“Can I trust a rebel spy to keep his word? Let me propose to this end — and to this end only — we put aside our mistrust and kill this murdering bastard.” — Major Edmund Hewlett
Abraham Woodhull is a spy. A patriot — or a traitor, depending on your political point of view in 1778. He’s been an undercover agent ever since he gleaned intelligence from a pair of Hessians heading to Trenton. And he’s spent every day since he crossed that Rubicon obsessively guarding his secret, even going as far as to commit murder. His paranoia and nightmares should finally be realized; he’s been betrayed by his own father. The embittered Judge Woodhull turned in his only son to the supremely oblivious Major Hewlett. Will the British commander send Abe directly to the gallows? Will he shoot him in Whitehall’s parlor?
Of course not…because it’s hapless star-gazing Hewlett we’re talking about. In fact, only Hewlett can pull defeat from the jaws of victory. He has Abe dead to rights the morning after the judge finally comes clean about his suspicions. But when cornered, Abe has two options, and he doesn’t opt to beg for mercy. He angrily calls his father a coward and practically scoffs at Hewlett’s threat of a death sentence. “But what will happen to you?” Abe taunts the officer pointing a pistol in his face. “You’ll be stripped of your command. Who provided the papers that got me into New York? Whose letter got me out of jail when I was arrested for being a spy? I wonder what your superiors in New York will have to say about that? You never know — you might be hanging with me. At any rate, you’ll be shown to be the fool that you really are!”
Mary steps between the men, as Hewlett considers the likelihood of Abe’s scenario, and Abe makes an exit with Thomas to the cabbage farm. Abe might be terrified that he’s been exposed, but he should take some comfort that his Javert is one Wile E. Hewlett.
Am I being too hard on Edmund? Let’s table that discussion and check in on New York, where some real spycraft is getting done. Welcome to Rivington’s Corner, a fashionable Wall Street coffee house for British officers and Tories. In the basement, James Rivington, the renowned Priest of the Temple of Falsehood publishes his loyalist propaganda sheet, Rivington’s Royal Gazette. (It’s important enough to make the show’s new opening credit animation.) Rivington’s very silent partner: Robert Townsend, a natural-born observer who blends in with the surroundings. It was he that alerted the rest of the Culper ring that Washington’s life was in danger — likely from the same careless gabbers who spill the name of their next Judas, Rev. Worthington, five minutes into a conversation with John André, a mere stranger to them except for the red uniform.
Townsend raises the Culper’s flag by purchasing an ad in the next day’s Gazette for “French Rasberry Brandy,” setting in motion an intelligence drop. (The major news headline was a British spin on General Washington reeling after being routed at Monmouth, but did you notice what dominated the rest of the front page: advertisements for the sale of slaves and the request for the return of runaway slaves.)
Rivington (John Carroll Lynch) has a unique operation working. He is a prominent mouthpiece for the Crown, with personal friendships with high officials such as Governor Tryon and Mayor Mathews, the men behind the failed Washington assassination. But just as Townsend is the perfect spy because of his reserve, Rivington could conceivably be even better because of his flamboyance — Townsend hears every word, but Rivington actually gets them to speak. When Townsend’s father arrives to pick up the coded Geneva Bible, Rivington pounces for details. But is it suspicion that motivates his fascination or just natural curiosity (and perhaps sympathy): “I’m a newsman, which is a religion all its own,” he tells Samuel Townsend, a day after he warned the Brits of Washington’s unholy alliance with the French papists. “While others worship mysteries, I seek to dispel them.”
Rivington isn’t the only person in his establishment with potentially conflicting motivations. Note the return of the New York actress Philomena Cheer, who had a previous dalliance with André as well as Gen. Lee. She seemed hurt by André’s cold shoulder, but she may yet have a role to play as a figure with close intimate relations with power brokers from both sides. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?
NEXT: Can Abe afford to let Hewlett live?
Near Philadelphia, Benedict Arnold took his case to his boss. Joseph Reed is charging Arnold with treason (TREASON!), but all he really wants is 10,000 pounds so he can marry Peggy Shippen. Washington paints a dark picture of the cause’s dire financial future (if only he had some ambitious aide-de-camp who was a financial genius) and counsels Arnold to request a court martial in order to clear his name once and for all.
