By Jeff Labrecque
April 13, 2014 at 12:00 PM EDT
Antony Platt/AMC
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Remember, remember! The fifth of November, the Gunpowder treason and plot;

I know of no reason why the Gunpowder treason should ever be forgot!

Guy Fawkes and his companions did the scheme contrive, to blow the King and Parliament all up alive. 

In 1605, a Catholic Englishman named Guy Fawkes was arrested and executed for conspiring to blow up Parliament and assassinate King James. His demise was celebrated every November by the British, and 175 years later — after American patriots fell at Concord in the “shot heard ’round the world” and a new spirit of resurrection began to spread — the idea of British infallibility was still unshakeable to many of those shooting fireworks and burning a rebel effigy on Nov. 5, 1776.

In Turn, which picks up months after the British Navy has chased George Washington out of New York, some shady events have unfolded in the backwater Long Island town of Setauket. It can’t be ignored any longer, not after 20 redcoats from the Setauket garrison walked into an ambush in Connecticut, sending many of them home in barrels. Captain Joyce’s murder, which preceded the skirmish, remains a mystery, but Robert Rogers is now on the case since the ambush was punctuated with a pointedly directed middle-finger.

Abe Woodhull has been excused of suspicion in the crime, thanks to his father’s influence, but Rogers isn’t so sure. He at least makes sure to rattle the Woodhulls’ cage when he arrives to investigate the town’s “unusual amount of smuggling, arson, and murder.” (The arson being Abe’s shed full of cabbage by two riders in Guy Fawkes masks.)

Let’s be blunt: Abe is a cabbage farmer and never trained in the art of espionage before joining the Culper ring. And it really shows. You could practically hear his knees knocking under the table while Rogers toyed with him. His response: to blurt out the secret about the letter Anna found in Captain Joyce’s belongings, a letter from a romantic admirer. The only ones with worse poker faces than Abe were his father and Anna, who couldn’t believe what he was revealing. Rogers had hinted about a possible conspiracy of more than one criminal, and suddenly Abe is exposing himself and Anna as collaborators of some sort.

Abe isn’t the only one looking a little green in this new world of spycraft. Captain Simcoe survived his wound and Ben Talmadge is probing for information over dinner, opting to use honey instead of vinegar. But Ben is another rank amateur, and Simcoe makes one too many condescending remark about the American chances. So Caleb Brewster goes all Batman on him. They proceed to torture Simcoe and are on the verge of executing him — since Caleb had promised Abe and Anna that Simcoe’s demise was part of the bargain — just as higher-echelon American officers arrive. Apparently, Washington frowns upon this kind of thing, and Ben now faces a court martial.

In Setauket, the love-letter as secret coded message seemed a little convoluted, and the ease that Ben/Anna/Rogers solved it was…well, impressive. Apparently, when the British company drummer sounded retreat, that was the signal for a meeting between Joyce and his lover. Only four women lived close enough to hear the drums: Anna, a 74-year-old woman, a woman with palsy, and another woman named Clara.

Rogers sets a trap for Clara, recruiting the drummer to sound retreat at the Guy Fawkes celebration. But Clara never budges. The signal clearly means nothing to her. But that doesn’t mean Anna is the killer…because Abe notices that Robeson twitches at the sound of the snare. That’s Robeson, the grizzled braggart whose boisterous pro-British proclamation at the pub caused the brawl that sent Selah Strong to prison in the series premiere. He always seemed like a plausible suspect, but I was very wrong about his motivation.

Abe whispers to Robeson that he knows his secret and arranges a midnight rendezvous to discuss it. Yes, Robeson killed Captain Joyce, but he’s not some deep-cover patriot. He was in love with Joyce, and when the Captain was reprimanded for the bar fight and ordered by Hewlett to return to England, he blamed Robeson’s outburst for causing it. It was a lover’s quarrel, nothing more or less. But kudos to Robeson for having such lovely, feminine penmanship that could fool Rogers; Robeson doesn’t seem like a man of letters.

Robeson has no plans to go quietly, though, and he calls the vengeful company drummer out of the mist to slay Abe. But the soldier runs repeatedly into a sharp blade, as Rogers emerges from the shadows to protect Ben. Rogers is a seasoned professional, and he’s already plotting his next move. The drummer will take the fall for Joyce’s death, and Robeson will now work for Rogers as “the lowest form of life there is, lower than a sodomite or a serpent’s belly: a spy. My spy.”

In New York City, British spymaster John André is recovering from the setback in Connecticut with a dalliance with a pretty actress. She alternates flattery with questions about British intelligence, so she’s either the worst American spy ever or the most self-sabotaging small-talker in history. But I was slightly baffled by André’s final statement that insinuated that he was recruiting her to be a British asset in New Jersey. Is his reason and intelligence so blinded by vanity? Or is he two steps ahead of the actress (and me)?

The American spy ring is about to fall apart before it yields any real results. Ben is heading back to Fort Lee to be court-martialed. (Getting back to New Jersey from Connecticut, however, might be a difficult transit, what with New York firmly in British hands.) Abe isn’t willing to continue, either, and he tells Anna that Captain Simcoe is likely still alive. “We have accomplished nothing, and I won’t risk you further,” he tells her in the woods. Not only that, but it’s too dangerous for them to even see each other again under the current circumstances.

This was certainly Rogers’ episode to shine. (He reminds me a bit of Quint from Jaws.) As a soldier and spymaster, he’s a professional surrounded by neophytes. It’s early, but he’ll soon need an equal to challenge him. André might be comparable in some ways, and Caleb has the potential to rival his brutality, but we’ve yet to meet the character that can test him in any real way. Might it eventually be Washington?


This AMC drama explores a ring of spies in pre-Revolutionary War America.
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  • 04/06/14
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