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'Turn' recap: 'Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot'

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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

After some dark days for George Washington’s American army, the leader and his troops are walking taller in the early summer of 1778—with something that almost seems like confidence. The same can be said for the storytellers of Turn: Washington’s Spies, who decided that the show’s lingering uncertainty about a third season from AMC would not impact season 2 finale. In other words, as Washington charged towards the retreating British army in New Jersey and Benedict Arnold cornered Peggy Shippen in Philadelphia, there was no effort to tie up loose ends neatly in case this season finale becomes the series finale. “Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot” was as much a springboard into future episodes as it was a season-ender.  

Abe’s own confidence also continues to grow; prison really did leave its mark on him, and he’s less skittish about life and death and the dangerous game he’s playing. When Simcoe confronts him in town, quizzing him about the two missing Rangers assigned to follow him, Abe can’t even manage a good poker face; he’s practically needling Simcoe as if he wants the towering brute to know that he’s personally responsible for their disappearance. Note how Simcoe mentions that his unit was heading out to support the army’s “embarkation” from Philadelphia; Abe quickly corrects him, referring to it as a “retreat.” Abe isn’t scared of this guy any more.

This, of course, is after Abe, Caleb, and Anna murdered the two abusive Rangers last week, and their plans to pin the unsolved killings on Hewlett’s soldiers is all too easy. Anna swaps Eastin’s flask with that of a dead Ranger’s, and the two factions’ drunken singing rivalry quickly turns violent at the pub, with fists flying and guns drawn. Neither side blinks, but Simcoe permits his men to stand down in order to follow their new orders.

They’ll be needed, because the British embarkation/retreat from Philadelphia to New York is a long slog that leaves them vulnerable to attacks. Washington is itching for a fight, and even Lee and his adjunct Bradford are enthusiastic about playing offense, especially since the Continentals estimate that have superior forces for once. Washington and Lee had previously mended fences, and Lee was granted the honor of leading 6,000 troops into battle against British forces in the farms near Monmouth Court House. But as we know, as Ben knows, and as Washington’s slave, Billy Lee, knows, General Charles Lee is not to be trusted.

In fact, Lee and André are in cahoots, and it is André who selected Monmouth Court House for the site of the pivotal clash that might reverse the momentum and end the war quickly. The British army is hurrying back to New York so as not to get sandwiched by the Continentals and the soon-to-arrive French armada. But André successfully lobbies General Clinton to lure the Americans into a trap: feign a weakened rear-guard, but ambush and finish off Washington’s army once and for all when Lee walks them into the noose. It’s a bold gamble for André, but he’s confident because he has Lee in his pocket.

Back in Setauket, Simcoe’s departure has set Hewlett’s latest plan in motion. He wants to compile all of Abe’s intelligence from his New York fact-finding missions and present a comprehensive report to André that will negate the need for him to send Simcoe’s goons back to Long Island. This, of course, is a problem for Abe, since the only intelligence he actually gathered in New York was from Robert Townsend and his own estimates of British strength. He fears that André will see through his lies—a suspicion his father immediately reinforces—and prison-hardened Abe decides that the only option is to murder Hewlett before the letter can be sent.

Abe shares his plan with Anna so that she can lure Hewlett to his death that night, but she’s not willing. She can’t bring herself to hurt her dear Edmund. When I think about season 2 of Turn, I will always struggle with the storytelling decision to make Edmund and Anna a romantic pairing with crucial ramifications. It never felt real to me, and I almost feel like the writers couldn’t even get 100 percent behind it. But here we are in the season finale, and the most honest and passionate relationship in the show—romantically and politically—is tossed aside because Hewlett once talked to Anna about the stars.

Anna decides the only way to save Hewlett’s life (and Abe from making a horrible mistake) is to confide in Mary—the Tory woman who loathes her for stealing her husband’s heart. But the role of Mary tonight will be played by Lady Macbeth—last seen burning her farmhouse to the ground after her husband shot Ensign Baker. No need to kill Hewlett, she whispers—just murder the courier. “I don’t believe in your cause; I believe in you,” she explains to her skeptical husband. “Now, I do think I can help you be a little less sloppy.”

NEXT: Lee gets his comeuppance and someone discovers the identity of the Setauket spies[pagebreak]​

In Philadelphia, General “Gaston” Arnold is pillaging the most notable Tories in town even worse than the angry Patriot rabble would if they had the chance. The mobs might just humiliate the Shippens and torch their home; Arnold insists on marrying Peggy despite her obvious lack of enthusiasm. Her initial deflection to his tactless proposal seemed like a wise play, especially since we saw how her pompous father put André through the wringer about his family connections and finances when the old man assumed a proposal was imminent. Imagine how he’d treat Arnold, a mere apothecary’s son. But Arnold apparently knows how to speak the Judge’s language—blunt talk aimed at his pocketbook. “It wasn’t what he said so much as what he insinuated,” Judge Shippen told a shocked Peggy, after he’d reluctantly given their engagement his blessing. “He would see to it that our family was protected from the patriot mob that now rule this city.”