In Setauket, Abe never saw the most recent Gazette after retreating to the farm, but Robert Rogers is already up to speed. He cracked the code and eagerly volunteers to head to Oyster Point to pick up some “Rasberry Brandy” after Abe explains his most recent predicament with Hewlett. Rogers is almost gleeful when he senses that Abe has resorted to blackmail to escape the noose, and it’s nice to see he’s taken a shine to Abe and little Thomas. Recall that Rogers hasn’t always been fond of spies: Not only does he despise André, but also recall that he once called his previous compromised puppet, Robeson — a man last seen helping an injured Hewlett back home across the sound — the “lowest form of life there is, lower than a sodomite or a serpent.” Rogers has promised to kill Abe eventually, but that hasn’t stopped him for enjoying their odd-couple companionship.
Simcoe and Hewlett are back at each other’s throats. More accurately, Simcoe is slurping tea while digging his heel deeper into Hewlett’s throat. Hewlett’s soldiers jump a lone Queen’s Ranger, and Simcoe retaliates with another impressive — and rather justified — act of savagery, taking four redcoats hostage. “A war with me is unwise,” Simcoe hisses at his rival after informing him of his mission to capture one Samuel Culper. As always, Hewlett finds himself between a rock and hard place, but this time, Anna has a solution: turn Abe’s spy ring loose upon Simcoe, eliminating two birds with one stone.
Perhaps we’ve seen enough of Hewlett’s blinders that it’s practically expected that he would harbor no suspicions that Anna would be an essential part of the Culper ring. Or does he simply not care? Because he’s aware that Anna and Abe have a bond as he practically had to hold Anna back from embracing Abe when he finally returned from prison last season. Yet he never seems to cast a suspicious eye on her, even after he just learned that Abe has been operating under his watch the whole time, even as Anna takes the proposal to eliminate Simcoe at Rocky Point to Abe and Caleb. Because he loves her like a fool. She is his beacon, the only person he can trust, he says.
He skulks into the night to meet with Abe, and they agree to an unholy alliance to murder Simcoe. Hewlett’s only demand: that after it’s done, Abe leaves Setauket with his wife and son once and for all. Why? Because he wants Anna to himself, no doubt.
But never trust the word of a rebel spy, Edmund. Because Abe is a killer, and he can’t let any man who knows the name Culper live. The Simcoe trap entails ambushing him after siccing him on a Tory the Setauket boys never cared for named Beekman. Then, it’ll be Hewlett’s turn. The title of this episode is “Cold Murdering Bastards,” and though Hewlett refers to Simcoe in such terms, the title better applies to the “good guys.” At American headquarters, Washington and Ben are faced with the same dilemma as Hewlett when Caleb brings them the name of the traitor, Worthington. Ben volunteers to kill the reverend himself. Washington liked the man’s sermons, but what was his ultimate response? “Make it look like an accident.” Cold. And necessary.
Hewlett could’ve shot Abe at Whitehall. He could’ve shot him in the dark. No hanging. No professional repercussions from New York because dead men tell no tales. But Hewlett is a gentleman and an intellectual, a good and decent man, and every episode that he is still alive is somewhat a surprise. Will Anna do more than kiss him? Will she warn him about Abe’s plan to double-cross him? Is she starting to feel like Odysseus, too, caught between a rock and a hard place?
Last question: Does someone need to die for the show to grow? It was Jefferson who said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” and perhaps there’s some corollary for serialized drama, too. Obviously, this chapter of the story ends with a rather famous death, but I wonder if Turn needs to shake up the table and put someone in the ground. Recall that the show’s writers initially intended to kill off Simcoe in the series premiere (even though that would’ve contradicted the history books). Is his time finally up? Or might Hewlett finally check out, rescuing Abe’s prospects but putting Anna at greater risk when Simcoe comes courting again. And are we really confident that Caleb will prevail if he and Simcoe face each other in a do-or-die situation in Rocky Point?