All's not fair in love and war
Credit: Antony Platt/AMC

Anna: “You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to.”

Abigail: “We’re just making conversation, right?”

What exactly is loyalty in a time of love and war? Ask that question to 10 different characters in Turn: Washington’s Spies, and you might get 10 different answers — especially from Robert Townsend, Mary Woodhull, and Abigail. Their allegiances have been tenuous, complicated, and extremely personal, but the fate of the revolution and its heroes in Setauket now seems to rely on their honor.

The Culper Ring was shattered when Robert discovered Abe had staged the raid of his father’s farm to push a stubborn Robert into the patriot camp. Without Robert’s eyes and ears in British-occupied New York, the rest of the Culper chain is useless, bad news that Benjamin Tallmadge finally mustered the courage to tell his boss, George Washington. “I feel like my eyes have been gouged out,” the general says through clenched teeth. “We are blind to the enemy in New York once again.”

Though Washington chastises Ben for the self-inflicted setback, he refuses to accept Ben’s subsequent resignation. “Why are you deserting me now?” asks Washington, a slight reversal in his attitude towards Ben when his intelligence operation previously fell short. Even with Culper Senior and Junior out of commission, Washington holds out hope that Abigail might still be an asset. Of course, Washington is already on the record doubting Abigail, and for good reason. She’s a freed slave living under the liberty of John André and the British Empire. Why would she trust the plantation-owning commander-in-chief, or any of the rebels oblivious to the hypocrisy of their freedom-loving cause? More on her circumstances later.

Ben approaches Anna to arrange a meeting with Major Hewlett in New York in order to contact Abigail. That’s a tall order for Anna and her conscience, since she has as much blood on her hands from crushing the poor sap’s heart at the altar as Ben does looking at the stained American flag that served as a tourniquet for a dead soldier in Franklin Township. “Think of it as doing your duty,” he tells her. “We make sacrifices so that others don’t have to.”

In New York, a new correspondence from Benedict Arnold offering his services to the Crown — for a price, mind you — has renewed André’s spirits. But his boss, General Clinton, doesn’t trust the American general, and is clever enough to decipher a clue from the letter: Arnold’s court-martial took place in Middlebrook, meaning Washington and his inner circle are there. Clinton has no need for a turncoat general when he can decapitate the American military leadership in one fell swoop. “You’re seeking to win back a woman,” Clinton tells André dismissively, “while I’m trying to end this war.”

Battle plans are drawn and news of the imminent attack is leaked to the Rivington Gazette. Even though Robert intends to sell his interest in the tavern and live out the rest of the war in the country, he can’t stand by and do nothing — especially once the tavern starts singing cruel anti-American verses to “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Abe and Caleb wronged him, there’s no doubt about it. But even if it was for the wrong reasons, Robert chose sides, and his Quaker resolve is not so easily broken. As soon as he sees the in-advance headline — “Washington Trounced in Tryon Triumph: Rebels Massacred at Middlebrook” — he sets off on horseback, Revere-like, for Setauket.

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All of Setauket is in danger, because there’s no crazier Capt. Simcoe than a wounded Capt. Simcoe. He barely escaped Mary’s assassination attempt, and her misinformation has Simcoe and his Queen’s Rangers fearing that vengeful Robert Rogers is lurking behind every tree. Mary’s loyal to Abe and Thomas, period, and her daring audibles illustrate that her convictions only partially overlap with the patriots’. She never flinched from setting the Rangers upon Caleb, a realization that is slowly sinking in to both Caleb and Abe. “She used me as a bloody decoy, Abe. Who the hell did you marry?” barks Caleb, who’s hiding out in Abe’s pee pile. “I’m still finding out,” says Abe.

One-eared Simcoe rides out to Abe’s farm and demands they visit Robeson, the rogue “molly” Abe outed as Rogers’ spy in order to save his own scalp. Simcoe is many things, but he’s not a very good interrogator. (Who recalls the time he stabbed a spy in the throat at André’s dining room table?) When Simcoe confronts Robeson at De Young’s tavern, he can’t even keep him alive for two minutes before impaling him on the fireplace wood rack. “It was an accident,” Simcoe says innocently, in his most Simcoe-esque tone. “He should’ve been more careful.”

NEXT: What’s love got to do with it

But Simcoe is convinced the entire town is full of turncoats, including De Young. He drags the bewildered tavern owner outside and threatens him with a public beheading. Like most everyone else, De Young doesn’t know “Roger Roberts” from Adam. But Simcoe believes the people aren’t properly motivated. He’s so sure that Rogers is hiding in the shadows, he assumes the folks’ silence is just a sign that they fear Rogers’ wrath more than his own. Well, he can fix that. He’ll raze the entire town until he finds Rogers’ minions.

