The fourth and final season of Turn: Washington’s Spies will return to AMC with a two-hour premiere on June 17.
The Revolutionary War series most recently dramatized the 1780 treachery of Benedict Arnold (Owain Yeoman) at West Point, the execution of romantic British spymaster John André (JJ Feild), and the narrow survival of George Washington’s Culper spy ring when Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell) escaped the hangman’s noose in Setauket, Long Island. With only 10 episodes to go, the action accelerates towards Yorktown, the pivotal 1783 battle in Virginia that tipped the balance and ultimately decided the war.
Turn‘s executive producer Craig Silverstein, who also directs this season, says fans can expect more espionage, time jumps, and some new historical faces (Hint: “Lock up ya daughters and horses…”).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What are the stories that have been on the writers room wall for three seasons that immediately get reshuffled to the top of the deck when you got word that you’ve got a 10-episode sprint to the finish?
CRAIG SILVERSTEIN: When I went in to pitch the fourth season, I did pitch “The End.” I was maybe hoping for a slightly longer season, you know, so I have to get what might have been 12 or 16 episodes into 10. What floated to the surface? It was really about trying to create a story for the Culpers, who historically were a little more inactive right at the end [of the war]. But the espionage was not [diminished], so it was tying them into that story in a lot of fun ways that I think history lovers will love. And then it was figuring out where we do Yorktown, basically.
Is that the target? Because we left off in the fall of 1780. Is there a time shift?
We pick up a month or so after, and we work our way through that year. And then there’s quite a few time jumps that take you a bit into the future, into the 19th century, showing the fate of everyone involved.
Does that mean you actually shoot a Yorktown sequence? Because Monmouth’s battle scenes were pretty epic, and I can only assume something like Yorktown has to be bigger, yes?
Much bigger. It’s going to be huge. What’s also huge is we do some of the other battles in the South, where Benedict Arnold raids Richmond and Petersburg.
The second season left the political situation in Setauket upside down. Judge Woodhull cleverly outmaneuvered Simcoe, and Abe isn’t necessarily an undercover spy anymore. Where do we pick up there?
There’s a totally new dynamic between father and son. Like a lot of Loyalists did later in the war, Richard has finally come around to seeing — not the light — but the darkness in all the [British] actions taken to police the state. The abuses piled up. Those were concentrated in the character of Simcoe and that’s what pushed Richard over the edge. Now, he’s sort of a member of the ring, in a way, but that doesn’t mean that there’s not conflict between Abe and him. Without Hewlett and without Simcoe, Setauket is being run by Capt. Wakefield. It’s a much chiller place to be at the beginning of the season.
Simcoe was such a delicious villain that I would be disappointed if he doesn’t become a thorn in somebody else’s side. Does he team up with anybody this season or is he kind of a rogue?
One of the most surprising things about his character is how we’ve fallen into a little bit of the groove of history, which I wasn’t expecting. When we had him as just this redcoat bully in season 1, I didn’t know at that time that [the real Simcoe] had taken over the Queen’s Rangers from Robert Rogers. And then, you keep reading [the history], and the Queen’s Rangers get seconded to Benedict Arnold’s American Legion. So we put our two biggest villains together — not that they work extremely well together.
Though it’s a man’s world, the women have been a big part of the action, from Abigail to Mary and Peggy. Which female characters play essential roles this season?
Mary and Anna each go on different arcs that intertwine with each other. Through Anna, we actually explore the world of the camp followers: the women who travel along with the army and were a kind of difficult to control bunch that Washington considered a necessary evil. He liked everything to be orderly, so he didn’t like this and had pushed these women out into the forest surroundings of the camp. But he knew if he kicked them out completely, then a lot of his soldiers would desert. It also connects Washington with espionage. Peggy obviously had a massive role to play last year in negotiating the turn of Benedict Arnold, but her story’s not over yet. And Abigail gets pulled back into intrigue.
Abigail is such an interesting character to me because she represents the Africa-American war experience, which is complicated. Personally, she’s torn between loyalties to friends on the American side and John André, the only person who was really sensitive to her situation. With André gone, does that free her up to be more active or is she still torn down the center?
She is still torn in the center, because what begins to develop around this time in the war is that, as the tide begins to turn in favor of the Americans, the southern slave owners become more bold about going north and retaking their slaves and there is a huge migration of freed slaves into New York City, which is the one place that they’re actually safe. The British are guaranteeing their freedom. So this is a fraught situation, and it builds to a head at the end of the war. And into all this mix returns Akinbode. Her son Cicero has a much more impactful role this season as well.
You’ve mostly avoided the temptation to drop famous Founding Fathers into episodes, but we did meet Hamilton and Lafayette, both of whom were part of Washington’s inner circle. Do we see more of them this season or are they still on the periphery, and are there others?
Lafayette is a key part of Yorktown, and Hamilton as well. Another new face is Rochambeau. And then, a name who really wasn’t known until a couple years ago — Hercules Mulligan, and his slave Cato — makes a couple appearances. We had plans for Jefferson, because he actually fled Richmond just as Arnold stormed it, but we weren’t able to fit it in.
Do we empathize for Arnold at this point, or is he now an unvarnished villain?
I think it’s up to the viewer. We don’t tilt him terribly one way or the other. We just play to the truth. We don’t say that he wasn’t a great battlefield commander. He is and we actually prove that again. There’s a very interesting piece where he sees the vulnerability of Yorktown and warns Cornwallis about it. And they ignore him, just like the Continentals did. He gets no respect. He’s like the Rodney Dangerfield of the Revolutionary War. But he was massive personal flaws: he’s quick to temper and he still has that central flaw of vanity and greed. Those are things that bring him down, and bring him into a kind of quiet downfall. He doesn’t meet a bloody end; he meets an infamous end.