When we first met Abraham Woodhull, the saddest cabbage farmer in all of 1776 Long Island, earlier this year, he was suffering through the psychological discomfort of sitting on the political fence while his childhood friends took up arms for the patriot cause against the garrison of British soldiers in his hometown of Setauket. Ben Talmadge was a Connecticut Dragoon officer. Caleb Brewster had gone underground to disrupt British operations. And Anna Strong, the woman Abe gave up to marry his dead brother’s fiancée, was likely spitting in the redcoats’ whiskey as she served them at her husband’s pub. Slowly, Abe became the key player in what became the Culper spy ring, the secret New York intelligence operation that George Washington relied on to conduct his war strategy. But though he’s a valuable asset, Abe mostly has been a lover, not a fighter. Despite his resurgent passion for Anna, he’s perceived by most as an upstanding family man – a conflicted husband, a devoted father, the son of the town’s most prominent Loyalist – and in the season premiere, when he was suspected of murder, he could honestly claim that he’d never killed anyone before. Well, not anymore.
If the first nine episodes of AMC’s Turn were about showing Abe’s evolution from patriot sympathizer to half-willing collaborator, then the finale punctuated that development with a bang. Abe’s double-life was discovered by his Loyalist wife, Mary – who also rightfully suspects him of being disloyal to her – and their confrontation led to Abe finally crossing the Rubicon. He is a spy, a stealth soldier, and a murderer, and there is no going back.
The finale, directed by Downfall director Oliver Hirschbiegel (a Hessian mercenary!), was built around the war coming home. Captain Simcoe’s devious conspiracy, which involved poisoning Major Hewlett’s prize horse, shooting Abe’s father, and pinning it all on Ben and Caleb’s fathers, backfired slightly: Abe intentionally-unintentionally proved them innocent and spared their lives (for now), and Ben raced back to Setauket with a company of rebel troops – including Anna’s husband, Selah – to set them free. Bad luck for the Continentals in that they were spotted landing their boats on the north shore, and Simcoe and Hewlett barricaded themselves in the church/garrison with the patriot prisoners as human shields. In a bit of foreshadowing, Caleb put his pistol to Baker’s head – Baker being the sweet British soldier who boards with the Woodhulls and loves the idea of Abe and Mary happy together more than any romantic aspirations for himself. When Abe was sent up to the church as an intermediary under a white flag of truce, he nearly convinced the panicked Hewlett to accept terms: exchange the prisoners for the captured British soldiers, and the Continentals will leave the town. But an outraged Simcoe dragged Mr. Brewster outside, where Caleb and the rebels can witness, and executed him in the head. So much for winning the peoples’ hearts and minds.
We’ve always known Simcoe was a psychotic, a Revolutionary War era Nazi with unquenchable blood lust and palpable disdain for the local population. Hewlett immediately had him arrested and made peace with the rebels, trusting in Ben’s honor to retreat after the prisoners are free. But what of Simcoe’s fate? The history books keep him alive and part of the war, so should Turn get a second season, you can expect to see that mad-dawg smile again.
Anna, too. Just hours after being reunited with her husband, Selah, she leaped out of a boat and abandoned him for
Abe “the cause.” The only regular character who checked out was Baker. He had the misfortune of walking in on Abe and Mary having another argument. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a typical quarrel between spouses. Mary had discovered and burned Abe’s spy-ring code book, and was horrified by his treasonous betrayal to the Crown. As she screamed and yelled and he explained, they turned to find Baker in the doorway, a witness to it all. Abe begged him to let him escape and never return, but Baker is a proud British soldier and he insisted on arresting him – so Abe shot him in the chest.
Seconds later, Mary shifted into Mr. Wolf mode: she burned the house down and they agreed to blame the murder and arson on departing Continental soldiers. Mary’s not a patriot; she’s a mother and wife, and she’ll do anything to save her family and marriage. I suppose this will bind Abe and Mary closer together in a way, and if so, the writers need to give actress Meegan Warner something better to work with next year than frowns and disapproving scowls. She can’t possibly become Abe’s partner in the spy ring, so perhaps it will be interesting to see how their relationship is recalibrated now that she knows his secret. Maybe she’ll open a car wash.
AMC hasn’t renewed Turn yet for a second season, but for fans of the show and Revolutionary history, the first season sets the table for some dramatic historical plot-lines that include more of John André and the recently mentioned Benedict Arnold. My only complaint during season 1 was that the writers didn’t seem to realize who their most compelling characters really are. Take for instance the scene in the finale between JJ Feild’s elegant André and Angus Macfadyen’s renegade Robert Rogers. All season, they stole scene after scene from others, but paired together here, they were relegated to an unsatisfying veiled discussion about “causes and effects” with André essentially voiding their practical alliance. It wasn’t dull, but it was certainly the sideline. Perhaps splitting up the show’s two most imposing and fascinating men could lead to some more intriguing drama down the road. I don’t care what the actual history books say, Turn’s Rogers feels more Han Solo than Boba Fett to me, and I hope his future on the show is as complex and mysterious as his shadowy past.