I had to chuckle at the cruel demise of poor Robeson and the actor who plays him, Jamie Harris. In the show’s first season, Robeson played a crucial role, and just when Rogers blackmailed him into spying for him, he disappeared from the show, only to reappear very briefly to rescue Hewlett from across the sound. Yet when his named popped up recently, he seemed positioned to play a key role in the final episodes of season 3. You can almost imagine the phone call to an excited Harris: “Yup, they’re bringing me back!” And then, before he can unpack his luggage, Robeson is tossed on a skewer and dumped in a bloody heap. What was it that Ben told Anna? “Think of it as doing your duty.”

Robert arrives in Setauket to witness Simcoe’s violent demonstration and threat. Abe is shocked to see him, but invites him out to the cabbage farm where they can talk in relative privacy, since the Ranger who was standing post there conveniently is gone. Caleb comes out of hiding to join them and makes an effort to square their relationship by admitting his sole blame in the elder Townsend’s assault. Things are settled by a punch in the nose, which for Caleb, represents the hug of forgiveness.

“We thought you were out,” Abe finally says. “I am, but this is bigger than me,” Robert answers, before explaining that the British are targeting Washington at Middlebrook. Caleb wants to get the Woodhulls out of Setauket, but Abe insists that Caleb ride for Middlebrook and he’ll stay to handle Simcoe. “If I don’t stand up to Simcoe, who will?” he says, winning a look from Robert that almost seems like admiration. Perhaps Abe’s courage and self-sacrifice will win the Quaker back to the patriot camp.

While Simcoe is pressuring Judge Woodhull for names of suspected Rogers conspirators in Setauket, the real Rogers is in New York stalking Philomena Cheer, the actress he erroneously believes is the cause of André’s melancholy. He corners her on a dark street and threatens her with harm unless she helps him exact his revenge. “You don’t have to force me to betray him; he already has that coming,” she sniffs. “He’s a liar and a cad,” dressing her up like that “trollop from Philadelphia.”

“After he’s used you up, he throws you away,” Rogers agrees.

So Rogers’ plan is slowly taking shape. In Philadelphia, Benedict Arnold has accepted a new assignment as commander of the American fort at West Point — a career retreat to a relative backwater that Philadelphia’s leading socialite Peggy Shippen did not exactly celebrate. André wants to meet her (and Arnold), and perhaps Philomena and her high-roll hair will become part of some ruse to lure André across enemy lines.

André isn’t the only lovesick British officer in New York. If Major Hewlett’s last appearance on Turn felt like the perfect farewell, the show decided to roll him back out for one more humiliation. Fortunately, it was a great scene at the tavern with Anna, who confides to him that she was part of Abe’s spy ring and that she never meant to disgrace him as she did. Though Hewlett is clearly heartbroken, he assumes he’s still being worked. “Why did you come here?” he asks with contempt. “I mean, why were you sent?” Anna is a good actress, but she has no answer when he finally asks, “Did you ever love me?” Hewlett walks out on her, possibly for the last time. If so, it was a fine exit. (At least he wasn’t impaled near the hearth.)

But just as Hewlett suspects, Anna is using him again: His authorization of her visit to New York enables her to contact Abigail and revitalize the spy ring. She drops by André’s unannounced, and the few awkward moments when Abigail stares at her at the door will have to stand as her only ambivalence about whose side she’s on. Before long, they’re having tea and talking about men, just like two old girlfriends. (Never mind that one used to own the other.) Abigail gets to speak one line that seems aimed to justify her actions — “What I need to do and what I think best are two different things” — but her decision making demands further analysis. If you were a black American in 1778, it might be extremely difficult to side with the rebels (though there were many who fought for the patriot cause; James Armistead, for example, was an American slave who proved one of the most valuable double-agents of the war). But in Abigail’s case, she was liberated from slavery by the British, and then her kindly British employer reunited her with her son, Cicero. It’s difficult to understand why she would betray André, and I wish Turn made her seem more conflicted about her decision. Because she and Cicero give Anna the name of the man who will bring André down: Benedict Arnold.

Caleb arrives in Middlebrook not only to save Washington’s camp but to allow Ben to plan a stealth counterattack on Stony Point, the undermanned British fort. While Gov. Tryon leads his troops to an empty campground in New Jersey, Ben leads the Americans to a shocking victory just up the Hudson in New York. But the success doesn’t cloak the danger of a mole in the American camp: The Brits invested heavily in the attack on Middlebrook, indicating great confidence in the source of intelligence. Ben intends to get to the bottom of it.

And in Philadelphia, Arnold and Peggy finally tie the knot. With a whispered “I do” and forced smile, she is now Mrs. Benedict Arnold. West Point awaits.

Episode Recaps

Turn: Washington's Spies
This AMC drama explores a ring of spies in pre-Revolutionary War America.
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