“The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things: of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings.” In this week’s Turn, there is much talk of ships, the secrets held beneath the sealing wax, and, in fact, both cabbages and kings. If you haven’t yet discovered AMC’s new Revolutionary War era espionage series Turn, you are missing a dose of little known American history and a ripping adventure.
Set in the late autumn of 1776 — the early days of the Revolutionary War, when little seemed to be going the way of the rebel colonists, and George Washington was in retreat, Turn tells the origin story of Culper spy ring. Starring Jamie Bell as Abraham Wudhull, the son of a magistrate in Setauket New York (on early Long Island), the series is set in the days after General George Washington had lost New York and his army is weary with flagging hopes and poor morale.
Episode three, “Of Cabbages and Kings,” really begins to get into the story, as Abraham makes a decision to go full throttle into the spy business, and he has a ready conduit for his actions. A failed farmer, he agrees to work for his loyalist father, traveling to New York to sell livestock and vegetables to the Redcoats. It’s a great cover for a spy; New York is exactly where he can learn British strategy and convey it back to his childhood friend Ben Tallmadge (Seth Numrich), a Rebel Dragoon with the ambition to rise in the ranks of the rebels’ nascent intelligence service.
At first Abraham isn’t especially keen on risking his neck (and the lives of his young family) by gathering intelligence for the rebels, but sitting in on a meeting with his father, Abraham’s ethics are sore tested. And it is much to do with cabbages (well, cauliflower) and the usurping of power by both king and king’s men.
By the end of the episode, Abraham is firmly in the rebel’s camp with golden information for his contact, another childhood friend, Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall). The fourth part of this group of young leaders is Anna Strong (Heather Lind), Abraham’s ex-fiance. A smart, resourceful woman, who serves as the ring’s signal.
We learn more in “Cabbages and Kings” about Ben; he is smart, but sometimes rash. He’s not very big on authority, and his actions skirt insubordination. And if General Scott (Michael Gaston) had his way, Ben would be court-martialed, particularly after he refuses to summarily execute a frightened young soldier who believes the war is lost and wants only to survive. But Scott has good reason to distrust Tallmadge. The British prisoner Captain Simcoe (Samuel Roukin) has been tortured under Ben’s watch, and treated with the disdain that should not be accorded a officer–even being a prisoner of war.
The episode highlights the low morale of the rebel troops as winter fast approaches, absorbing defeat after defeat, with rumors flying about Washington’s capture, and the likelihood of a quick end to the war. This is likely setup for what will likely be the climax of the first season: a Christmas plan that will firmly establish this spy ring–America’s first.
The series is history come alive. The Culper ring operated in such secrecy that literally nothing was known about it until the early part of the 20th Century. All the characters we’ve met thus far, from the four friends who form the spy ring to the British officers are plucked from the annals of history and Alexander Rose’s 2007 non-fiction book Washington’s Spies.
I’ll be following the series week-by-week at Blogcritics, and I hope you’ll come back each week to comment, and discuss any aspect of Turn. The series airs Sundays at 9:00 p.m on AMC.
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