This week’s episode of Turn started with one of the most gravely miscalculated scenes I’ve seen on a major network series in a long, long time. We begin, innocently enough, with Abe Woodhull leaving behind yellow flowers for Anna Strong to follow into a dimly lit basement. Almost immediately, he attacks her, and they passionately make love in the lantern light.
Sounds great, right? Wrong.
Juxtaposed against the lovemaking is a scene in which Colonel Simcoe feeds an apple to Major Hewlett’s horse as they discuss Hewlett’s reluctance to crack down on those Setauket citizens Simcoe (correctly) believes are related to American insurgents. The apple, we later discover, is poisoned, and Hewlett’s horse bucks wildly in pain, destroying the interior of the church that the Redcoats are using as command center.
So, while Abe bucks wildly against Anna, we have the dying horse wildly bucking against Simcoe and Hewlett. It isn’t a coincidence. The scene is very deliberately cut that way. It’s almost as ridiculous as the scene that closes the episode: Abe’s 1-year-old son reveals his father’s spy pastime to Mary Woodhull by playfully pulling up the loose floorboard where Abe kept his codebook. These two scenes should have gone through a rewrite or two.
Clearly, this isn’t the episode the creators should submit for Emmy consideration. In fact, it’s one of those episodes you burn. It’s one of those episodes where you want to tweet the director and demand an explanation. Talented people are behind this show, and, yet, this opening and closing scenes have me flummoxed. Someone explain that horse scene to me. I have no idea.
More clear to me is that Simcoe poisoned the horse himself in one of those “only in the movies (or TV)” perfectly positioned moves. Dogged in his suspicion and pursuit of Ben Tallmadge and Caleb Brewster’s relatives, Simcoe singlehandedly uses the poisoning, the sudden and mysterious shooting of Richard Woodhull, and the discovery of a petition to elect Selah Strong to the Continental Congress to have several people arrested and charged with treason.
In his father’s absence, Abe decides to volunteer as tribute…err magistrate and lead the case against the accused. His secret plan, of course, is to botch the case so hopelessly that even presiding judge Hewlett would not convict them. This gives Jamie Bell a nice, deliberate opportunity to wildly overact, counterbalancing Samuel Roukin’s (Simcoe) unintentional overacting nicely. The entire courtroom drama is pitched at a “You can’t handle the truth!” level with Abe barking out his accusations so intently that the observers all but take up pitchforks. Finally, during examination of Ben Tallmadge’s father, the honorable Reverend Tallmadge, Abe whips out Tallmadge’s gun and the bullet that was pulled from Richard Woodhull and attempts to load the gun, deliberately botching the task.
Simcoe approaches from the sidelines with a knowing swagger. Clearly, Abe has no idea how to load a proper gun. Unfortunately, the bullet pulled from Richard Woodhull does not fit the American-made rifle. Instead, it was designed for a British musket. The observers gasp in amazement because, if ye ole bullet doesn’t fit, then thee must acquit. Score one for Abe as Anna Strong looks on, dripping with affection.
Unfortunately, Hewlett doesn’t quite see the scene with similar affection and sentences the accused to 10 years on the Jersey, the ship with such horrendous conditions that all who serve there would clearly soon die. This sets up next week’s climatic showdown where Ben Tallmadge and company march on Setauket to rescue the wrongly accused.
Overall, the episode did manage to recover from its curious, bestial beginnings, but it lacked the grace and fluidity of earlier, much better episodes. This happens when multi-character dramas with overlaying plotlines need to merge those lines together. Hopefully, next week’s season finale will end the season with a bang, pun intended.