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Talk about a Revolution: 'TURN's showrunner on season 2 and the new poster

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In Revolutionary War history, The Shot Heard ‘Round the World typically refers to the battles at Lexington and Concord in 1775. But in TURN, AMC’s series about the spies who helped George Washington defeat superior British forces, the real Shot of consequence took place in the season finale, when ambivalent Long Island cabbage farmer Abraham Woodhull murdered a mild-mannered redcoat in cold blood to conceal his secret involvement in the nascent spy ring. 

There’s no going back now. Initially conflicted about resisting the British occupation and taking up the patriot cause, Abe (Jamie Bell) is now all in, raising the temperature of the action when TURN returns to AMC on April 13.

Abe’s commitment isn’t the only change for TURN. Season two introduces new characters, including Benedict Arnold and the cunning beauty Peggy Shippen. Ian Kahn’s George Washington plays a more central role, hence the slightly modified title: TURN: Washington’s Spies. And after premiering as one of the AMC’s Sunday night shows, TURN shifts to Monday nights, where AMC is trying to establish a new must-see night of viewing with Better Call Saul. (Steering clear of the ratings juggernaut known as Game of Thrones seems like a smart play, especially appropriate for a show about an iconic American general who knew when to fight and when to run.) 

Season one of TURN arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on March 17, and those 10 episodes will debut on Netflix on March 25, in advance of the second season. Below, in addition to the flashy new poster and an exclusive DVD bonus feature that illuminates how TURN’s meticulous artisans bring 1776 to life, executive producer Craig Silverstein discusses the show’s next chapter, comparisons to The West Wing, and which new character most resembles Paris Hilton.

EW: When we last chatted last year, you described Abe in season 1 as “a tiger in a cage.” Fair to say he’s going to be unleashed?

CRAIG SILVERSTEIN: Yeah, definitely. It’s been a pretty tough couple of months, after having killed Ensign Baker and burned his farm down and Mary being exposed to his secret. He’s had to move back into Whitehall [with his father]. But where we find him is that he has sort of refused to get away with it. He has a way out, essentially—the whole thing with Ensign Baker and the coverup. He could just live comfortably, he could just shut up. It’s probably the smartest and safest thing for him to do. But he decides to go another way. He’s sort of doubling down. Not to say that there won’t be obstacles in his way. He’s willing to risk everything basically.

Where does the show pick up time wise, and how has the political situation in the Colonies changed?

We pick up in the fall of 1777 and we sort of end it in the spring. The big thing that’s happened is that the British have seized Philadelphia, which is the biggest city at the time. So it’s a real low point for Congress. It’s a low point for Washington because he failed to protect the city. He’s always had rivals and detractors, and that’s just ammo for them and fuel for their fire. So he’s beset on all sides, and his leadership is in question. And really, 1777 to ‘78 really was kind of the worst time for him. There were multiple cabals against him, and even some assassination plots—from his own side—and we get into that.  

You mentioned Mary, who is stuck in a passionless marriage and doesn’t approve of Abe’s patriot politics. But then in the final episode, she makes a decision after the murder, and they are forced into the same boat. What type of character is Mary this season?

I think Mary would’ve gladly chosen a life of following along with whatever—being the quiet wife. But in a way, her husband’s rebellion forces her to figure out what she believes in, which is a question he puts to her at the end of season 1. And it gets brought up again in the premiere, and you see that she’s done a little reading. She’s got some ideas now. Mary showed in the finale that she’s got moves that maybe we didn’t expect, and she continues to pull some moves in the second season. So to me, it’s kind of fun to watch her come into her own and figure out what she wants out of life. I don’t think it’s a question many women at that time were thinking about answering. And now, she’s going to have to answer that. 

In the poster, Benedict Arnold is the new face lurking in the background of the Patriots camp. He’s such an interesting character who’s understandably oversimplified by American history books. What does the show have in store for Benedict Arnold?

We meet him as the guy that he was at this time, which is a hero—a celebrated field commander. A lot of people said that he was maybe a better field commander even than Washington was, and we show some of his heroics. And we also show some of his flaws. Right away, we begin to contrast how he and Washington deal with rivals and slights, perceived slights. How Washington has to treat them like flea bites, even though they effect him deeply, because he has to project this image of leadership—and not just for his own men, but for the French. And then there’s Arnold, who just takes everything so personally. That character trait is really what leads to the beginning of his fall. But he’s not a traitor [when we meet him], and he doesn’t know he’s going to become a traitor. He doesn’t even know what his future is going to be. Those forces that will turn him traitor are in play, but he’s not even aware of them yet.  

Arnold becomes romantically entangled with Peggy Shippen, who in the history books, is this truly enchanting beauty who completes the triangle between Arnold and John André. How is she introduced?

She is introduced in our two-hour premiere. You first meet her and see her, through Andre’s eyes, at this ball in Philadelphia. She was, on the surface, kind of the Paris Hilton of her age: a very rich father, a skilled socialite. It was really just a facade. Beneath that, there was a lot of cunning. So we see both sides of Peggy. And she was also this prize to be won by a lot of eligible bachelors. She was the daughter of one of the richest families, not just in Philadelphia, but in all of the Colonies. And because of that, they were trying to protect their wealth, so of course they sided with the King. They were so rich they were sort of above the politics. Ksenia Solo, who plays her, is amazing. I think she’s really going to be a character who pops this season. 

