It is time to choose sides. The Battle of Concord in 1775 may be remembered as the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” but for many Americans in the late 1770s, the revolution incrementally pushed its way into the cities and countrysides. But after the Declaration of Independence, after Nathan Hale, after Saratoga, after Valley Forge, after Trenton and Monmouth, and after British reprisals in towns like Setauket, the time for half-measures, of calculated acquiescence, is past.
It’s also time for AMC viewers to choose: will they watch Turn or not? After two seasons of storytelling setup (and underwhelming ratings), Turn is poised to deliver the fireworks: the intrigue surrounding Benedict Arnold and his treason at West Point. All the chess pieces are finally in place: Gen. Washington’s Culper spy ring based in occupied New York; the love triangle between Philadelphia socialite Peggy Shippen, Arnold, and British spymaster John Andre; vengeful rogue Robert Rogers; and the Woodhull family civil war surrounding Culper linchpin Abraham Woodhull. This is the story showrunner Craig Silverstein promised — an 18th-century The Departed — and it’s make-or-break time. There is a version of Turn that goes on for several more seasons, but there is also one that ends at West Point after season 3. Everything is likely riding on the next 10 episodes.
Turn has always acted confidently. Despite an uncertain renewal, the series capped season 2 with a cliffhanger: Abe captured by Rogers and threatened with exposure or worse, while Ben Tallmadge and Washington attempted to discreetly handle the attempted coup within their own camp. The season premiere, “Valediction,” picks up almost immediately where the finale left off: Ben’s interrogation of Bradford and Hickey, the two turncoats in Washington’s camp assigned to assassinate the revolution’s one indispensable man. Ben plays good cop to Caleb’s bad cop as they pressure the two assassins to name other agents involved with the conspiracy. A death sentence of hanging awaits them, though the charge will not be treason, but counterfeiting. Ben makes it seem that such a charge is a favor so that their families will not suffer retaliation for their crimes. But Ben has nothing to gain from publicizing the assassination attempt as he and Washington need to convey a confident, invulnerable, and united front to the wavering public and their new French military allies.
Hickey wants the honor of dying for the Crown, but the smug Bradford thinks Ben is bluffing, that he’ll be spared the gallows and exchanged for an American spy…named Culper. The top-secret name hangs in the air, and Washington steps out of the shadows to challenge the prisoner’s boast. “The first man to tell me the true name of our agent Culper will be traded to safety on Saturday,” he says. “The other man will hang tomorrow.”
That’s called motivation, but Bradford and Hickey offer only blank looks. “They don’t know,” Washington correctly concludes.
On the gallows, the two traitors are sentenced to death for passing counterfeit bills, but Hickey interrupts proceedings to confess his true crime to the gathered crowd. “My aim was to kill Washington! Putnam! And any other officers I…”
The executioner cuts Hickey off mid-sentence, and his death by hanging is gruesome. His head literally snaps off. Bradford’s hanging is almost as cruel, and while Caleb is unmasked as the executioner and fights in the mud with one of his disapproving fellow soldiers, Washington nods for a guard to end Bradford’s suffering with a bullet. Was it mercy for Bradford? Or a simple desire to abbreviate a bungled operation before alienating more onlookers?
NEXT: A noose of a different kind