Turn recap: Benediction
George Washington believed that Divine Providence was guiding the creation of a new nation in his war against the British empire. The Almighty, however, was otherwise occupied during “Benediction,” leaving Benjamin Tallmadge and Caleb Brewster to demonstrate their inferior and borderline incompetent skills in the dark arts.
An ambush has been set for Capt. John Simcoe in Rocky Point, and the Americans have the decided advantage in intelligence: They know the time and place of the trap, and as interested third party Robert Rogers says while peering through his telescope, Simcoe should be a dead man marching. Simcoe’s precarious position was arranged by the unholy alliance between Major Edmund Hewlett and the Setauket branch of the Culper ring. They baited Simcoe with the false clue that a local Tory named Beekman was really Samuel Culper, and Caleb set off with a motley crew in advance to lie in wait and surprise the Queen’s Rangers at “Culper’s” estate. You’d think Caleb would have a near fool-proof plan to finish off Simcoe after failing once before. As he says later on, “The bastard slipped through my fingers. That won’t be happening again.”
Okay, so here’s the plan: row to Rocky Point in advance of the Queen’s Rangers, brutalize Beekman — a childhood nemesis who once bullied the Setauket heroes — and his family… and then wait in their dining room for the soldiers to arrive. Now I haven’t studied 18th-century military tactics, but this strategy seems unwise even by modern Nerf-gun standards. For one, Caleb doesn’t really have an exit strategy, and he does not fully grasp all the possible scenarios. For example, we know that Simcoe and his Rangers torched Samuel Townsend’s stable at Oyster Point, and it’s likely that British forces burned down rebel homes and farms quite frequently. So what was Caleb’s plan if Simcoe arrived with torches and just set the place ablaze? What if Simcoe just barricaded the doors shut or shot the men, women, and children who tried to escape the inferno?
Now, to be fair, Simcoe didn’t do that. Instead, he and his men simply surrounded the mansion, a maneuver that does not necessarily make him Thucydides. But Caleb and his gang of rank amateurs panic when they realize their precarious position and see the uniformed men on horseback. They flee, right into enemy fire, and only Caleb and his Native American comrade make it back to the rowboat. To repeat, THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE AN AMBUSH. Caleb was so inept in his leadership that you can’t even justify giving Simcoe credit.
At Washington’s headquarters, Ben is busy trying to one-up his Setauket pal in disgrace. He had eagerly volunteered to murder Rev. Worthington, the British agent identified by Robert Townsend, and Gen. Washington gave Ben the green-light to make it look like an accident. With the good reverend intent to take a trip through the New Jersey wilderness to visit his church, Ben puts his plan in motion, dressing in civilian clothes and heading out of camp to track Worthington from a distance. A fair ride away, Worthington dismounts to make a traitorous intelligence drop, and Ben is there to catch him in the act. Pistol drawn, Ben insists that Worthington read the secret message aloud. Again, let’s quickly discuss what did not happen, but could have. Instead of reading the secret message as ordered, Worthington could’ve torn up the evidence and made it impossible for Ben to ever know what the intelligence was. He could’ve eaten the letter to keep it out of Ben’s hands. In other words, Ben was sloppy. He couldn’t even make what happened next look like an accident. When Worthington sneered that Washington was a fool, Ben shot him dead in a rage. I can think of 1,001 ways that John André would’ve handled this better, including backing off altogether in order to see who picked up Worthington’s drop.
NEXT: Ben’s failure comes back to haunt him
That last failure would come to haunt Ben, because just as he’s doing his best to cover his tracks, submerging Worthington’s corpse in the water, Gamble sneaks up on him. Recall that Gamble was the British agent who penetrated Washington’s camp and murdered Ben’s intelligence mentor, Nathaniel Sackett, and made off with all his secret files for his master in New York City. “What did your lot do with that fool, Shanks?” he asks Ben mockingly, referring to the poor patsy that enabled his dark deed. “Hang him? Enlist him?” (Hmm, did we ever learn what became of poor, stupid Shanks?)
But rather than act hastily and put a bullet in Ben, Gamble is disciplined enough to know to bring Ben back to New York as a prize. Ben begins to argue that he’s an officer and deserves the privileges of rank dictated by the rules of war, but as Gamble later explains, “You’re not in uniform, so the rules are off the table.” Beware combatants on both sides: This is not the last time that a practitioner of espionage will pay for the crime of trading his officer’s colors for civilian clothing.
Some quick thinking and a jumpy horse enable Ben’s escape, but he’s injured in no-man’s land with no horse. We might safely assume that he’ll make his way back to Washington’s camp, but André will soon know that his insider resource has been extinguished. It is far from Ben’s finest hour.
