“For the first time, [John André] is out of control and he’s out of his depth. He’s not expecting to, (A) fall in love, and, (B) make decisions of the heart instead of decisions of his mind. So his judgment is impaired and he makes wild, rash, dangerous decisions which start to backfire. And that downward spiral of his judgments and decision making is what ultimately is the demise of him.” —JJ Feild, Feb. 12, 2016
It always comes down to a woman or love, doesn’t it? If not in the history books, then at least in the romantic retelling. Would John André have insisted on meeting Benedict Arnold in person to discuss the surrender of West Point if he hadn’t intended to make winning back Peggy Shippen part of the bargain? Because if André was in top form, he’d have had Arnold in his pocket, British control of the Hudson Valley and, perhaps, the grandest of prizes, General George Washington. After all, he’s dealing with a rank amateur at André’s craft, a man who is a walking example of the very maxim Arnold exhorts — that one cannot be a soldier and a spy. Witness how cluelessly Arnold negotiates, telling the British in one letter how wretched the American troops and fortifications are at West Point. I’m no 1780 military tactician, but even I know that if I wanted to drive up the price for giving my enemy my fort, I’d be sure to emphasize — if not outright lie — that my fighting forces were overwhelming in number, armed to the teeth, and anxious for combat. No wonder General Clinton can barely muster enthusiasm to pay the traitor 10,000 pounds, half the price Arnold demands.
But André is eager to close the deal — both deals — and so he sets off up the Hudson, oblivious to the walls closing in. First, there’s Edmund Hewlett, a heartbroken man who arrives bearing a gift: the true identity of Culper… Abraham Woodhull. Hewlett is scheduled to sail for England the next day, and though he’s fulfilling his duty, he’s still wallowing in self pity from his fall from grace, Anna’s betrayal, and André’s cold shoulder in New York. On another day, André, who like Simcoe, was convinced that Robert Rogers was the American spy, might’ve dropped everything and moved heaven and earth to capture Woodhull that very afternoon. But his own ship north awaits, so he does the 12th best thing: He writes a letter to General Clinton with news of Woodhull’s espionage and asks the not-so-trustworthy Abigail to send it in the next post. Not wise.
Then, outside his home, he’s accosted by the scorned Philomena, who auditions for a Tony by claiming to be pregnant with his child and desperate for his kindness. He brushes her aside, explaining that he has more important business upriver, and when she sees him board the HMS Vulture, she has the information that Rogers has been seeking: His nemesis is heading toward enemy lines and could be vulnerable in no-man’s land for one night. (Question: Would you be surprised if Philomena was actually pregnant? Though she swore vengeance on him, she couldn’t help but look concerned when she asked Rogers what he planned to do to André.)
Fifty miles up the Hudson, Arnold’s fall from grace is not about true love, but the love of money. His court martial did not replenish his bank account as he had hoped (since he had helped the British bankrupt Congress), and his hunger for fame and glory was surpassed only by his quest for wealth and status. “Mister Gustavus” is for sale, the meeting has been arranged, and the only wrinkles are some annoying houseguests named George, Ben, Alex, and the Marquis. Yes, that would be General Washington, Ben Tallmadge, Alexander Hamilton, and Lafayette, among others, who are riding through on their way to meet their powerful French allies in Hartford. Washington even powders his hair for the occasion, a reminder that the Franco-American alliance was not exactly one of equals. Washington understood that the infant United States was clearly the supplicant in this crucial trans-Atlantic friendship.
Hamilton’s introduction is treated lightly; Washington even goes out of his way to explain (to the audience, no doubt) that his celebrated aide-de-camp “was not with us in Philadelphia.” Though he later demonstrates a mastery of the subtle art of working for powerful men, it’s late in the game for Hamilton to make a mark on the Arnold/André drama. It will be interesting to see whether Hamilton is destined for a larger role in the Turn universe, or if he’s more of historical prop like Lafayette. In many ways, the show’s writers have blended aspects of Hamilton’s character into Ben during three seasons, but the show might profit from a sibling rivalry within Washington’s inner circle.
Just as the honored guests arrive, Arnold receives a letter from André, code name John Anderson. When Washington is told that it’s from the enemy under a flag of truce, Arnold has no choice but to read it aloud for his commander-in-chief. Arnold blames his predecessor for the suspicious correspondence and tosses it in the fire. Ben’s reaction — almost leaping out of his seat and then barely suppressing his first instinct to preserve the evidence — only confirms that Arnold’s recent behavior has raised some red flags.
That night, Arnold surprises Peggy with the news that he’s reversed course and is about to sell out the Americans after all. That’s a relatively shocking development, but Peggy only hears one thing: “John André is coming here?” Is she terrified (because she married Arnold)? Is she thrilled? Tough to tell.
Sailing up the Hudson in the dark, the Vulture is careful not to come too close to the American guns. But their approach hasn’t gone undetected: Rogers has tracked it all the way from Manhattan and is watching closely from the river bank. And when Arnold convinces two skeptical bargemen to take him to the ship to retrieve the British officer in order to discuss prisoner exchanges, Rogers sets his plan in motion to make sure André gets left behind. He sends three marauders — or skinners, as they were called — to the American camp with intelligence about the Vulture, a sure way to arouse the American guns and send the ship south while André is negotiating with Arnold.
It is a monumental meeting between the two men, two officers who could not be more different yet love the same woman. Arnold insists again on 20,000 pounds as his price for West Point; André counters with a lowball offer of 5,000. André is cool, Arnold is hot. He wants his 20,000, and he’s willing to do more than just sell his own soul: “How much is Washington worth?” he asks, getting André’s attention.
But if Arnold is willing to raise the stakes, so is André. “I can guarantee 20,000… if you agree here and now to break off your engagement to Margaret Shippen,” offers André.
“I knew it,” spits Arnold. “Back in Philadelphia, you were more than friends.”
“All I want is her,” says our doomed tragic hero.
“You want what I already have — what I’ve been having for months now,” Arnold says crudely. “We were married at home. You sure you still want her?”
Short answer: yes. Long answer: hold that thought.
NEXT: Did Arnold sell Peggy back to André?