An old nemesis returns to New York

By Jeff Labrecque
July 08, 2017 at 10:00 PM EDT
Antony Platt/AMC

“What have you done, [Woodhull]? Is this what your father would’ve wanted?” — Col. Cooke, quartermaster of the British Army in New York City

Abraham Woodhull, hard-luck cabbage farmer and mediocre Patriot spy, is now a uniformed member of the King’s army — just as he once dreamed of as a little boy. And not only is he wearing the crisp red uniform in the heart of British-controlled New York City, but he’s a member of Benedict Arnold’s new American Legion, shaking hands with the infamous traitor whom Ben Tallmadge and George Washington are plotting to kidnap and bring to justice. But after returning to New York on his mission, and finding himself in choice strategic position, the Culper ring lynchpin has lost his appetite for espionage. Despite his orders to the contrary, he’s in New York for one reason and for one reason alone: to murder John Simcoe, the man responsible for the death of his father, the pragmatic Tory magistrate of Setauket.

Getting into Arnold’s Legion wasn’t supposed to be easy. After all, the traitor of West Point has visions of a crack unit that is “the best of the best” that the colonies have to offer. He’s initially dismissive of the undersized rube when Abe volunteers, but the general is swayed by Abe’s passion to exact vengeance — and he probably realizes that his unit is shaping up to be the “best of what’s left” — and welcomes the raw recruit.

Abe’s induction — or more importantly, the lack of any Woodhull in Setauket — generates waves in the British camp. For one, the crooked Col. Cooke has been getting fat off the Long Island bumpkins for years, thanks to the war and willing profiteers like Judge Woodhull. Now his lucrative operation is at risk because some hotheaded kid suddenly feels a sense of duty to God and King? Not on my watch, he seems to say. There’s too much money to be made, son. At the very least, Cooke tells Abe after summoning him to Rivington’s, take a cushy position with the new chief of British intelligence. Control the levers of power, son, rather than wilt on the sideline (or worse). Such an offer would certainly have appealed to Abe the Spy, but his priorities are clear: Simcoe.

At the barracks, Abe is performing his lowly duties and staying out of trouble, biding his time for a time to strike. His unit is truly pathetic at the art of marching, but at least Abe makes a friend with Sturridge, a beaming droog who signed up for the easy money since he’s convinced that the Brits won’t let Arnold anywhere near a military action of any consequence. Sturridge is such an outgoing ham that it’s worth asking if it’s part of some act. Has he been sent by the British command to keep an eye on the dubious new British general — or perhaps has the still-anonymous new chief of intel sent Sturridge to shadow Abe? (Or… it’s possible that Sturridge, who blathers about farts, nuns’ privates, and nearby brothels, is just an idiot.)

No one is more shocked by the sight of Abe in a uniform than Robert Townsend. When the new redcoat plops down for his meeting with Cooke at Rivington’s, Townsend can barely keep his monkish composure. Cooke’s invitation to Abe to meet General Clinton himself that very night at Kennedy House virtually guarantees that Robert will find a reason to drop in himself: He needs to speak with his Culper brother as soon as possible and get the ring back online.

As per Ben’s plan, Abe’s defection is followed by the swift exodus of Mary Woodhull and young Thomas through Patriot lines. If Simcoe knows that Abe is Culper, his family is no longer safe in Setauket. Caleb dutifully escorts them near New Windsor, where Anna and Ben take them the rest of the way and help Mary set up a modest dwelling in the dingy camp. Anna helps Mary craft a phony backstory so that the gossipy women in camp don’t get suspicious, but the best that Mary can muster in a pinch is “Mary Smith,” and most of the time, she forgets to answer to “Mrs. Smith.” Nosy neighbor Ann Barnes will have figured Mary out by the midpoint of episode 6, yes?

Mary and Thomas aren’t the only new faces in New Windsor. Selah Strong, Setauket taven-owner turned Philadelphia congressman, is there to witness and report on the poor conditions of Washington’s army — but more importantly, to reunite with distant wife Anna. Selah is a changed man, at least in his sense of dress, speech, and a firm handshake. He’s a more polished gentleman and a politician whose burning Patriot ideals have given way to a more practical approach to governing, epitomized by the very non-Patrick Henry quote, “There will be no representation without taxation.” But he’s still in love with Anna, and with her permission, he’d like to bring her to Philly — or at the very least, continue their correspondence until she’s ready to be his wife again.

