatory and gentle, and seemingly under the impression that the rebels didn’t need to be annihilated so much as disciplined and welcomed back to the fold as prodigal sons. But the slaughter of his troops in Connecticut and the fear of a rebel spy with the knowledge of his weakness has clearly changed the equation for him. He now aims to bend the people to his will, and the displaced tombstones will be doubly effective, he thinks, since the rebels will be hesitant to fire on them out of respect.
One of the freshest headstones in the cemetery: Abe’s brother, Thomas Woodhull, beloved son, who died in 1773. There are other clues etched into his stone as well. For one, his year of death would seem to answer the elusive question of paternity for Abe and Mary’s toddler son, Thomas — based on the boy’s barely-walking age, Abe is the father. Thomas was also a soldier, one who served the Crown in the famed 16th Regiment of Foot. He died before tensions between England and America reached their current boil, so he likely shared his father’s affinity for Mother England, the good son to Abe’s black sheep.
Caleb reaches American lines in New Jersey, with Abe’s report about Hessian troops in Trenton, but General Scott isn’t about to send the intelligence up the chain of command unless he’s convinced the source is reliable. Caleb and Ben refuse to give up Abe, and Scott burns the letter. But as Caleb later says, “It ain’t treason if there’s good reason”; and the two set out to manufacture a semi-important scout’s report that Scott will enthusiastically send to General Washington and surreptitiously include Abe’s Trenton notice in the package. Scott falls for it, mostly because of American fears that the British might be driving towards Philadelphia — and the fake report sighted British troops near the Delware. The letter reaches Washington’s headquarters, where we don’t yet see the legendary general but we see a pile of his paperwork that indicates a man who values order and intelligence.
Speaking of treason, the dashing British spymaster John André sets a trap for one of his own sources, with the help of his favorite actress. The target: the American officer who betrayed Ben’s slaughtered Connecticut dragoons, but who also was responsible for the information about the Connecticut safe house that turned out to be an ambush. André wants to make sure his man is true, and he uses the trollop as bait. Turns out it’s not just any American, but General Charles Lee. As in Fort Lee, one of the two American defenses that were recently overrun during the battles for New York and the New Jersey Palisades. In the history books, Lee was the most experienced officer who sided with the rebels, and he quickly became a hero, leading some early American military successes on the southern front. Some in Congress agreed with him that he should’ve gotten Washington’s top position in the Continental Army, and in the fall of 1776, after Washington’s humiliating retreat from New York, Lee was on deck. His disdain for Washington is accurate, as is his capture and possible collaboration with the enemy. It might be creative license to put Lee and André together in Basking Ridge — André wants Lee to negotiate a satisfactory peace after he succeeds the sinking Washington — but we know André had similar conversations with other high-ranked American officers, especially one whose name became synonymous for treason: Benedict Arnold.
Back in Setauket, the tombstone dilemma is driving Abe and his father further apart. All the goodwill from their recent business trip to New York — gone. Abe thinks the plan will split the town in two and result in violence; the Judge is trying to make the best of a bad situation and demands some loyalty from Abe, who he accuses of habitually running from responsibility. Um, Judge? Abe could argue that he sacrificed his best chance at happiness in this life — his secret engagement to Anna — to shoulder a burden and be a loyal son and brother and marry Mary. Lighten up.
Abe is so perturbed by the idea of desecrating the graves that he explains the matter to Mary, who immediately proves again to be no Anna, this time in the realm of secrets and subterfuge. At the first test, Mary proves unreliable in the company of more sophisticated ladies and spills the explosive news at sewing circle. In fact, I’m sorry to say that Mary is doomed to be the wettest blanket since Gretchen Mol in Rounders, unless the writers quickly give her something to do other than look sad, simple, and disapproving.
Once the town’s ladies learn of Hewlett’s plan for the gravestones, a mini revolt is plotted, with Judge standing in the middle. “If you forge ahead with this, you may as well dig your own grave,” one female elder tells the Judge, and another townsperson threatens Abe and his father with violence if the Brits carry out the plan. Wilting under the pressure and souring on Hewlett, Judge is clearly inebriated when Abe arrives late one night to convince him to switch sides, or at least use the threat of a colonial uprising to deter Hewlett from carrying out his tombstone plan. Abe’s argument seems to win out before the old man passes out, but when the moment of truth arrives the next day, and the armed colonists come face to face with British muskets, Judge chooses a third path. He quotes Scripture and volunteers his dead son’s tombstone for the barricade operation. He himself plunges the shovel into his son’s grave, toppling the stone. Upon seeing his sacrifice, the villagers follow his lead and no blood is spilled. Abe is incredulous with betrayal as Thomas’s stone falls — stone-faced and watery-eyed — and there’s no doubt that Hewlett’s brilliant stroke to “win the hearts and minds” of the colonists is a quickly dissipating pipe dream.
When Judge and Abe parted ways the night before, the Judge seemed convinced that the correct action was to stand his ground against Hewlett. Did he change his mind during the course of the night, and instead decide to prevent a massacre at all costs? Was he simply too drunk to remember his moment of clarity with Abe? Or, might he finally be in league with the patriot cause but called an audible with an eye on the long game: give Hewlett the impression of acquiescence now with the intention of undermining him at a more crucial moment? I’m not sure of which, but I suspect the chummy, literature-quoting relationship between Hewlett and Judge is irrevocably broken. Hewlett thinks he’s won. But perhaps there’s something in Thomas’ comforting words that Abe remembers at his brother’s graveside ceremony: that whatever sprouts from the graveside dirt is the sign that loved ones will always be with you. And in this case, ultimately, perhaps it will be the fruit of liberty.
What do you say to an episode without Rogers and Anna? Is Mary in danger of completely losing your respect? Do you think George Washington is ready for his AMC closeup, or is he instead destined to be a frequently-mentioned but little-scene character?