Turn ends its first season on both a whimper and an unexpected bang. With an episode (perhaps unfairly) titled The Battle of Setauket and directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall), my expectations going in were high that the series would deliver more on the warfare front. Certainly, the scene was set for a major skirmish as Captain Simcoe seemed to be ever teetering on the brink of sanity and Tallmadge and the Continental Army were poised to make a full-scale assault to rescue family members destined for certain death.
But this was not that kind of episode as Turn in not that kind of show.
There was very little in the way of an actual battle. The Continental Army seemed to take Setauket fairly easily, forcing the Redcoats to retreat to their church garrison protected by canons and tombstones. There was some gunplay and one canon shot, but these soldiers honor rules, protocol, and manners above bloodshed. As Major Hewlett remarks, the Redcoats were there to protect Setauket, not demolish it.
That is, of course, not including Captain Simcoe who, frustrated with Hewlett’s inaction in battle, grabbed Caleb Brewster’s uncle and shot him through the neck in an attempt to incite the Continental Army. Perhaps Simcoe is a man best suited for the battle of Caste Black from the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones. The only rule discussed during that long, bloody and brilliantly conceived battle was whether or not the Night’s Watch oath prevents its members from having sex. Simcoe’s inner rage and borderline insanity has driven much of the plot this season, but, to me, he has become an exhausting character. After shooting Brewster, he is arrested, bound, and gagged by the Redcoats, a scene that was a very, very long time coming.
The “battle” eventually peters out as the Redcoats effectively give up, surrender their prisoners, and allow the Continental Army to escape unscathed. Anna Strong is then reunited with her husband, Selah, who now fights in the Continental Army. As they slowly flee Setauket observed but not attacked by the Redcoats (again, politest battle ever), Anna suddenly leaps from the boat into the icy waters, determined to remain in Setauket. Personally, I thought it shame that this awkwardly filmed scene was our parting experience with Anna Strong. She deserved a better send-off.
That leaves Abe and Mary to provide the real battle of Setauket. After Mary curiously confronts him on both his confirmed infidelity and suspected impotence, Abe settles the situation like only an 18th century man would – he screws her quickly and dispassionately. Satiated and all smiles, Mary continues playing the dutiful, concerned wife through the rest of the episode. Only when Anna chooses to remain in Setauket does Mary decide to reveal to Abe her discovery of his codebook, which she has subsequently burned. They argue and are eventually overheard by Ensign Baker, the honest and decent Redcoat stationed in their home.
This discovery brings the biggest surprise of the episode and its most significant bang. As Baker attempts to arrest Abe for treason, Abe shoots the soldier in the stomach, killing him. Abe panics, leaving Mary to shockingly evolve into a Revolutionary era Lady Macbeth. She instructs Abe to gather their child while she burns the house down, blaming the fire and Baker’s death on nearby Rebels. This character shift was a significant right turn for Mary as we’ve not seen much evidence of such behavior in her before. For once, I’m excited at the prospect of having Mary, a character I’d wished dead on multiple occasions, remain in the show.
And so, that ends the first season of AMC’s Turn. So, what next for the show? AMC has remained tight-lipped as to the show’s fate. The ratings are light, averaging roughly half what Mad Men pulls in and only 0.4 million viewers in the all-important 18-49 demographic. The decision, I suspect, will be put off until after the Emmy nominations are announced on July 10 as to not adversely impact their success with that voting body. My position on Emmy success remains as ever – some technical nominations are possible but nothing more. And to be honest, Turn hasn’t exactly made a compelling case for Emmy attention beyond that. With such a rich, vivid American story to tell, the show offered a scattered story arc over the season. The individual episodes were often very good, but they weren’t ever able to fully flesh out characters in a consistent manner.
If given a second season, then let’s hope the creators focus more on the espionage that spawned the series and less on soapy dramatics. After all, these men and women are the heroes who significantly contributed to the American victory over the British. Their great story deserves equivalent greatness.