“My son is in prison. And Major Hewlett is captured. There’s no one left for you to crawl into bed with here. Get out of my house… now. —Judge Woodhull to Anna
Abraham Woodhull is rotting in a British jail in New York, accused of espionage but claiming to be a double-agent working for the Crown. Major Edmund Hewlett, who is sympathetic enough these days to have a first name, is being held by patriot forces in Connecticut and will likely be mistakenly charged with war atrocities. It’s not a good time to be a woman like Anna Strong, without a husband or protector. There are ruffians about, many of them in uniform—one of whom refuses to let her be.
“Houses Divided” is an apt title that describes everything that Turn: Washington’s Spies is about, specifically the notion that our war for independence was a civil war that pitted town against town, neighbor against neighbor. But the title can also refer to the characters themselves in this episode, as the current drama suggests how conflicted they are in their emotions and loyalties: Their heads and their hearts are occasionally at odds.
Take Anna, for instance. She’s one of the show’s most compelling and crucial characters, a feisty and passionate patriot with an unfortunate—if not tragic—romantic backstory. She’s levelheaded and courageous, but also a barroom babe who can’t help but attract all sorts of amorous attention. She’s married to a patriot, carrying on an illicit affair with Abe, resisting the advances of a mad-dog psychotic who’s returned to prove his love for her, and feeling a sweetness for the smitten and pitiful star-gazer.
Take Abigail, Anna’s “freed” but not-free former slave who’s currently the best-positioned patriot spy in Philadelphia, where she’s John André’s primary house servant. She’s communicating intelligence to Anna in exchange for the continued safe care of her son Cicero in Setauket. But she has no real quarrel with André, nor the British, technically, since the Crown’s views on slavery are much more progressive than the colonies’. Her only concern is her son. So how will her attitudes change if and when loose-lipped Cicero comes to live with her and André in Philadelphia? The charming British intelligence chief offers to reunite mother and son as a token of his appreciation for her hard work and discretion—and let’s also give the brilliant André credit for possibly seeing the big picture and acting on possible suspicions. Washington once dismissed Abigail’s intelligence because he worried that it might be compromised—misinformation that shouldn’t be trusted. He may have been on to something.
And take the Judge, the most frustrating character in all of Turn. He is an unapologetic Tory, loyal to the Crown—perhaps only because it seems inevitable and everlasting. He’s never softened his stance, except for playing peacemaker in situations that concerned Abe. But now that Abe’s captured and in prison, his heart has only hardened. Mary, whose own soul is also a house divided, desperately pleads with her father-in-law to save his own son, scolding him: “When it comes to politics you’re a businessman. You don’t really believe in the king. You just believe the king’s the safest bet. You need to choose between your pride and your family.”
NEXT: Arnold’s love letters are makeout music to André’s ears[pagebreak]
The difficulty, however, with “House Divided” is giving these conflicting emotions and interactions credibility. Turn has the advantage of being a cloak-and-dagger show, where everyone’s motivations are suspect. But it’s a fine line, and Turn has a convenient gift for providing its characters with sudden bursts of enlightenment after extended episodes of ignorance.
Hewlett is the rare fellow who’s yet to be struck by the thunderbolt of enlightenment, but the Judge finally had his eyes opened. In previous episodes, he was suspicious of Abe’s New York activities with Hewlett, but he always seemed more jealous than concerned. In some cases, it seemed obvious that Abe was taunting his father with his patriot activity, but the Judge always seemed blinded, incapable of seeing the truth even when Abe seemed to be shaking it in front of his face. But now that Abe has been captured, he erupts upon the ladies in the house, insulting Anna’s honor and berating Mary for knowing all about Abe’s criminal activities. Apparently, he knew of Abe’s betrayal all along and just thought the best course was for Abe to come to his senses on his own…? Now he prefers to leave Abe, his only surviving son, in jail—to “teach him a lesson,” as if war-time treason were the 1777 equivalent of driving dad’s classic car without a license.
Simcoe and Anna have reached a similar sort of relationship dissonance, where one speaks to the other as if their previous five conversations never took place. From the beginning, Simcoe has been creepily infatuated by Anna and is determined to do anything to have her—and dispatch anyone who stands in his way. A week ago, she flinched at the mere sight of him and then humiliated him in public by choosing Hewlett, a lightweight. In “House Divided,” she cuts Simcoe off at the knees and nearly provokes the savage beast who can do her real harm: “I do not love you. I never will. I may have lost my home…. [but] if there’s anything left of me that you want, you will have to take it, because I will give you nothing of me. Ever.”
Later, though, she comes back to his room with a renewed offer of her charms in exchange for the rescue of Hewlett (who’s the only man who can vouch for Abe’s innocence). Somewhere inside the cold-blooded killer, there’s a poet who wrote her undelivered love letters during his incarceration. But one thing Simcoe isn’t is dumb. He’s deranged, but not dumb. Does he really believe that Anna’s feelings for Hewlett are true? Does he really believe that she has anything but loathing for him? Is he that warped not to care how he eventually comes to possess her? And if so, then why didn’t he physically take her before? Because “there’s a heart beating inside of me that wants the same thing you do: to love, to be loved”? Nice try, Simcoe. No one’s buying it.
At least we can count on André for truth—or a poker face that makes us unsure. He and Peggy Shippen are hot and heavy in Philadelphia, and their secret relationship is only intensified by the level-jumping correspondence from Peggy’s former admirer, the dashing Benedict Arnold. He might be a potential rival, but his purple prose was practically E L James to the ears of the British intelligence chief as he quoted the most flowery lines while entangled with Peggy’s naked body.
It’s good to be John André—sleeping in Ben Franklin’s bed with the richest and most desired woman in North America. Work’s not bad either, especially since Lt. Gamble brought Nathaniel Sackett’s satchel of blood-stained intelligence. Yes, as Benjamin Tallmadge feared, André now knows that a Samuel Culper is Washington’s man behind enemy lines. And though he doesn’t know that Abe is Culper, he correctly surmises that the spy is from Long island. He orders Simcoe and the Queen’s Rangers to Oyster Bay to investigate. Isn’t that where Samuel Townsend lives?
Simcoe follows orders, but he’s inclined to take the scenic route across the bay to Connecticut first, to win Anna’s romantic obligations by pretending to rescue his rival, Hewlett. He might have company: Ben and Caleb Brewster have similar plans to visit the rebel encampment in order to save Hewlett and Abe. A clash seems inevitable, and if so, who will Jordan/Akinbole side with when the bullets fly?