In Setauket, Anna is taking matters into her own hands to save Hewlett from Abraham Woodhull’s double-dealing. Mary refuses to listen to Anna’s pleas for help in convincing Abe to spare Hewlett’s life. Abe challenged Anna to choose between him and Hewlett, confident that she couldn’t betray him. But it turns out she loves Hewlett. Well, more precisely, she loves Hewlett just “enough…to save his life,” which I do hope she recites as her wedding vow.
That face that Ben makes when he tries to process the news that Anna is going to marry Hewlett? Exactly.
Anna’s plan requires some forgery and deception, pretending that Selah had sued for divorce and that such shame would make it best for her and Hewlett to start anew across the Atlantic after they wed. Back at Whitehall, their engagement breaks the fraternal bond between Judge Woodhull and Hewlett. When the judge urges the “harlot” to find a new place to live, Hewlett nobly stands up for her and announces their plans. “You will address her with respect, sir!” Hewlett says. “Because, sir, she is to be my wife!”
The judge laughs in Hewett’s face, waiting for the punchline. When there is not one, the mood turns ugly. “So you’ve gone hand in hand with the enemy once again,” the judge zings Hewlett. “You’ve made some sort of pact with [Abraham], haven’t you? Because he’s gifted you this…woman!”
I think them’s fighting words — with pistols, if necessary. But Hewlett is a lover not a fighter. So after Judge Woodhull storms out, Hewlett announces that he’s not leaving Setauket. “I am done running,” he tells Anna, digging in his heels. Will Anna go through with the marriage now? Or will she jump out of the boat figuratively, the same way she literally did when she once had a chance to go with Selah. She claims to Abe that there is no “us” anymore, and the chill in their relationship, combined with the renewed partnership between Abe and Mary, makes me think she’s right. But I still suspect that only a few pieces on the chess board need to move for their passion to reignite.
NEXT: Peggy makes her play
In Philadelphia, another fiancée is wrestling with her engagement. Peggy Shippen has held Benedict Arnold off for as long as she can, but the general believes that “fortune favors the bold.” That applies to his court martial, which seems to have been resolved favorably, for him and against Joseph Reed and his civilian minions, and with his aggressive efforts to tie the knot — not like some milk sop who can’t close the deal. He arranges for Major Edward Burd to be transferred to Philadelphia in order to make a match with Peggy’s sister, Elizabeth, a slightly plainer older sister familiar to all readers of Jane Austen. “I will move heavens for you,” he tells Peggy, which is sorta creepy in a Billy Zane in Titanic kind of way.
Arnold is so confident that he even invites his nemesis, Reed, for dinner. But that only allows Reed to be in the room and toast the bad news when it inevitably arrives, disrupting the dinner party. The court martial has been reinstated, with more details from Gen. Washington to follow. Needless to say, this is Arnold’s breaking point, and after the party clears out, he utters the words that open the door for treason. “Don’t I deserve the loyalty that I have always given [Washington]?” he rants. “He wouldn’t even have an army to command if it weren’t for me. And yet he deprives me of command, deprives me of glory. And now he deprives me of my honor. If they want to make an enemy of me, then I will make them mine. If only they knew what I could do to them, Peggy. I could destroy them if I wanted to. Destroy them.”
“Then perhaps you should,” replies Peggy, and she explains that she has a British friend who might appreciate Arnold more than the Americans do. Arnold looks intrigued but suspicious, but Peggy wisely doesn’t present her treasured lock of André’s hair as evidence of her story.
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Back at Rocky Point, Caleb and his comrade make it to the boat only because of Rogers’ sharp shooting. The master tracker had trailed the Rangers (his old unit), and he picked off a few of them as they pursued the fleeing duo through the forest. Once Simcoe and his men turn their fire on Rogers, however, he’s a sitting duck himself, and his only play is to take his old comrade, Quarles, as hostage. Simcoe is almost amused, but he brashly suggests a mano a mano to settle the stalemate. Rogers is no match for the seasoned killing machine Simcoe, and the younger man pokes out his eye for sport. “You’re old, fat, and slow,” Simcoe taunts his predecessor. “You’re the past…and I’m the future.”
Some ingenuity and gunpowder spare Rogers’s life, and Simcoe only survives the subsequent explosion by using poor Quarles as a human shield. Rogers retreats into the night, minus an eye, and Simcoe is apoplectic about finding him because he’s wrongly concluded that Rogers is actually the undercover Culper. “You hid your treachery in plain sight, a mercenary through and through, playing both sides against each other,” Simcoe says, followed by his ultimate epithet. “A true American.”
Final Turn casualties at Rocky Point: Zero. All the main characters survived “Benediction,” but Simcoe’s belief that Rogers is Culper might be temporary good news for Abe, who can at least duck the fascist’s suspicion. I have faith that Rogers will find his way to safety and recuperate in hiding — perhaps holing up at Samuel Townsend’s place in Oyster Bay. Though unlikely, based on their distance apart, perhaps he’ll bump into Ben in the wilderness. If forced to choose, I’d still follow Rogers instead of Ben. After all, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.