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'Turn' premiere recap: 'Thoughts of a Free Man'

Abe rededicates himself, and Benedict Arnold has Washington’s back

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Antony Platt/AMC

Turn: Washington's Spies

TV Show
run date:
Current Status:
In Season

When rebellion initially bubbled to the surface in 1776, and the iron grip of Mother England squeezed its American colonies to keep them in line, many Americans retained ambivalent sentiments about the whole notion of independence—especially in Abraham Woodhull’s New York, where occupying British troops lent reconciliation a certain inevitability. But in the first season of Turn: Washington’s Spies, Woodhull evolved from passive rebel sympathizer to chief agitator, a murderer and the linchpin of George Washington’s intelligence network. AMC is hoping that viewers follow a similar trajectory and commit to the cause, now that the show’s stakes have been raised and Abe can finally act more like James Bond than Hamlet.

Abe isn’t exactly a Revolutionary 007, but Turn has a few villains that would make Ian Fleming proud—except for being Brits, of course. We already know Hewlett, John André, and the sadistic Simcoe, and the season 2 premiere introduced the unhinged King George. In London, while sitting for the esteemed American sculptress Patience Wright, the monarch—whose sanity would eventually be called into question by historians—compares the American colonies to babes in the nest, who might yearn for freedom but ultimately need a mother to feed them. An ironic metaphor, since it turns out that the Crown is struggling to pay its own bills, leading the king to foam at the mouth and throw a tantrum—but not before Wright can pocket a page of his top-secret memo to send back to the Americans.

In real life, Wright may or may not have been an American spy in the British court, but sending intelligence inside plaster busts is a pretty ingenious operation. The real artist was never caught, never executed, but at least the doomed character gets to deliver the defiant words after she’s accused of secreting the intelligence to her contacts in America: “No, not America… it is bound for the United States.” U-S-A! U-S-A!!

But let’s not plan a Fourth of July barbecue just yet. In fact, if you were betting on American independence in the fall of 1777, you would’ve received longshot odds. The patriotic fervor of ’76 pulled the colonies into a war against superior forces, New York quickly fell, Congress fled Philadelphia, and General George Washington is a convenient scapegoat getting pilloried by armchair generals great and small. Benjamin Tallmadge can’t stand to hear his boss maligned in the camp and by journalistic gutter snipes. When he meets with Washington to brief him on the latest (lack of) intelligence, he’s incensed by the high-ranking rivals who are lobbying Congress to replace G-Dub. One of them, General Charles Lee, might already be in John André’s pocket. Washington scolds Ben for failing to do his job—which is intelligence, not protecting the general’s reputation—and orders him to get the Culper ring back online or to recommend a replacement.

Back in Setauket, Abe’s murder of Ensign Baker and Mary’s executive decision to torch their farm and blame the crimes on marauding rebels has changed the equation. First, they’re reluctant co-conspirators now, though Mary’s total loyalty to her husband is undermined by her loyalty to the Brits. Second, they’re living with his father, the judge, which means they are sharing quarters with Major Hewlett. At least Mary has become a capable liar, telling her knitting circle the horrible story of how brave, outnumbered Baker stood up to the savage bandits. What’s interesting is that the women might have better poker faces than Mary. Some might suspect that she’s lying and resent her. Perhaps others suspect that she’s lying but actually approve of Abe’s actions. When you’re sewing in the house of the British commander, you must by loyal or at least pretend to be.

NEXT: A marital dispute