What’s not to love about a duel? Stand 10 paces apart from a man who’s insulted your honor. Flip a coin to see who fires first. Aim. Shoot. Kill or die. In 1804, the sitting vice-president of the United States, Aaron Burr, killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel in Weehawken, N.J. American history was forever changed. In Sunday’s episode of Turn, Abraham Woodhull found himself staring down the barrel of a Captain Simcoe’s pistol after the ruthless British soldier returned to Setauket with his eyes set on Anna Strong. Abe had been led to believe that Simcoe was dead — that was the whole genesis of the Culper spy ring in the first place — but his return following a prisoner exchange pressured Abe into a deadly scenario. How could a farmer who’s never killed before possibly survive a duel with a cold-blooded professional soldier?
The episode, “Mercy Moment Murder Measure,” began with another prisoner exchange of sorts. Robert Rogers and new Queen’s Ranger Jordan brave the stench and sub-par rowboat CGI to visit the HMS Jersey, an infamous British prison ship anchored in New York Harbor. They’re there to locate Ben Tallmadge’s brother, Samuel, and use him as bait in order to exact revenge on Ben — but they’re too late. Samuel died of dysentery, like so many others crammed below deck. Thousands of American prisoners perished on the ship during the war, and Rogers gets a glimpse of the corpses being tossed overboard left and right. Rogers doesn’t go home empty-handed, though, as ex-slave Jordan identifies a sickly, browbeaten prisoner — irony alert — as his former master, Anna’s patriot husband, Selah Strong.
John André makes good on his recent promise to Abigail, and Cicero receives a knitted hat from his mother for his birthday. Smuggled in the hat is a message from Abigail to Anna: “Simcoe alive; returns Setauket this Monday.” This is a growing nightmare for Anna: her patriot husband is imprisoned, their property confiscated, and now, the lecherous creep with violent proclivities is back to stalk her. Worse, Ensign Baker, the soldier assigned to the Woodhull house — and is only episodes away from having his own mini-affair with Abe’s wife, Mary — tells Simcoe about interrupting Abe and Anna in the act. Anna warns Abe, who needs her to accompany him into New York in order to gather intelligence. Instead, she tells him to flee while he still can. But Abe’s not going anywhere, and he suggests they can kill Simcoe themselves. Anna practically bats him aside: “You’ve never killed anyone and you’re not about to start now.”
Her words are practically still in the air, as Abe is ambushed near his house by a bitter and vengeful Simcoe, who beats him senseless. Hewlett — who’s now quartering two horses in the fortified old church — wants the gents to shake hands and make nice over the misunderstanding, and Abe gets bullied into accepting Simcoe’s private challenge for a duel. “You know I’ll never stop,” Simcoe whispers, referring to his obsessions with Anna. Pistols at dawn!
There’s some good news for Anna: her husband Selah has been granted parole. He’ll be sent home to Setauket, as long as he agrees not to protest all the confiscation of his land and property. Judge Woodhull is quite the Scrooge. You almost get the idea he’s Setauket’s version of The Crucible‘s Abigail Williams, targeting all his wealthy enemies and tarring them as patriots in order to steal their fortunes. If Judge has his way, Selah would die in the harbor, but there are other factors at work. Abe’s wife, Mary, pleads with her father-in-law to consider the parole, so that Anna will be less available to Abe. Of greater influence on the matter is Rogers, who arranges for Selah to be part of the next prisoner exchange — though he’ll be released under a different name… Samuel Tallmadge. Rogers rightly suspects that Ben will race to the exchange point to greet his brother… and his sure death at the hands of the Queen’s Rangers. But Ben can’t be spared by General Washington’s work demands, so Caleb agrees to go in his stead. Looks like my episode 2 wish for Rogers and Caleb to cross paths and swords has finally been granted. Keep your head on a swivel, Caleb Brewster.
At dawn, Abe and Simcoe meet to settle their grudge. This isn’t the wild west where you live and die on the speed of your draw. No, per the etiquette of the duel, it basically comes down to a coin toss. The lucky winner gets to fire first, and only if he misses does the other shooter get a return shot. It’s like overtime of an NFL football game, but with your life at stake. Abe wins the toss but Anna’s words come back to haunt him. Simcoe playfully winks at him, Abe flinches, and he misses his shot. Jeez, Abe, Simcoe looks like a 6’5″ target. Before Simcoe can return his volley, Anna and Judge arrive at the scene to stop the proceedings. Anna throws herself at Simcoe’s mercy, and essentially promises him that there’s hope for them, possibly, as a couple, in the future. It doesn’t matter if Simcoe believes her heart to be true. What he knows is that if he lets Abe live, Anna will be in his debt forever. For someone like him, that’s as good as love. He shoots his pistol into the ground, accepting a draw.
Except Abe isn’t having any of this, especially after watching the true love of his life submit to this monster. He demands a second round, his right under the rules. For the first time, Simcoe’s face turns white. Abe reloads, his father pleads and then threatens him to get him to stop, while Anna is silent. “Think of your wife and your son!” yells Judge, as Abe takes aim. “This is about more than you!”
Judge’s words are practically verbatim of what Caleb Brewster told Abe earlier in the episode, when the courier delivered Abe his espionage code-book and Abe tried to explain that gathering intelligence had grown increasingly more complicated: “This is about more than just you.” So perhaps it’s no surprise that after Abe pictures his toddler son while he contemplates whether to pull the trigger, his mind next jumps not to Mary or Anna, but Caleb and then Benjamin Tallmadge. Slowly, painfully, he lowers his weapon.
Soon afterwards, Abe and Anna are finally heading to New York, but now the mission is to bring Selah home after he approves the forfeiture of all his belongings. Whatever spark that was between the two young lovers might be extinguished by what happened near the Mill Pond. “You should’ve killed Simcoe when you had the chance,” Anna says. In other words, “I saved your life… and you choked. Also, may I have my silver spoons back now?”