Turn: In Praise of Anna Strong

Turn spent the majority of this week’s episode continuing to flesh out the relationship between Abe Woodhull and Anna Strong, which was fine by me as it gave the increasingly compelling Heather Lind more opportunities to shine amongst this talented ensemble.

Abe and Anna journeyed to New York together on separate missions – Abe to sell produce and hunt for secrets and Anna to recover her recently paroled husband. While alone, Anna seizes the opportunity to demand that Abe finally explain why he broke off their secret engagement years earlier. It’s a question many have asked as Abe so clearly belongs with Anna and not the colorless Mary once promised to his dead brother. As usual, Abe defers the truth, falling back on claims of family responsibility. No one is satisfied by the answer.

Turn s01e08

Separating from Anna, Abe visits his father’s business partner in New York and arranges to sell the remainder of the Strong produce. After completing his business, Abe manages to score an invitation to a party at the home of Major John Andre. Abe shares his good news with Anna, but she has news of her own. She was (incorrectly) told that her husband, Selah, is dead. Full of rage and longing for vengeance, she wants to throw herself fully into the espionage game and join Abe at Andre’s party.

Flash-forward to the party where Anna, thanks to the assistance of Andre’s housemaid Abigail, manages to gain entry with a group of escorts. Andre’s party turns out to be the 18th century version of a stag party replete with bring drinking, vomiting, dancing, and women. There was also lots of singing. Manly singing, but singing still.

Anna seduces a British soldier after dinner and offers dessert upstairs where she intends to rifle through papers in Andre’s desk. Abe interrupts, partly to steal secrets on his own and partly to spare Anna’s sexual indignation. They argue, and Abe is asked to leave the proceedings. However, before leaving, Abe answers a challenge issued earlier in the evening: Who would you kill if you could get away with it? Abe then tells the story of the death of his brother, a British soldier dispatched to stop a riot inadvertently caused by a younger, reckless Abe. Without revealing the identity of the riot instigator, Abe confesses that he would like to kill that man, the coward who caused the riot.

So, we finally learn that Abe’s guilt over causing his brother’s death led him to break off his engagement with Anna and marry his brother’s fiancée. Apparently though, at the end of the episode, Abe is relieved of his guilt as he and Anna completely succumb to their lust. Their coupling is problematic not only for the still-married Abe but also for Anna whose husband, Selah, is very much alive. He was used as a pawn in a prisoner exchange in an attempt to flesh out Ben Tallmadge, a plotline that also ran through the episode but held my attention much less than the Anna/Abe sequence.

That brings me back to Heather Lind, the actress who plays Anna Strong. My initial impressions of her were positive, and everything since then has added fuel to that fire. Lind imbues Anna with a tempestuous nature and commands our attention whenever on-screen. The few Turn episodes that have not included her character have been duller for her absence. Lind’s Anna is not a woman respectful of customs or laws. She is incensed by her plight and wants to burn those who put her there. Lind’s performance is especially significant given how little is known about the real Anna Strong. Lind and the writers have constructed this woman and made her a full-bodied character, something more prevalent on television but sorely lacking in cinemas.

I don’t expect the Emmys will recognize Lind’s remarkable performance. Turn isn’t exactly a buzzed-about show, and its recognition is likely to come in the technical categories, again much deserved. But I can still hold out hope that, on the day of the nominations, someone will read Heather Lind’s name and recognize this blossoming talent.

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