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'Turn' recap: 'False Flag'

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Antony Platt/AMC

Turn: Washington's Spies

type:
TV Show
Current Status:
In Season
seasons:
2
run date:
04/06/14
broadcaster:
AMC
genre:
Drama

“Just imagine how dangerous it would for a patriot spy living inside New York City.”

That’s what Abraham Woodhull told Major Hewlett after his first espionage reconnaissance mission in the British-occupied city. Actually, maybe it’s not that dangerous… as long as the patriotic spy is facing an adversary as blind and oblivious as Hewlett. This is a man who seems to be completely duped by Abe’s offer to be a double-agent for the British, a man who has been easily manipulated by every side so far, a man who literally catches a colonist red-handed as he’s paging through his private diary and gives him the benefit of the doubt. For a guy who has streaks of paranoia, denial might be Hewlett’s defining characteristic and ultimately his fatal flaw.

So, good for Abe, who’s still getting the hang of the spy business. If he had to operate under the nose of John André or Robert Rogers, he might already be a dead man. But Hewlett’s convenient blinders allow him some breathing room, and his first trip to Manhattan yielded tangible results, with an accurate estimate of British forces and the crucial names of warships in the harbor. Abe surreptitiously slips away from morning breakfast with his family for a secret rendezvous with Anna, who has her own bit of intelligence about Charles Lee to send to Ben and Gen. Washington. But Anna is suspicious about Abe’s methods and is appalled when he reluctantly reveals that he’s pretending to be a double-agent for Hewlett. The Anna I thought I knew from season 1 would’ve relished such daring and clever mischief for the patriot cause, but now she chastises him for being foolish and expresses regret that she ever jumped out of that boat to stay behind in Setauket rather than be with her husband. “I jumped for you,” she tells him. Sweet. But c’mon, Anna: Abe is finally acting like the man you fell in love with, the man of action you once urged him to be.

At Washington’s headquarters, the intelligence is cause for celebration. Washington is giddy with the precision contents of Abe’s Culper report about New York, but he refuses to acknowledge the other matter of General Lee’s loyalty. Ben thinks that Abigail’s information is cut-and-dry and that Lee must be confronted. But Washington is correct—not only for the political considerations he forcefully expresses later—but because Abigail’s information is potentially compromised. Think about it: In the chess game of intelligence, it’s not ridiculous for one side to try to sew discord in the camp of its enemy. From Washington’s point of view, Abigail might be manipulated by André, hoping that Washington and Lee turn on each other. The audience might know better, but Washington doesn’t, nor does Ben.

Ben expresses his frustrations to patriot spymaster Nathaniel Sackett, who has more important matters on his mind. He gives Ben and Caleb a tour of his spy shop, and hints at a special mission that he’s plotting that involves Caleb securing the intelligence that Patience Wright died for, the hidden secret British documents in her bust of King George. (But what was Sackett hiding in those barrels behind the curtain?) Ben is hung up on Lee’s betrayal, so when he sees Thomas Jefferson’s polygraph duplicator, he sees an opportunity to suss out Lee’s treasonous intentions with a forged correspondence from General Gates.

Major André is also of the mind to send a letter, but he doesn’t require a phony letter—he has Peggy Shippen in mind. She pays him the compliment of visiting him at the theater, where he’s the only talented thespian in the soldiers’ staging of Taming of the Shrew. He asks her to write a letter to Benedict Arnold, a request she takes as an insult—most likely because it makes her think that André’s interest in her is only business and not romantic. “I’m not a piece on your chessboard, Major,” she says, before leaving in a huff. Don’t worry, André: She writes the letter.

NEXT: Introducing General Arnold[pagebreak]​

I suspect that a letter from a beautiful (rich) woman might be exactly what Arnold needs. When we see him again, his fortunes have turned. In the premiere, Arnold strode into Washington’s dinner like a warrior hero and seemed to be well recovered from his wounds at Saratoga. Now, he’s suffering excruciating treatment for his shattered leg and the surgeon is threatening amputation. Over his dead body! Washington arrives to visit his friend and perhaps alleviate Arnold’s physical distress with some good news. He’s been promoted to Major General… but it’s a title only and he’ll still report to the rival officers he loathes. Maybe it’s the pain of his injury, or maybe it’s his wounded pride, but Arnold’s flaws are laid bare. He needs money and he blames Congress, his rivals, and even Washington for holding him back. “What do you know of sacrifice!” he barks at the boss, who just so happened to marry the richest woman in the colonies. “I would rather die before I bring shame upon [my three sons] like my father did me… Something you would understand if you had any sons of your own.”

Oof. Silence. The fact that the Father of America never sired any children was a sensitive issue and a frequent source of scurrilous political attacks—as evidenced by the officers that provoked Ben into a fight in the season premiere. That Arnold, a man Washington admired and trusted, would spit such cold and disrespectful words to his face, says all you need to know about the intimacy of their relationship, and, more importantly, Arnold’s vanity, recklessness, and desperation—a dangerous combination.

Ben encounters Arnold in a slightly better mood. As part of his ruse to entrap Lee, Ben intends to send his phony letter to Lee in Arnold’s outgoing mail, a packet that will include the bitter general’s resignation letter to Congress. Turns out Arnold fought with and remembered Ben’s dead brother, Samuel, endearing him even further to the young intelligence officer. “I never forget valor,” says Arnold, in yet another line of dialogue dripping with irony and fate. “There is so little of it in this world.”

Back in Setauket, Judge Woodhull is still laboring in his own recovery from his bullet wound. And he is agitated when he discovers that Abe and Hewlett have private business. Is he suspicious of his son’s motivations, or is he jealous that he’s not part of the conversation? His curiosity gets the best of him, and when Hewlett goes out hunting, he rushes up to his guest’s bedroom and sifts through his personal belongings until he finds his notebook—full of clues and smutty nude etchings (of Anna?). Hewlett walks in and catches him in the act. In his private quarters. Reading his private journal. Oh, but a mere misunderstanding. Which it truly was; the Judge is as loyal as money. But a lesser man than Hewlett—a less gullible man—may have hanged the Judge, and been completely justified.

Ben’s ploy works exactly as he’d planned; Lee responds with a letter that makes plain his contempt for Washington and his ambition to have him replaced. But Washington doesn’t want to hear it. Ben insists, and that’s when Washington finally explodes. Despite his sphinx-like public face, Washington possessed a famous temper that he labored his whole life to control. When he lost it, though, it could be thunderous. He lectures Ben on what he’s too young and too naive to see—that the revolution is doomed without French assistance, and the French won’t take America seriously if they see its army fighting with each other. Hence why he refuses to address the obvious disloyalty brandished by other high officers in the army; he must present the face of a confident, competent leader to the French who are still deciding whether the Americans have a chance to win. Then, he cuts Ben off at the knees—with a barb no doubt planted by Arnold’s vindictiveness—”It’s not my task to teach you better sense. I am not your father, and you are not my son.” 

There was the promise of Turn‘s two most popular rogues colliding in Hackensack, N.J., where Patience Wright’s bust of King George was headed. Sackett sent Caleb to steal it just as Rogers arrived at the man’s door to reclaim it for the Brits. But in a scene that lacked the tension it may have had on the page, the two fearsome fighters never even caught each other’s shadows and Rogers rode off empty-handed after learning that the British ship carrying the valuable cargo had been ransacked by privateers. No one knows where it is, and no one knows what’s inside the head of King George. 

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