'Turn' recap: 'Sealed Fate'
The Empire strikes back, as Robert Rogers gets his revenge on Washington.
“You’ll watch them all die again, George! I’ll let you live to regret it! You will live to regret it!” —Robert Rogers
There are only a few men in North America who can make George Washington shudder, but Robert Rogers is one of them. They were acquaintances during the French and Indian War, when both men fought for the victorious British. Rogers earned his reputation as a shrewd and savage guerrilla warrior, while Washington was better known for his battlefield failures.
These men of war know each other, and after 14 episodes of Turn: Washington’s Spies, we know versions of them as well. That’s what makes the opening scene of “Sealed Fate,” a flashback set on the eve of the Revolution, so memorable and surprising: Washington and Rogers, in the same room. You could sense the danger, the bottled tension, and Washington’s wariness in meeting such a formidable and unpredictable potential adversary. This Rogers, whose calling card is a dagger, is not one to be trifled with.
As it was, Rogers offered his professional-killing services to Washington and the American army, but Washington knows too much about Rogers’ character—and the fact that the financially strapped Rogers has made similar overtures to the British. He simply can’t be trusted, so Washington has him arrested—a decision that backfires upon Rogers’ escape on his way to trial in New Hampshire.
Rogers has been muttering Washington’s name in contempt ever since, and in “Sealed Fate,” he finally exacts some retribution. It wasn’t the patriots’ finest hour, but perhaps the new setting of Valley Forge in December 1777 should’ve been a clue that a cold wind was coming. It didn’t start out that way, as Benjamin Tallmadge and Nathaniel Sackett’s intelligence operation are presented with two huge gifts. First, a redcoat named Sutherland defects with intelligence about John André and a potential conspiracy within the Continental camp. Then, Caleb Brewster arrives with the crucial evidence that Patience Wright died to secure: documentation that the British Empire is on the brink of financial run from its costly multi-front wars. Sackett and Washington can barely contain their excitement because they know that such information might tempt France to form a crucial alliance with the United States. Washington plots some misdirection to throw a lurking Rogers off the trail and send Thévenau De Francy back to France with the secret, game-changing document.
Sutherland, the redcoat defector, presents another opportunity to show how much Ben still needs to learn about intelligence. But he’s not alone. Sutherland’s testimony that a civilian would soon enter the camp and make a bold yet unspecified claim—that Washington is to be assassinated, as it turns out when the unpolished Bill Shanks skulks into camp—seems to have merit. Sackett is cautious, and Ben finally uses a little bit of common-sense misinformation to cast suspicion on the redcoat. But this time, it’s Washington and Sackett who can’t clearly see the big picture. Washington identifies Shanks as a thief and a deserter, and dismisses the imminent danger. He no longer trusts Ben’s judgment and orders Sackett to debrief Sutherland, a fateful blunder. Sackett walks into a deadly trap, set by his “honored nemesis,” André. He was the target, not Washington. Sutherland slays him and makes off with Sackett’s top-secret files, including information about the Culper ring.
Can we all stand up and applaud the genius that is John André—or at least the show’s writing room, for allowing him to pull off such a slightly incomprehensible ruse? How did André and Sutherland (real name: Gamble) properly manipulate Shanks to do no more or less than exactly as they hoped, lowering the Americans’ guard and placing Gamble exactly in the right place to take out the intended target? It makes more sense if Gamble and Shanks were in on it together, but Shanks acted like an oblivious patsy.
For what it’s worth, Sackett’s death is a right turn from reality. He lived until 1805, though he fell out of favor with Washington around this time, opening the door for his protégé to play a larger role in the intelligence operation. So his murder is actually quite useful in Turn. But if Ben has any chance of going toe-to-toe with André, he’s going to have to do more than just convince Washington to let him do his job, as he angrily yelled at the humbled Commander-in-Chief—he’s going to have to lobby the show’s writers.
NEXT: Abe gets caught pretending to be something he really is
In New York, Abraham Woodhull’s last-ditch effort to recruit Robert Townsend into the spy ring seems to be for naught. At least Abe gets to meet Robert’s father, Samuel, a Whiggish Quaker. The Townsend’s father-son relationship is the same as the Woodhulls’, but with reverse political sympathies. Samuel is the patriot who can’t seem to understand his son’s reluctance to choose a side and act. As for Abe’s quandary, here’s an idea: recruit the elder, more enthusiastic Samuel as the New York spy. I kept expecting Samuel to raise his hand and volunteer, because… well, why wouldn’t he? I’ve been saying for weeks that Samuel Townsend’s death might be the trigger that finally motivates Robert to join the Culpers. Did meeting him make you think he has only a few episodes remaining in his life?
Abe can’t come home emptyhanded after his father’s threats. I’m baffled that Judge Woodhull didn’t see through Abe’s intentions after he lied about the patriot’s name last week; I thought that was Abe’s clear-cut declaration of independence. But the Judge just seems suspicious in vague terms. Love is blind, or he’s spending too much time with Hewlett.
Desperate, Abe puts himself in jeopardy, planting a fake Sons of Liberty message in a secret drop that he can then have Hewlett’s men find at a later date, proving his fake double-agent bonafides. Except you should never be out alone on the Bowery after dark—especially in 1777. Abe gets captured by two soldiers, who find his note—always eat the paper, Abe!—and proceed to torture him for being the patriot that he truly is.
Back in Setauket, Simcoe and his Rangers—including his new No. 2, Jordan—return home. Simcoe wants only one thing, Anna, so he’s crushed when he sees her on Hewlett’s arm, living in the Woodhull’s residence and no doubt looking at the heavens every night. Of course, Simcoe’s plot for retribution against the clueless major is already unfolding, and patriot comrades of the tongueless American officer come calling to return the favor against the man they think left a bloody calling-card.
The Brits have Abe; the Americans have Hewlett. A prisoner swap might seem logical—until you realize that if the Americans lobby for Abe’s release, his cover is blown. Judge Woodhull is going to have to pull some strings again—or perhaps Mary. Maybe she has another card to play.
So let’s do the math: Abe is in jail, a few hundred yards from the infamous HMS Jersey prison ship; Sackett is dead; André is in possession of American intelligence documents related to the Culpers, Simcoe is back in Setauket; Townsend is still a “smug Quaker shite.”
At least the King George document is safely on its way to France. Oh, if only. A disguised De Francy is barely out of the patriot camp when he’s set upon by Rogers and his men. “You’ll watch them all die again, George,” Rogers once promised. Rogers slices the agent’s throat and pockets the King’s prize. That’s the end of that… or is it? Perhaps Rogers, like the greedy privateer who temporarily had the prize, will appreciate the financial value of that document and see who’s willing to pay the most for it. And perhaps De Francy’s death will force France to send another representative to Washington’s inner circle. Perhaps his name will be Lafayette?
Turn: Washington's Spies