This week’s Turn has an unexpected ending or two (at least they surprised me). I expected, for example that Richard Woodhull (Kevin McNally), Setaucket magistrate and leading Royalist would ultimately be shamed into standing up to Major Hewlett (Burn Gorman), once he realizes that Hewlett is asking too much to use the gravestones of the Setaucket dead to protect the town from a rebel threat. He would then join with his son Abraham in resisting the British that control their small town. That Turn does not do the expected, here is both a revelation for us as well as for his son Abraham.
The episode title “Eternity How Long?” might well refer to the waiting, baiting, and long-view game the slog through the Revolutionary War might be. It is, as Major Hewlett points out at the end of the episode, more about winning hearts and minds than it is about force at the barrel of a musket or sword.
This week’s story unfolds through several of the cat and mouse relationships that have formed in the series in its few weeks on the air. But most important for this week is the developing relationship between father and son: newly minted rebel spy Abe and his loyalist father Richard.
The episode opens at the graveside of Thomas, Abe’s older brother, who died in service to the crown sometime before start of the series. In Richard’s eyes, Abe does not quite measure up to his brother–the loyal son who faith had been bound up both in King and father. Abe is more of a rebel (in more ways than one), and his father’s constant appeasement of the British begins to wear on Abe as his sympathies lie more and more with the rebels, and his increasing involvement with them.
When Hewlett hears word of a forthcoming attack on the Setauket fortress, he comes up with a plan, and despite the fact it seems quite an arbitrary plan from the puffed up pretender to an officer’s red coat, in the end it is a brilliant strategy. Hewlett isn’t as much an inexperienced and capricious officer as either Richard or Abe believe him to be.
At first, the request (more than a request) rankles Richard’s sensibilities. How can anyone ask that graves be desecrated to protect the stronghold? Hewlett gives him a choice, but once word gets out (by a slip of the lip by the guileless Mary Woodhull), the good citizens of Setauket are enraged and encroach upon Richard’s home with pitchfork and torch in the middle of the night.
But Abraham comes to the (unexpected) aid of his father; he has faith that his father, despite their differences, will come to the right decision–eventually. And Richard turns his difficult task of choosing graves into an impossible task of only choosing graves with the consent of the families involved. He hopes to find allies among the town elders, but to no avail.
When Abe tries reason with his father, saying that such an abomination as the desecration of graves is beyond the pale, and that the people will resist, he also tells his father that he has a choice: be ostracized (or worse) by the townfolk–or lead them in resisting an enemy that Richard does not yet recognize.
In many television series, at the end of the episode we would have Richard and Abraham side by side, with Richard seeing the wisdom of his son, now both admiring and respecting him. The child leading the father, who then leads the people. But it is not to be, for history (and families), loyalties and agendas are messy and complex. In the end, Richard takes to heart Abe’s words in a way Abe would not have expected. Instead of refusing to over turn the stones and give them to the Brits, Richard chooses to dig up the gravestones of his own family–leading by example.
The townsfolk, who are not rebels at all, follow by his example and follow him by digging up the gravestones of their own family members. Abraham cannot help but be disappointed by this turn of events, and Hewlett could not be more pleased. He has led by manipulation–getting the oppressed to dig their own graves (as it were). He gets not a speck of dirt on his own hands.
The question becomes for these people of faith: what does God want of them? Does God want them to resist or, as Hewlett desires, to see his rule as an extension of King Georges’ Divine right–God’s spokesman on Earth? But it’s a matter of viewpoint as it always has been to interpret what God wants of us. What is the “right thing?” To resist? To protect our families despite having to kneel before a king (or his spokesman)? To do what we are told like meek lambs led to slaughter? During the Revolution, as has always been the case, it is a matter of perception: oppressed vs. oppressor, persecutor vs. persecuted, rebel vs. loyalist.
As Turn continues its AMC first season, I’m getting more and more intrigued. I look forward to seeing history unfold in the world of Setauket and the early days of the Revolutionary War. Turn airs Sundays at 9:00 p.m. on AMC.Follow @@B_Barnett
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