It seems like Washington will be more at the center of the action this season. Part of me thinks about The West Wing and how that was initially planned as a show about White House employees and not really the president himself. But that changed when Martin Sheen was such a powerful presence. I think of that now because Ian Kahn really was a great Washington, which we have 100 years of cinema and television to prove that that’s actually hard to do—playing Washington. So I’m curious about the decision to shift the show towards him. 

That’s a great point, about Ian’s performance and about the West Wing thing. There was a version of the pilot of this show that was very different from the show you see, in which Washington was super heavy. He was all over it. And the reason for that is if you read Alexander Rose’s book that we’re basing a lot of our story on, it’s Washington’s Spies and it’s a lot about him and how he was this surprisingly great spymaster. It was really AMC who pushed, correctly, for us to focus first on the people we don’t know. And that became our ground-up approach, and the idea to send us into this world without those Hey-I-Know-That-Guy moments. And then Washington comes in organically, and by the end of season one, the Culper Ring is fully formed and official. So now it’s time for him to start using these guys, and it makes sense to feature him more and more. It also helps earn the title change, the title adjustment, [fromTURN] to TURN: Washington’s Spies, because now they really are.

One of the great characters of your show, who sort of marches to the beat of his own drummer, is Robert Rogers. His loyalties don’t sway, but they don’t necessarily fit the battle lines that have been drawn. Where is he heading? 

Rogers is put on a collision course with the Culper Ring, because he’s assigned the highest level mission you can possibly get. He’s directly assigned a mission by King George. He’s been stripped of the Rangers, and is going back [to England] and trying to go over everyone’s head to be reinstated, and is kind of pulled back into the war and the shadow war in the Colonies. But what he really wants is to explore the Northwest Passage. He’s sort of done with war. He wants to get back to the fun, get back to exploring. 

One thing the show did well in the first season was depict the British approach to the conflict in 1776, which was much more paternal—just slap those rebels on the wrist and get back to the way things were. Now, as the years turn to 1777 and 1778, this starts to change. How does the show express the harsher British attitude?

It’s really expressed best in the divide between Major Hewitt and Captain Simcoe. Hewitt spells it out in a later episode where he sees the war as a much bigger conflict between men of reason versus men of blood, men who use terror as a tool and try to take advantage of any situation—of might makes right, you know? There were some good officers and some bad officers. And then there’s Simcoe… Even the people who wanted the British there, Loyalists, started to resent the consequences of the occupation. 

In Toronto, there’s a Simcoe street and statues in his honor. They view him very differently

I did an interview with a publication in Toronto and they were asking about that: “Why is Simcoe so bad on your show? We have Simcoe Day. There’s a Lake Simcoe.” I said, “Maybe Canada mellowed him out, but he was, by all accounts, a very brutal guy towards the colonists down in New York and Pennsylvania and especially Long Island. We’ve taken some liberties with him, but that stuff is documented.” And when they put out the article, it was “Creator Admits They Took Liberties with Simcoe.” [Laughs] They really want to protect that guy. 

I saw in some behind-the-scenes photos that he seems to have a different look this year: different uniform and hair.

He’s in a green Queen’s Rangers uniform. You see his actual hair. He doesn’t have to wear a wig anymore, so he lets his hair grow out, and he is a pretty handsome guy. I hope that inspires conflicted feelings amongst women or whoever is watching: “Oh God, he’s actually kind of handsome!” But he’s still a psycho. 

Arnold is new, Shippen is new. Are there other new characters as well? 

There’s another person who’s new, who you’ll meet in the two-hour. If you read up on the Culper Ring, you’ll learn that the ring didn’t just stop with this number of people. There’s another member out there and potentially one of the most important ones. And that character who is a very stealth character will turn out to be pretty important to the future of the show. 

Loathe though you are to rely on them, will there be any Hey-I-Know-That-Guy moments with famous Revolutionary War period figures, whether it be Hamilton or Lafayette?  

Lafayette does come in. Washington really, really needs the French in 1777 and 1778 and King George is really hoping they don’t join. So we meet Lafayette in that context. 

The show is shifting to Monday following the path of Better Call Saul. In some ways, you must be pleased because it gets you away from Games of Thrones

That’s actually what I thought, that we were hopefully going to be moved from under the iron boot of Game of Thrones. But I didn’t know exactly where, and then when they presented the idea that we’re going to sort of plant our flag on Mondays with Better Call Saul, it’s a good idea. I think it makes a lot of sense.  

Any teases, things you’re most excited for people to see this season?

There’s a lot more spycraft and gadgets this year, just in general. [There are clues] in our opening title sequence, and our [premiere opener] is sort of like a high-level James Bond type of teaser set in England. We have a scene with another spy, a female spy in England from the Colonies. Her name was Patience Wright, a famous sculptress, and one of the things she would do is conceal her spy messages inside these waxworks busts. She would send things to Ben Franklin and others with the information she overheard at the court. So she kind of kicks the season off, with the high-level theft from the Court of King George. 

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