Like the recent execution of mutiny leader Lt. Randall, which packed little punch because the viewer had no investment in his pop-up character, it’s difficult to care too much for Selah and Anna’s romance, or lack thereof. He is earnest and endearing in his approach to bring her back into his orbit, to get her away from a place where she’s still taking drink orders from rugged soldiers and closer to machinations of power. Will she stay or go? I’ll give you 99/1 odds that she goes.
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Abe is very lucky at Clinton’s New York party, though it might not seem that way when Townsend loses his cool and Peggy catches Abe compiling secrets about her husband from Cicero, Arnold’s newly promoted bodyman — secrets that Abe indifferently passes on to Townsend. Cooke had invited Abe there to pressure him to resign from the army and return to Setauket so that the flow of money to his pockets could resume. Once Arnold hears of Abe’s potential as a friendly ally in the black market, he quickly falls in line; but once Cooke swats down his own request for hay, he reverses course and encourages Abe’s commitment to King and Crown. Touché, Arnold. Maybe you don’t suck at intrigue after all.

So why was Abe lucky, if he was spied colluding with Cicero? Well, first of all, Peggy is on record for wishing Arnold dead. And when she heard Cicero telling Abe about his injuries and his midnight strolls to the outhouse, she didn’t rush to her husband with the threat. Claiming illness, she simply went home. Also, Abe was extremely lucky that Clinton had not invited Simcoe or the new head of British intelligence to the party. Both men know him well, and both know his darkest secret.

Back at Washington’s camp, Mary isn’t adjusting to her new life, and she barges into Ben’s tent unannounced to demand news of her husband. Not cool, says Ben, who is surely thinking, “These things never happen to Hamilton!” Caleb plays peacemaker, trying to sooth Mary with a story of Abe from when they were all young scamps in the Setauket cove and Abe nearly drowned in a storm. He calmly waited out the worst of it, even as his panicked pals worried about him. “The only thing he feared was that we would be foolish enough to try and rescue him,” Caleb says, explaining why the best course now is to wait and trust. But Mary’s not buying, ripping into Caleb for causing her family’s current predicament by getting captured in the first place, and then pointing out the difference between Caleb and her beloved: “[At least] Abe was courageous enough to try and rescue you.”

Caleb might have to return the favor — soon. Because Abe is about to realize that he’s walked right into a web of trouble. You may have asked why Simcoe hadn’t immediately hustled to Setauket to crush Abe and dismantle the Culper ring after Caleb cracked. But Simcoe is distracted, for the time being at least, with the return of an even greater rival: the new chief of intelligence, Edmund Hewlett. Simcoe is still oblivious that Abe/Culper is one of the hapless recruits drilling right under his nose because all his focus is on gutting Hewlett like a fish. “There was an ocean between us, and yet he was foolhardy enough to return,” Simcoe tells his goons, the same men who ambushed the Woodhulls.

Can we at least give Hewlett enough credit to recognize that Simcoe is lurking as a lethal threat? That’s one explanation for why Hewlett politely invites Abe into his new office. Remember: Hewlett, like Simcoe, already knows that Abe is Culper. In fact, he reported the Culper secret to John André before he fled the colonies (and André was captured). So why would Hewlett welcome Abe with a handshake and not the tip of a bayonet (especially since Abe is also the man who stood in the way of his love for Anna)? Perhaps he needs Abe to help dispatch Simcoe first. Or perhaps Hewlett is doubling down on the spy game. Rather than hang Abe from the gallows, might he be thinking two steps ahead and contemplating using him as a double-agent? It would be a stretch, now that Mary and Thomas are protected by Washington’s men, but Hewlett could still try to exert pressure on Abe to stay in the ring but feed the Culpers misleading information. Or, perhaps… perhaps, Hewlett returned for Anna. For love. And he’s willing to overlook Abe’s treason if he’ll help him reunite with her.

“Eat, drink, and be merry,” Cooke utters at the height of Clinton’s party, allowing Townsend to finish the Christian passage, “…for tomorrow we die” under his breath. Abe dreams of slaying Simcoe. Washington dreams of executing Arnold, and Sturridge walks around like Dead Meat Thompson in Hot Shots! Death is in the air.