Poor Peggy. The two most important men in her life have pimped her out, and her only option is to play the role to the hilt. She stalls for time on her wedding day by offering Arnold the delights of their wedding night. And then, in what is the saddest scene in two full seasons of Turn, a forlorn Peggy clutches her treasured lock of Andre’s hair as Arnold, “that great blue bear,” ravages her quite violently from behind.

The Turn story I’m most invested in now is the tragic love story between Peggy and André. And as bad as things look for Peggy, they might be worse for André. He gambles his reputation with General Clinton on the Battle of Monmouth, and he almost pulls it off. But as Lee is pulling his troops from the field and creating a disorganized retreat that might break the entire army, Washington arrives to literally save the day. But first, he unloads upon Lee and orders him to the rear. “You damn poltroon!” he roars, in a tirade that’s famous in the history books. “What the hell are you about, man!?”

With Washington directing at the front, the Continentals rally. Though the battle is technically a draw, it represents a moral victory for the Americans since it proved that their troops could stand and fight with the King’s best soldiers.

But Lee’s betrayal is only one half of the conspiracies lingering around the Continental camp. Caleb arrives at the battlefield with Townsend’s intelligence that there is plot to assassinate Washington. Who could be behind it? Lee’s humiliation is already complete, so he seems neutered as a threat. As Washington tells Ben later, confiding that he was never as blind as Ben and Billy Lee worried. “I merely had to wait for the proper moment to deal with [Lee], and with the proper amount of discretion,” he explains. “Better he be court-martialed as a failure than a traitor.”

But there are still traitors in their midst, and Ben gets the pleasure of taking down his personal nemesis, Bradford. Once he has Bradford in chains, Ben sets a trap for his accomplice, one of two members of Washington’s personal body guards. It was slightly Corleone-esque the way Ben let the man hang himself, but it also seemed like quite a risk to invite the assassin into Washington’s presence and tell him that Bradford had been captured. Sgt. Thomas Hickey signed his own death warrant when he volunteered to bring Bradford to Washington’s tent, but wasn’t there also the possibility that the young soldier would’ve panicked and fired at Washington in a desperate ploy to accomplish his mission? Live and learn, Ben, spymaster general.

Turns out Bradford and Hickey were part of a well-funded cabal led by New York royal governor William Tryon and New York City mayor David Mathews. In reality, Tryon, Mathews, and Hickey were actually part of an assassination plot, but Turn has toyed with the timeline. They were implicated two years earlier, in 1776, before Washington was swept out of Brooklyn and Manhattan. Hickey was hanged for treason, while the bigger two fish escaped serious repercussions and remained cunning and ruthless Loyalists. Major William Bradford, however, seems to be the unfortunate victim of dramatic license. The most famous William Bradford of the Revolutionary War was an honored patriot who fought bravely at Trenton and Princeton. It does not seem like his loyalty was ever seriously questioned. 

Abe’s own assassination plot to rub out Eastin, Hewlett’s reliable courier—who was also the sniper who shot Judge Woodhull in season 1—succeeds. But Robert Rogers pounces on him immediately after Abe’s kill shot. Turns out it was Rogers who watched from the beach as Abe, Caleb, and Anna dumped the Rangers’ bodies in the sound. And it was Rogers who watched from a distance as Anna left Abe’s root cellar. Since he left New York, furious at the Crown’s betrayal, he headed back to Setauket, to find the rebel spies: “You and your plucky young freedom fighters: the tavern wench, the smuggler, the cavalry lad, and the farmer who can’t catch a harvest. All of Georgie’s bastard children.”

But even as Abe squirms with his neck in a garrote-like noose, and Rogers sharpens a blade with what appears like bad intentions, the plot thickens. “See, you’re the thing André wants most in the world… and what I want most is my revenge on him,” says Rogers. “So let an old trapper show you how to set a proper trap.”

Rogers has no intention of killing Abe. He wants to nail André for cheating him out of his promised prize, and he has Abe in a very compromised position, unable to say no to his demands for close collaboration. Season 3 starts right here: André versus Rogers, with Abe an unwilling pawn in the middle. The history books say that André’s capture for being a spy and the discovery of Arnold’s plot to hand over the American garrison at West Point were mostly dumb luck. I prefer and look forward to seeing how Rogers may have been the clever mind behind it.