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'Turn' recap: 'Blade on the Feather'

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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

“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?[pagebreak]​

The men are interrupted by the sound of American cannons. The Vulture has fled out of range and back toward Manhattan, leaving André to march 15 miles through enemy territory to the British lines. Arnold gives him clothes so that he won’t draw attention in his red officer’s uniform, plus a get-out-of-jail-free card signed by General Arnold himself. (Oh, irony.) And once André reluctantly accepts the pass, he may as well take the West Point plans also.

Rogers’ three skinners are bitter that the American camp didn’t think their intelligence about the Vulture was worth a fee, but Rogers explains that the real prize is now ripe for the picking in the countryside: find André.

In Setauket, Simcoe’s reign of terror is still in full bloody bloom, thanks to Judge Woodhull’s self-serving list of evildoers. The one-eared British captain brutally interrogates an innocent man — innocent is a relative term, in this man’s case — and sets his barn and wooly livestock ablaze. (“You still wake sometimes, don’t you? Wake up in the dark and hear the screaming of the lambs…” Sorry: I couldn’t resist.) At the pub, Abe eavesdrops on the aggrieved man’s conversation and plants the seed for retaliation. “God helps those who help themselves,” Abe says to the man and his two friends. “We have a divine right to topple tyrants.”

The key: liberate their guns from the British armory. “Without gunpowder, there is no freedom,” Abe preaches.

But although Simcoe is doing his best to alienate the Setauket population and push them into the rebel camp, there are some types of men who respond to aggression by giving up and giving in. Abe’s lack of discretion costs him, and even though he lobbies Simcoe’s military rival to look the other way during his plot, even though he urges his father to finally be the leader the town needs, he’s sold out to Simcoe by the sexual deviant he tried to recruit to his cause. When he sneaks into the church to retrieve the rifles, Simcoe is waiting, gleefully, in the back pew. Caught red-handed, Abe’s options are slim… so why not punch his hated tormenter in the face? (He should’ve aimed for his ear.) “Get a rope!” Simcoe sneers, guaranteeing that Abe will get a very quick and speedy trial.

Rogers’ goons have an even easier time capturing their quarry. André literally walk into their clutches, and then fails the “talk less, smile more” test. Before the goons can say a word, André has announced himself as a British officer, and when they announce their American loyalty, he plays the only card he has: Arnold’s pass. But these aren’t exactly men of honor, and in the process of stealing his shiny officer boots, they also find the plans for West Point. You’d think that would be enough to get him hanged within an hour — at least that’s what Rogers is counting on. He finally has his revenge and the satisfaction of being there when André realizes that he’s been bested by an old backwoods warrior. If only André had paid Rogers what he owed him.

André might be doomed, but Arnold has a prayer because he’s surrounded by incompetence. When the skinners bring André to the completely unqualified Col. Jameson, he sends news of the capture and confiscated documents in his report… to Arnold.

The message arrives just as Washington and his war council are discussing a Canadian offensive, just as he offers Arnold a new battlefield commission, just as Arnold suggests Washington spend additional nights at West Point to help develop a new battleplan. And if Arnold is plotting to set Washington in a trap as part of his deal with André, then what did he give up?

The message arrives, Arnold turns green and excuses himself, and rushes upstairs to bid Peggy farewell. “Will they hang him?” asks Peggy, referring to André. “They’ll hang us. I must flee, now.”

He coaches her to play the innocent and feign ignorance when they are eventually discovered. (Now the roles are reversed, and it’s her turn to imitate Philomena.) And while she may prove herself to be an excellent actress, Arnold is not as gifted. “We’ll be together soon,” he says, with little conviction. “I promise.”

My take? He gave her up to André. He sold her to him as part of the 20,000. There’s no way that André would’ve made the deal without Peggy, and there’s no way that Arnold would’ve agreed unless the price was 20,000. [Note: Confirmed! Watch below.] 

When Washington is finally confronted with the news of Arnold’s treason, courtesy of Caleb, he’s stunned. Not stunned like Golden State Warriors stunned — but Holy-crap-Einhorn-is-Finkle-Finkle-is-Einhorn stunned. Arnold may have been the officer he least suspected of such betrayal. What’s more, Lafayette, the emissary to the French armed forces, is witnessing this meltdown. There’s no way this is going to be kept quiet in the same way that Washington kept previous dissension in his ranks under wraps. The revolution could fall apart if the French don’t believe in Washington, and this might be a huge blow to his prestige.

Ben takes off on horseback after Arnold, who slipped out the back door and limped to the docks. He gets the same bargemen to row him south, though this time they have to do it with a pistol pointed at their heads. Ben catches up, takes aim at his former mentor, and Arnold stands in the boat and salutes his protégé — an act as delusional as Richard Nixon giving the Victory sign before leaving the White House for the last time. Arnold still views himself as a man of honor. Ben’s shot misses, and the rest is history.

The gallows await. One in Setauket, one in Tappan, N.Y. Will Abe be spared again — okay, how will Abe be spared? Will André get to express his love for Peggy one last time? 

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