Recapping Turn: Victory or Death

AMC’s Turn continues to downplay the major events of the American Revolution, focusing instead on the delicate details of the war’s supporting history. The human element is on display here, illustrating the evolution of America’s first spy ring and not the bloody battles somewhat foreshadowed in the series pilot. It’s an honorable intent, but I hope not one that robs this worthy series of viewers.



The latest episode kicked off with a 1776 Christmas musical montage. Outdoors, slaves danced and sang in joy and camaraderie. Indoors, British soldiers and sympathizers, including Richard Woodhull, joined in chorus with a piano-playing Major Hewlett. It was an effective juxtaposition and especially jarring for those who, like me, had just seen Burn Gorman (Hewlett) meet his end in Game of Thrones in a manner that would be especially prohibitive to singing.

One of the strongest threads in the episode dealt with the issuance of a bill of attainder against Selah Strong, effectively freeing Strong’s slaves. It’s a seemingly joyous move with Hewlett paying anti-slavery lip service, but the proclamation only technically freed the slaves as the men were to be shipped to New York for mandatory enlistment in the British army.

More central to the plot, though, was Anna Strong’s servant, Abigail, who Hewlett arranged to be sent to New York to work in Major Andre’s house. Anna pleaded on Abigail’s behalf by first arguing that slaves weren’t equipped to be free and then presumably against the separation of mother and child. It highlights the show’s commitment to period authenticity for a major character (Anna) to argue against the freedom of slaves and, later, bemoaning her own plight by having her “possessions” taken away. Uncomfortable to watch, yes, but authentic still.

Abigail accepted her plight and struck a deal with Anna by the episode’s end. In an event that will establish yet another spy channel, Anna agreed to care for Abigail’s son for the exchange of secrets obtained under Major Andre’s employ. I’m quite enjoying the show’s broadening of the fledgling spy ring to incorporate all perspectives – male and female, slave and freeman alike.

In an event recap, discussing the evening’s second major event feels more like a season cliffhanger, but the focus, again, is not on warfare. Ben Tallmadge and Caleb Brewster are suddenly told to prepare for a top-secret mission (password: “Victory or Death”) and join a fleet of rowboats crossing an icy river. Their intent is to join General Washington as he makes his famous crossing of the Delaware River into Trenton, New Jersey, to surprise the Hessian troops camped there. Again, the focus isn’t on the event itself or the Hessian battle. Instead, we celebrate with Ben and Caleb for the first major spy-related win in the war. Washington’s move was a direct result of the information gained by Abe Woodhull from his trip to New York.

And where was Abe in all of this? He’s still seething with anger (see last week’s tombstone drama) and refuses to join his father for the family’s Epiphany dinner. Mary leaves him behind and flees to the Woodhull estate to provide better care for their croup-inflicted son, and, in something of a soapy turn, Anna pays a late-night visit. Within minutes, Abe has her laid out on the kitchen table in a passionate embrace only to be interrupted by the British soldier taking up residence in the Woodhull house.

Shamed by the act, Abe relents and shows up at his father’s home for the Epiphany dinner, leaving Richard falsely secure that all broken bonds have been mended.

The episode closes with another joyous party, this time celebrating the Rebel’s Trenton success. Most significantly, the party scene is our first glimpse of General George Washington himself who demands to know all about Abraham Woodhull.

Overall, it was another solid entry in the series that continues to impress for highlighting the human entanglements of war. It’s a strategy employed by HBO’s Game of Thrones, and it suits this material. Still, I do long for some redcoat bayonetting or musket shots to the face every now and again. After all, war is hell. No reason to hide from that.

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