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'Turn' recap: 'Sealed Fate'

The Empire strikes back, as Robert Rogers gets his revenge on Washington.

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Antony Platt/AMC

Turn: Washington's Spies

TV Show
run date:
Current Status:
In Season

“You’ll watch them all die again, George! I’ll let you live to regret it! You will live to regret it!” —Robert Rogers

There are only a few men in North America who can make George Washington shudder, but Robert Rogers is one of them. They were acquaintances during the French and Indian War, when both men fought for the victorious British. Rogers earned his reputation as a shrewd and savage guerrilla warrior, while Washington was better known for his battlefield failures.

These men of war know each other, and after 14 episodes of Turn: Washington’s Spies, we know versions of them as well. That’s what makes the opening scene of “Sealed Fate,” a flashback set on the eve of the Revolution, so memorable and surprising: Washington and Rogers, in the same room. You could sense the danger, the bottled tension, and Washington’s wariness in meeting such a formidable and unpredictable potential adversary. This Rogers, whose calling card is a dagger, is not one to be trifled with.

As it was, Rogers offered his professional-killing services to Washington and the American army, but Washington knows too much about Rogers’ character—and the fact that the financially strapped Rogers has made similar overtures to the British. He simply can’t be trusted, so Washington has him arrested—a decision that backfires upon Rogers’ escape on his way to trial in New Hampshire.

Rogers has been muttering Washington’s name in contempt ever since, and in “Sealed Fate,” he finally exacts some retribution. It wasn’t the patriots’ finest hour, but perhaps the new setting of Valley Forge in December 1777 should’ve been a clue that a cold wind was coming. It didn’t start out that way, as Benjamin Tallmadge and Nathaniel Sackett’s intelligence operation are presented with two huge gifts. First, a redcoat named Sutherland defects with intelligence about John André and a potential conspiracy within the Continental camp. Then, Caleb Brewster arrives with the crucial evidence that Patience Wright died to secure: documentation that the British Empire is on the brink of financial run from its costly multi-front wars. Sackett and Washington can barely contain their excitement because they know that such information might tempt France to form a crucial alliance with the United States. Washington plots some misdirection to throw a lurking Rogers off the trail and send Thévenau De Francy back to France with the secret, game-changing document.  

Sutherland, the redcoat defector, presents another opportunity to show how much Ben still needs to learn about intelligence. But he’s not alone. Sutherland’s testimony that a civilian would soon enter the camp and make a bold yet unspecified claim—that Washington is to be assassinated, as it turns out when the unpolished Bill Shanks skulks into camp—seems to have merit. Sackett is cautious, and Ben finally uses a little bit of common-sense misinformation to cast suspicion on the redcoat. But this time, it’s Washington and Sackett who can’t clearly see the big picture. Washington identifies Shanks as a thief and a deserter, and dismisses the imminent danger. He no longer trusts Ben’s judgment and orders Sackett to debrief Sutherland, a fateful blunder. Sackett walks into a deadly trap, set by his “honored nemesis,” André. He was the target, not Washington. Sutherland slays him and makes off with Sackett’s top-secret files, including information about the Culper ring.

Can we all stand up and applaud the genius that is John André—or at least the show’s writing room, for allowing him to pull off such a slightly incomprehensible ruse? How did André and Sutherland (real name: Gamble) properly manipulate Shanks to do no more or less than exactly as they hoped, lowering the Americans’ guard and placing Gamble exactly in the right place to take out the intended target? It makes more sense if Gamble and Shanks were in on it together, but Shanks acted like an oblivious patsy.  

For what it’s worth, Sackett’s death is a right turn from reality. He lived until 1805, though he fell out of favor with Washington around this time, opening the door for his protégé to play a larger role in the intelligence operation. So his murder is actually quite useful in Turn. But if Ben has any chance of going toe-to-toe with André, he’s going to have to do more than just convince Washington to let him do his job, as he angrily yelled at the humbled Commander-in-Chief—he’s going to have to lobby the show’s writers.

NEXT: Abe gets caught pretending to be something he really is