Abe: Mary it’s just a play. But it’s one that we get to write.
Ben: And I will see it through… personally.
—“The Black Hole of Calcutta”
When Abe scripted the plot to be the “kidnapped Tory” that Ben would exchange for Caleb, and the Judge volunteered himself as well, Mary suspected the worst. You could see it in her eyes at the end of episode 2, “The Black Hole of Calcutta.” She intuited that one of the Woodhulls wasn’t coming back.
But which Woodhull would it be? Abe, played by movie star Jamie Bell? Or the Judge, the savvy and deliberate local magistrate played by character actor Kevin McNally? The Judge’s loyalties had only recently shifted to the Patriot cause, though it wasn’t so much a yearning for American independence that swayed him as much as it was Simcoe’s draconian measures. After Ben gently ties them up to wait for the prisoner exchange at the mill in Lyme, Abe is already plotting their next move, while the Judge can’t get past the dead redcoats they left in Setauket. “Money is a good soldier,” Abe says, quoting Falstaff from The Merry Wives of Windsor to underscore the need to get a peek at Col. Cooke’s accounting books. “Don’t quote Shakespeare,” the Judge snaps back, “That’s my trick.”
Abe might never be the man his father is, but he’s learned a lot of his tricks. It’s a good thing, because the Judge will prove Abe and Ben liars: it’s not a play, and Abe and Ben will have the script ripped away from them.
Simcoe is plotting the ambush awaiting both parties converging on Lyme. Caleb cracked ever so slightly during torture, and Simcoe knows that his former nemesis Abe is part of the spy ring. He orders one of his Rangers to recruit a dozen old boys from Robert Rogers’ reign, dress like marauders, and execute everyone at the prisoner swap, especially the Setauket spies. Little does he know that one of his prized pupils, Akinbode, has been recruited by Benedict Arnold’s lieutenant, Parker, to be part of the unit shepherding Caleb to the meeting. It is difficult for Parker to hire anyone for the expedition — not because of danger necessarily, but because Arnold is so reviled by the average man on the street. Candidates are walking away from an easy five shillings, though Akinbode has to settle for three. Parker says it’s because he senses Akinbode is desperate, but paying an African-American three-fifths the salary of a white man has a certain historical numerical significance, so let’s agree he’s getting shortchanged because of his race.
The honeymoon is over for Arnold and Peggy, but that’s bound to happen when you move into the house that used to belong to the martyred love of her life. More astute viewers can correct my faulty memory, but I suspect that dress Peggy fawns over was purchased for her by John André, not Arnold. And when Peggy catches housekeeper Zipporah eavesdropping on Arnold’s business, it makes it extremely easy for Peggy to fire her and give her position back to the recently returned Abigail, another welcome reminder of her former flame. (“And remember, I’m still Peggy, not Mrs. Arnold.”)
Arnold’s patience is running thin — and that’s before Simcoe drops clues that Peggy’s petty rivalry with Philomena Cheer was the only reason the pretty actress is rotting in a cell. Under interrogation, Cheer tells Arnold that she helped turn American General Charles Lee and that her accuser, Freddie, was the hairdresser who modeled her hair after Peggy for André’s fancy. That news sends Arnold into a rage, rushing home to call his beloved a “lying, vicious wench” and a “light-heeled whore.” He tosses in the revelation that André tried to win Peggy back as part of their espionage pact for good measure. At that point, there’s only one thing left for Peggy to say: “I wish you would’ve died instead of John!” Only after she storms out does Arnold notice the gift box that had been placed on his dinner plate: a pair of dainty baby shoes.
Don’t ever go to bed angry, lovebirds. It’ll kill the marriage!
Speaking of failed marriages, Anna is still in Washington’s New Windsor’s camp, far away from her husband Selah Strong. But it turns out that little-seen Selah has risen in rank since we last encountered him. We know he’s been corresponding with Ben, and that Anna pleaded with Ben to leave out any news in his next letter that she’s in New Windsor, lest Selah call for her. But with rumblings of mutiny from the American soldiers who haven’t been paid in a year, Anna turns to Alexander Hamilton for help. But Washington’s right-hand is a clear-eyed realist: a mutiny actually might be the only thing that gets Congress’ attention and loosens its purse strings. And then Anna blurts out: my husband is a member of Congress!
Selah Strong… Congressman? Who knew? In season 1, Selah got locked up for being a delegate to the rebel New York Provincial Congress, an office that reflects events from the history books. But Strong never actually served as a member of the Continental Congress — not that the show has flinched from bending history now and again. Following Hamilton’s blunt suggestion, Anna pens a letter to Selah, requesting his presence at the deteriorating camp. Help is on the way, but Selah will likely rush there primarily to reunite with his wife while Anna will play the part as long as it helps the cause.
In the woods near Lyme, Simcoe’s men are positioned for the turkey shoot. A bruised and battered Caleb is practically smiling before the exchange, once he learns he’s to be traded for two Woodhulls from Setauket. But Akinbode recognizes some of the old Rangers whistle signals and know that danger is coming. Too late. Before the swap can be completed, shots whistle through the air, and the Judge — did he throw himself in front of a bullet meant for Abe? — takes one of the head. He’s probably dead before he hits the ground.
Ben, Abe, Caleb, and a few others retreat inside the mill. Abe is frozen, shell-shocked, with his father’s blood splattered across his face. Simcoe’s men have the 500 pounds that was to be part of the prisoner exchange, but they aren’t leaving until everyone is dead. They’re readying torches to smoke out the survivors, and the only hope is Akinbode, who dispatched three old comrades and returned to the mill (after his partner rowed away) with three guns.
Inside the mill, Abe finally takes matters into his own hands. Perhaps remembering the words of his father, who said that Abe had always been the fighter in the family, he drops down into the mill’s trench and positions himself near the men who murdered his father and left him in the ditch. Ben and Caleb open the doors and come out firing, Abe pops up and takes out a few surprised Rangers, and Akinbode picks off some others from afar. Seeking revenge, Abe chases the Ranger with the money to the beach, but he underestimates the injured killer. The man gets on top of Abe and is about to suffocate him with the money bag when Akinbode arrives and skewers the Ranger with a bayonet.
The episode began with Abe and the Judge lying low in the horse-pulled cart that Ben steered toward Lyme. It ends with Ben driving it in the opposite direction, with Caleb, Abe, and the dead body of Judge Woodhull. Somewhere in the woods, Akinbode makes his way back to the city, but only after burying the 500 pounds in a secret hiding place. I suspect he’ll return for the treasure some day soon; I assume 500 pounds is more than enough for a ticket (or three) to Halifax or some other safe Canadian port for freed slaves.
Abe is finally the man of the house, the master of Whitehall, and the heir to the Judge’s political and business interests. But the entire equation has changed: Setauket lacks a British commander; Simcoe knows Abe is a traitor. It will take all of the Judge’s lessons for Abe to enact the plan he discussed with his father hours before the assassination, the plot to get close enough to Cooke to see the army’s financials. But if he pulls it off, how much would you like to wager Cooke is sending money to Yorktown?