“You think I would trust any of you? You can’t even trust each other.” —Robert Townsend
Did you see that coming? I’m referring to Oyster Bay, and the flashback that threatens to shatter the heart of the Culper ring from within. In my recaps, I had long anticipated that the sacking of the Townsend farm would prove pivotal in Robert joining the patriot cause, so I had been disappointed when the show glossed over the actual event at the end of last season. Little did I know that the Turn team was biding its time, quite ingeniously.
The Townsend barn is still burning when “Many Mickles Make a Muckle” opens, flashing back to the morning after the Queen’s Rangers ransacked the place. Robert arrived to console his beaten father, Samuel, and the attack pushed the son off the political fence. His mind has been made up for him. “They chose for me when they came into this house and dealt violence,” he told his father, who would have rejoiced at that news if his pride hadn’t been so battered. “They will pay. God as my witness, they will pay.”
Samuel’s recollection of the night of mischief is painful to relive: the animals slaughtered, the barn torched, and himself clubbed by an overenthusiastic brigand. Those damn Queen’s Rangers! Oh, if only it were Capt. Simcoe’s unit. Instead, though, the man leading the raiding party, the same man who saved Samuel from an even more savage beating is… Caleb Brewster. And Samuel got a semi-clear look at his face.
So were there clues that the Americans staged the Townsend raid? I know of one. In “Benediction,” Caleb and his crew of flunkies attempted to set an ambush for Simcoe at the home of a former childhood nemesis in Rocky Point. After tying up the man (Beekman) and his wife, and waiting for Simcoe to walk into their trap, one of Caleb’s men clearly savored the opportunity to kill some time with the missus, earning a reprimand from Caleb: “Can’t have you going off like last time.” And yes, it’s revealed in the flashback, it was the same man who clubbed Samuel in Oyster Bay even after Caleb had instructed them not to harm the old man. Last time had been the Townsend fiasco.
So Caleb carried out the attack, making it look like a band of the Rangers. But Caleb rarely acts on his own — and only Abe Woodhull had been communicating with the Towsends at the time of the incident. Later, Caleb is forced to come clean to Ben Tallmadge and Anna Strong because he can’t obey General Washington’s urgent order to become the new Oyster Bay courier due to the risk of being identified by Samuel. He and Abe had hatched the scheme back when the latter was in prison and Caleb infiltrated the city courtesy of the Turtle submarine. Townsend needed just a push, Abe believed, and Caleb provided it and then some.
Washington is peeved at Tallmadge. Sure, the Culper ring relayed crucial information regarding John André’s counterfeiting operation, but it arrived too late to prevent the phony money from making its way into circulation. As a result, the American government is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Washington wants Culper cut out of the chain, thus getting the news from New York to Washington’s headquarters in about half the time. It’s difficult to argue with this logic (but Jamie Bell is the star of the show, right?) And if Caleb can’t show his face around Oyster Bay to retrieve intelligence from the Quaker, Anna Strong will.
Somewhere between Setauket and Oyster Bay, Robert Rogers is being hunted like a dog. The one-eyed guerrilla master — who’s starting to resemble Dickens’ Magwitch from Great Expectations — is en route to Oyster Bay to learn more about the mysterious woman who has André down in the mouth. Simcoe and the actual Rangers are on his scent, thanks to Abe’s half-truths, and Simcoe, still believing Rogers to be Culper, swears that today will be the famed tracker’s last. But Rogers is savvy and even more dangerous when cornered. He tricks one of his former Rangers and plants a tomahawk into his face. But who will get to Oyster Bay first? Rogers? Anna and Caleb? Or Ben, who quickly beelines for the Townsend farm while the Rangers canvas the whole countryside looking for Rogers?
In Philadelphia and New York, respectively, Peggy Shippen and André are basically negotiating the deal of a lifetime, with each of their difficult clients digging in their heels. Benedict Arnold is having second thoughts about selling out the Americans, especially since the Brits seem uninterested in handing him a battlefield command and seem only to care about information about Washington’s camp, the West Point battery specifications, and the secret identity of Culper. Peggy tries to keep him on point, and for all her gentle ego stroking, she has to be careful; Arnold might be putty in her hand, but he’s not a complete dolt when it comes to the British intelligence officer who has his fiancée on speed dial. “I don’t trust him,” he shouts at her angrily, before adding with a sneer. “I don’t care how many times he ate at your father’s table.”
On the opposite side, General Clinton in New York has little respect for Arnold, and sends the message through André that Arnold better deliver less he be branded one of history’s great traitors — like Washington. A-ha-ha.
Arnold has a better plan, a way to fix everything so he doesn’t need the British. Washington is coming to Philadelphia to lobby Congress to declare bankruptcy, and Arnold will throw a party in his honor and convince his boss to settle the court martial matter once and for all, man to man. This might work better if Arnold had the diplomatic tact of, say, Joseph Reed. But when Washington arrives with Tallmadge and his valet/slave Billy Lee, Arnold is a bundle of nerves. No one ever taught him to talk less, smile more. He can’t help himself, accosting Washington as soon as he arrives and then almost immediately interrupting the general’s tender reunion with his wife, Martha.
Washington and Martha are a formidable team. There are several reasons that Washington was appointed commander in chief of the Continental Army, and being the richest man in the colonies didn’t hurt. Most of that money came from Martha, and you can see that the two are not unaccustomed to such galas. Not only do they dance, but Washington even smiles (with his teeth showing, no less) as part of the show. Martha is a saint to make small talk (Spanish fly, really George?) with the “upstanding young ladies,” and she also recognizes every player in the room, including her husband: “The problem is,” she says gently, “you wish to be liked.”
NEXT: The worst Thanksgiving dinner ever