“If I can help [my husband] stay safe by pretending to be something I’m not, it’s fine by me.” —Ann Bates, British spy in George Washington’s camp
Not everyone has what it takes to be a successful spy. To be honest, Abraham Woodhull and Robert Townsend wouldn’t be anyone’s top choices based purely on their personalities and psychological makeups. But their access to high-level British officials makes them indispensable to the Culper Ring: Abe was Washington’s man in Long Island and now marches just meters away from Benedict Arnold; Robert is the Quaker tavern keeper who pours the redcoats’ drinks and hears their every whisper. They are crucial to Washington’s intelligence operation not because they’re more clever than John André was or Edmund Hewlett is, but because only they are positioned to send him crucial information about the enemy. They are his eyes, but not his brain.
In “Quarry,” which plots the intersecting patriot plots to kidnap Arnold and murder John Simcoe, three others find themselves in similar positions to impact the intelligence equation based purely on their circumstances. Unusual for the show and perhaps the era in which it is set, all three are women. Ann Bates is the most recent threat to the Culpers, a Tory mole in Washington’s camp who sends military intel — the numbers of Washington’s troops and cannons — to the British in order to protect her husband, who’s serving with Clinton in New York. But her line to Mary Woodhull (above) may have also been just what Abe’s wife needed to hear to justify her own more proactive role in the spy-games. She’ll let Ann continue to believe she’s a Tory sympathizer as well, and perhaps even “spy” on Anna Strong in order to learn Ann’s British contacts.
Meanwhile in New York, Peggy Arnold confronts Abe about his plot to kidnap her husband — and volunteers to help pull it off. Ann and Mary are dedicated to their respective causes — if only to save the men they love. Peggy, of course, is a different matter. She has ping-ponged back and forth between sides — and between men — so there remains the possibility that she’s playing Abe. “[Benedict’s] treason will not stain my family or my child,” she insists, justifying her willingness to cooperate in Abe’s plot. In return, she asks Abe for Washington and the patriots to leave her family alone after the war.
If she’s being straight and not setting Abe up for a double-cross, Peggy’s words are extremely revealing for the daughter of Philadelphia’s most notable Tory family: she expects the Americans to win the war. It’s impossible to know when she came to that conclusion, but it’s a reversal for sure — and doesn’t reflect the general sentiment of those who’ve spent several years in the protective cocoon of British power (first with André, then with Arnold). Is she sincere? I think so. But of all the “spies” left in Turn, she’s the one you’d be most foolish to trust. She learned from the best, after all.
Abe should be encouraged that Arnold’s wife is willing to hand the general to him on a platter. But kidnapping Arnold is secondary to the personal revenge he’s planning to exact against his nemesis, Simcoe. In fact, since he’s enlisted in Arnold’s American Legion, he’s done nothing to further the Arnold plot. Instead, he’s joined forces with an old foe, the morally diminished Hewlett, in order to eliminate Simcoe. But so far, their plans are rather amateurish. In the episode’s opening sequence, the audience got to envision Simcoe being killed twice — but both plots were half-baked and surely would’ve resulted in Abe or Hewlett being killed. If only one of them paid a visit to Miss Lola at the Holy Ground and learned from her that Simcoe’s taste for kink might leave him vulnerable with his pants down, so to speak.
Abe’s focus on Simcoe is jostled when John Champe arrives. Ben Tallmadge’s blond-haired secret agent survived Caleb’s accidental gunshot wound during his orchestrated defection, and he’s quickly become Arnold’s prize pony — an American officer from one of the rebels’ top units who might be the first of many to be inspired by Arnold’s loyalty and return to the King’s army. Arnold is so pleased that he promotes Champe to recruiting sergeant and urges Clinton to send his Legion to Virginia, where the colonists will rally around Arnold, a native-born hero. (Recap continues on page 2)
When Champe moves in to the army barracks, he quickly connects with Abe through the “summer of ’73” codeword. Champe is all business: send a message to Ben through Rivington’s paper and nab Arnold at his house on Thursday. Mind you, Robert never even knew kidnapping Arnold was part of the plan, since Abe’s priorities are elsewhere. “He forgets to mention things, from time to time,” says Robert, explaining what it’s like to work with Abe. Champe, though, is not one to debate or delay. He slams Abe against a wall and promises, “If you botch that, I will kill you. Is that clear?”
Abe’s problem is that he’s combined his missions. He accepted Peggy’s help to kidnap Arnold, but instead of bushwhacking the traitor near the wharf the night that Peggy has arranged, he intends to lure Simcoe to the Arnolds’ empty residence for a deadly ambush. Abigail refuses to let Cicero get involved in the dirty business, because she knows that suspicion will inevitably fall on the African-American servant (who, by the way, can’t keep a secret). So Hewlett forges an invite from Arnold instead, and the trap is set.
Unfortunately for Abe, he’s the one who’s walking into a trap. At Rivington’s, where Arnold is pleading again for the resources to take his unit into battle, Simcoe finally learns that a Setauket hog farmer named Woodhull, the son of the judge his men killed, just happens to be wearing a red uniform. When Cicero opens the Arnolds’ front door and welcomes Simcoe, the Queen’s Ranger is expecting trouble. He refuses to sit in the sofa that would’ve enabled Abe to sneak up on him with his dagger, and draws his own pistol as he waits for whatever Abe has planned.
Simcoe is evil. But Simcoe is smart. In fact, he’s graduated to being the smartest character on Turn this season. Not only does he dance circles around the characters, but the show’s writers seem to understand and appreciate him more than the others. He’s true. While other characters seem to fluctuate, in terms of loyalties or strength or common-sense intelligence, Simcoe is steady. You can count on him to be Simcoe, driven by rage, disgust, and violence. Abe has never proven his equal, and Simcoe already broke Caleb. The whaleboat courier was tortured by Simcoe, and he inadvertently gave up the secret that Abe was Culper. Caleb is supposed to rendezvous with Champe on the Hudson River after they sack Arnold, but Caleb is not himself. He might never be again. “Better off without me,” he tells Ben in a drunken stupor on the eve of the mission. “All I hear is Simcoe. He’s in [my head]. He won. He thanked me for giving up my friends!”
Ben goes in Caleb’s stead, but the mission falls apart. Abe never attacks Simcoe because Arnold and Peggy return earlier than planned. There’s news: Clinton has relented and is sending the American Legion to Virginia to join Lord Cornwallis in the fight against the clever Nathanael Greene. Immediately. Cicero is going with Arnold, and the most heartbreaking scene of the episode is Abigail in the moment she realizes what Arnold’s departure means for her son and has to listen to her master tell pregnant Peggy that he regretted the timing because “this child is the most precious thing in the world to me.”
Cicero will at least travel with an officer. Abe and Champe are traveling in steerage, with the rest of the Legion. And high above them, on deck, Simcoe peers down on them with his twisted smile. He knows all, and he’s now biding his time. “It’ll be on the field where we really settle all accounts,” he says, as the war ships head out of New York Harbor, into history. At least Ben was there to see it. Arnold has escaped, but Washington’s best bit of intel in weeks points him toward the end of the war.