Abe seeks revenge, but Simcoe will be waiting

By Jeff Labrecque
July 01, 2017 at 10:28 PM EDT
Antony Platt/AMC
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  • TV Show
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“Your whole future — your name — depends upon the outcome of this war. Suffer defeat and you’ll face infamy as America’s Judas. Achieve victory and they’ll build monuments to you.” —John Simcoe to his new commander, Benedict Arnold

Hindsight is 20/20, but Benedict Arnold’s fate was not yet sealed in 1781. After betraying his friends and the American Revolution, his future could still be written in his favor. But even he may not have truly understood until oily John Simcoe explained the personal stakes over drinks. Expectant-father Arnold finally has command of a Loyalist American Legion, with Simcoe’s Queen’s Rangers and other redcoats under his command. General Henry Clinton — and the rest of the British officers—loathe Arnold, so much so that the British commander gives Simcoe (and Lieutenant-Colonel Dundas) permission to “incapacitate” Arnold in the field as soon as they have an opportunity. But Simcoe has a different perspective: In Arnold, he sees a resolute leader who will not relent until absolute victory — no matter the methods. This is a man Simcoe can work with. Arnold had finally received the command he craved by promising, “With fear and terror at my side, I will bring the hammer of war down on Washington’s head like the god Ares himself.” With Simcoe, fear and terror is what the patriots can expect.

The Culper ring knows firsthand what havoc Simcoe is capable of wreaking. And it doesn’t take them long to see his fingerprints on the prisoner-exchange ambush that killed Judge Woodhull. For Abe, the assassination weighs heavy, for obvious reasons. Remember that Abe’s older brother Thomas was killed trying to suppress the Liberty Pole Riot, a disturbance that Abe participated in sparking. He never stopped blaming himself for Thomas’ death, and now he feels guilty for his father’s death as well. In his dream, he writes words in the Culper spy book that must feel like millstones around his neck (disapproval, malcontent, defeat, disappoint), and then his angry father confronts him again and blames him for ruining everything.

When Abe awakes from his nightmare, he finds that he’s not back in Setauket. Instead, he’s in a barn in Washington’s camp in New Windsor. His father’s cold dead body rests nearby, and Anna is there to console Abe. After the ambush, Ben had delivered Caleb to a different military hospital and then returned to New Windsor with the Woodhulls because he couldn’t get them across the Sound. When Caleb awakes and comes to his senses, he remembers that Simcoe deduced during his brutal interrogation that Abe — not Robert Rogers — was Culper, and Caleb quickly sets out on horseback out to warn Ben and Abe. When patriot pickets pull an exhausted Caleb to safety, he’s muttering “Hail Mary” prayers — or is he pleading for someone to save Mary Woodhull and her son?

Abe’s done with the Culper ring. All he wants is transport home so he can bury his father properly, near the church and next to his wife and son. But as Washington quickly points out to Ben, “This is not the first time he’s threatened to quit his post.” The general bluntly suggests that Abe can keep spying for him or he can pick up a gun and join the army. Washington is not quite himself. “One defection is tearing us apart — still,” Ben will later say in anguish, and it’s true. For Washington, Arnold’s defection was a personal betrayal, and a painful lesson that no one can be trusted. He admired Arnold. He confided in Arnold. And such affection had made him blind. “Never again” is the unspoken postscript to every Washington sentence, and the ripples from West Point continue to spread outwards.

Most notably, there is growing discontent within Washington’s camp. Anna has witnessed it firsthand, and Alexander Hamilton acknowledged he was powerless to remedy the problem without financial assistance from Congress. These soldiers have fought and died for their new country, and many of the survivors haven’t been paid in a year. Meanwhile, Congress hands out bounties to new recruits in order to replenish the ranks while stiffing the men who have bled and kept the revolution alive. It’s difficult to argue the former Drunken Sleazy Officer’s point when he says to his fellow mutineers, “If a general like Arnold can’t get paid, what chance have we got?”

If Washington and Hamilton can’t pay them, then the angry and armed troops of the Pennsylvania Line will march to Philadelphia and have a friendly-like conversation with the politicians claiming poverty. They murder some American officers who try to stop them from leaving their posts, and chant “We are not Arnolds” when they’re finally confronted by Anthony Wayne’s army. They don’t intend to switch sides — though in truth, Clinton sent word to them that he’d happily pay them for their service. They just want what is owed them, and what they and their families need to survive.

