A few episodes back, when Abraham Woodhull was attempting to recruit Robert Townsend into the Culper Ring, the symbolic mano a mano game of strategy was checkers. In the season’s penultimate episode, “The Prodigal,” chess figured into the plot, as Anna aides Hewlett in his feud with Simcoe with a clever move that changes the balance of power ever so slightly. But it remains to be seen whether Hewlett has the game to top Simcoe, especially since his adversary is a mad dog perfectly capable of overturning the board at any point and sticking a sharpened rook into his rival’s neck.
Simcoe is a man of blood, Hewlett is a man of reason, and their season-long clash of wills (and hearts) is nearing a final conclusion. Simcoe seems determined to press the matter, beginning with his almost certain involvement in the hanging of one of Hewlett’s soldiers. “I just hope his despair isn’t contagious,” he mocked Hewlett at the gallows, with the man’s dead body still swaying. “There are so few of you as it is.”
“He seems to treat violence like a game, and now he is trying to goad me into open war,” Hewlett confides to Anna, the primary reason for the deadly game in the first place. Both men covet her, and she actually reciprocates Hewlett’s feelings to a certain degree, though it’s more fondness than romantic passion. Simcoe’s passion is a burning cauldron of emotions that requires just one wrong word or stare to bubble over. As he tells his second, Akinbode, who predictably fell for Anna’s gambit to accompany Cicero to New York, says: “I hate and I love. Why I do so, perhaps you ask, I know not. But I feel it, and I am in torment.” It’s a quote from the ancient Roman poet Catullus, who pined for the beautiful Lesbia.
I give Hewlett some credit for merely surviving this long, but Simcoe may have overplayed his hand. During their parley, which Hewlett called to cool things down, but which Simcoe is using to amp things up, the blood-thirsty Ranger purposely insulted the major in every possible way, comparing him to a licentious French whore in quite graphic terms. He admits to all the major crimes that were blamed on the Setauket locals… including poisoning Hewlet’s beloved horse, Persepolis. Simcoe might be Kaiser Soze, always willing to do the horrible thing that most men wouldn’t even consider. But Hewlett is Mental Gellar, and his murdered steed might be the bagged lunch in the communal fridge—the one thing that sets him off and makes him slightly dangerous. Sometimes, the only thing you can do with a mad dog is take him behind the shed and give him the Old Yeller treatment.
Hewlett’s return at least secured Abe’s freedom. But prison left its mark on Abe; he’s someone who can walk the walk now. “Thank you for your hospitality, Mr. Yates,” he says cryptically to his crooked jailer, before following with the veiled threat, “I won’t forget you.” There was something unsettling about Abe’s stare that followed, and Yates couldn’t laugh it off.
Abe hurries to Townsend’s boarding house, but there is no sign of the reluctant spy. He’s sold the place to a MacDougal, leaving behind only Abe’s unpaid bill. Abe treks out to Oyster Bay to find the Townsends and discovered that Simcoe and his Rangers had, in fact, provided the gentle push that the younger Townsend required to act—they stole his father’s horses and burned his stable. Though Samuel is bruised, I feel as if the nudge was almost too gentle. I wasn’t rooting for Samuel’s death, but Robert had put up such resistance to Abe’s plans that I feel like a bigger blow was warranted. He only joined the rebel cause because some rude soldiers stole his dad’s horses and torched the barn? Okay, sure. But did he really not realize that the occupying forces were doing this to other colonists in and around the city before it finally hit his home?
Robert left some invisible message on the back of Abe’s bill with the help of Caleb’s magic liquids. Turns out, he sold the boarding house, but purchased an even more convenient strategic establishment—a bar or coffee house?—that quickly yielded some crucial intelligence: there is a plot to assassinate Washington.
But that’s information that Abe won’t learn until after he gets back to his spy cave and applies the reagent. First, the prodigal son returns home to his family, where Mary cries tears of joy, the Judge eyes him suspiciously, and Hewlett has to hold Anna back from rushing to Abe’s side. Later, in bed, Abe tells Mary that he just wants things to go back to the way they were, that he learned from prison and is finished with the spy business. Mary knows better, but for once, she doesn’t harp on it. Maybe she’s growing more comfortable with looking the other way.
NEXT: “No… one’s… slick as Arnold, no one’s quick as Arnold, no one’s head’s as incredible thick as Arnold”