And with this week’s Turn, “Epiphany” begins the official formation of the Culper Ring, America’s first spy ring — a small group of friends and confederates brought together to provide the Patriots intelligence on British activities in New York and New Jersey. By the end of this week’s episode, the chess pieces all seem firmly in place on both sides of the playing surface: the blue and the red.
Epiphany, indeed, as the events circulate around Christmas, 1776 and the observance of Epiphany. But, as move and countermove unfold, all sides get a bit of an epiphany as well.
Major Hewlett’s (Burn Gorman) first move in the episode, which takes place Christmas Eve, 1776 is to “free” the slaves of Patriot owners, including Anna Strong (Heather Lind), whose husband Selah is in prison for his activities. Her estate is put under a Bill of Attainder by Hewlett, who confiscates everything, including her loyal housemaid Abby. England had already abolished slavery by this time; however, this “freeing” is a perversion of the intent. The slaves are really not free, but have been taken, separated from loved ones, and sent to serve in the battalions and houses of British and Loyalist officers. Freedom is dependent upon remaining loyal to the British and serving their time. Only then will freedom be granted.
If this is Hewlett’s idea of winning hearts and minds, he may be, to a certain extent, correct. For I would imagine fighting for the British might be preferable to enslavement on a plantation. However, not for everyone. Abby is desperate not to be separated from her young son, but she is being sent to serve in the house of General John Andre (JJ Field) in York City, where he is head of British intelligence there. But Abby is loyal to Anna, and she offers whatever she can to aid in the Patriots’ fight for freedom. And in Andre’s house, she will be privy to much intelligence. She is the newest (potential) cog in the nascent Culper Ring.
Ben Tallmadge (Seth Numrich) and Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall) are making progress as they press the idea to form an intelligence ring to aid the faltering patriot army. Recruit Abe Woodhull’s intelligence has proven to be sound, and a small, but significant victory based on Abe’s intelligence has given the Patriots hope and a much-needed boost in confidence. General Washington himself, who, by episode’s end, wants to know more about “this Abraham Woodhull.” It is this daring Christmas Eve turn that served to form the true beginning of the Culper Spy Ring.
But at the same time, Royalist mole (and Andre’s stooge) outs Tallmadge to Robert Rogers (Angus MacFayden), a mercenary who’d fought alongside Washington in the Seven Years’ War, but now is a bit of a wildcard. Right now he’s serving the Brits in the hopes of regaining his lost fortune back in Britain. But can he be turned? Only time (and silver) will tell.
On a more personal front, Abraham has made his disdain toward his father quite known, refusing to sup with him during Christmas. The more he sees of his father’s debasement and British boot-licking, the more resolute he becomes. But at what sacrifice?
Turn is a satisfying historical drama, with great acting from all in the cast, and a compelling, little known story from our country’s earliest history. Although we know how the story eventually turns out, with the shifting loyalties and not all the good guys “good,” nor all the bad guys truly evil, the narrative makes for great drama on Sunday nights on AMC.
In a bit of irony, Burn Gorman, who plays Major Hewlett is also in this season’s cast of Game of Thrones, playing opposite on HBO. In both cases he plays a slippery bad guy.
Turn airs Sunday nights at 9:00 p.m. ET on AMC.
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