But this is happening at a fragile time for Washington and the American army. Giving the disobedient troops what they want after they’d committed mutiny and murdered their own officers would only encourage others to repeat the offense. An example needs to be made in order to preserve the rest of the army, so Washington approves Wayne’s settlement, which discharged many of the troublemakers but required the execution of 10 of the ringleaders.
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Did you know Wayne was known as “Mad Anthony”? He shows us why during the executions, handpicking the shooters from the insurgents’ units and forcing them to fire at their comrades from point-blank range. If you though that scene was graphic, you can thank AMC for not going even further. As one witness described, according to Washington biographer Ron Chernow:

“‘The fence and even the heads of rye for some distance within the field were covered with the blood and brains.’ When one firing squad victim lay bleeding but still alive, Wayne ordered a soldier to bayonet him to death. The soldier balked, saying he couldn’t kill his comrade. With that, Wayne drew his pistol and said he would kill the man on the spot if he didn’t obey orders. The hapless soldier then stepped forward and plunged his bayonet into the writhing man. To ensure that the bloody message of these deaths lingered, Wayne ordered the entire Pennsylvania Line to circle around the dead soldiers.”

Mad Anthony, ladies and gentleman.

The execution scene was not a fraction as powerful as it could’ve been if we had been invested with any of the doomed characters. The show had planted the insurgency seed only recently, with the officer that Ben had bludgeoned after he killed Ben’s flame, Sarah, pleading with Anna to send a warning up the ranks. He’s not exactly a sympathetic character, and we barely know him. Watching the execution, more fascinated than moved, I couldn’t help but wonder: What if these events had been brewing in the background for a longer period of time, and instead of Drunken Sleazy Officer wearing the blindfold, what if it were Caleb Brewster or someone else we love?

In New York, Robert has to remind James Rivington that they are partners and that Robert will not stand for being treated like the help in front of the tavern’s customers. Moreover, he frowns upon Rivington’s editorial lacquer. (“The truth is bloody enough.”) In the basement, printing out all the news that’s fit to print (but not be copy-edited), Rivington explains that he’s come to his current stance on freedom of the press only after some tough lessons at the hands of the Sons of Liberty. Before war broke out, Rivington had published a more evenhanded paper, the New York Gazettier. But when he failed to indict the Crown with every story, the patriots smashed his printing press, forcing him adjust his editorial principles. “One cannot speak truth to power if power has no use for truth,” he tells Robert. “For all their talk about liberty and virtue, the patriots are as zealous and intolerant as the enemy they seek to defeat. And my rhetoric does not hold a candle to their roaring flame.”

Clearly, Rivington has some scars that he blames on the patriots. But his speech also revealed a side of him we haven’t seen before: a professional news man who is making the best of a bad situation. It’s not impossible to imagine him rediscovering his ideals, under the right circumstances.

Back in New Windsor, a plan is afoot. Abe is agitated and wants to get home as soon as possible to bury his father (and then kill Simcoe); Ben owes Washington a plan to kidnap Arnold. Solution: After Abe buries his father, he will enlist in Arnold’s new American Legion, pretending to be a good Tory seeking revenge against the evil patriots who kidnapped and shot his father. Once embedded as a redcoat, he’ll be able to send Ben intelligence and help arrange the kidnapping of Arnold that Washington wants so badly. (Funny: It was just last week that Abe muttered, “When I was a boy, I wanted to wear the red coat more than anything.”)

But what the Culpers don’t know yet is that Simcoe and Arnold have joined forces. When Abe goes to enlist, he’ll be walking in to a British camp where at least one man — his greatest nemesis, no less — knows that he is an American spy. Nevertheless, that is the plan. Caleb and Abe bring the Judge’s body back to Setauket. All is well during the funeral; no sign yet of Simcoe or his Rangers. But they’re coming, one way or another. What can stop them? Certainly not Abe, who leaves to enlist. Certainly not wounded Caleb, who heads to the woods to practice his hatchet-toss. He’s no danger to the enemy in his condition.

But did you notice the brief POV shift as Caleb hurled another hatchet lamely at a target? It’s a technique the show has used before to indicate that someone is spying on another person. In fact, it was most notably used when Robert Rogers was lurking in the woods, stalking Abe. We haven’t seen Rogers since he settled his score with John André. But might he be back on the island, and might he be the X-factor in saving Abe from walking into Simcoe’s clutches?

This AMC drama explores a ring of spies in pre-Revolutionary War America.
type
  • TV Show
seasons
  • 4
Genre
Premiere
  • 04/06/14
Status
  • In Season
Network
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