“Can I trust a rebel spy to keep his word? Let me propose to this end — and to this end only — we put aside our mistrust and kill this murdering bastard.” — Major Edmund Hewlett
Abraham Woodhull is a spy. A patriot — or a traitor, depending on your political point of view in 1778. He’s been an undercover agent ever since he gleaned intelligence from a pair of Hessians heading to Trenton. And he’s spent every day since he crossed that Rubicon obsessively guarding his secret, even going as far as to commit murder. His paranoia and nightmares should finally be realized; he’s been betrayed by his own father. The embittered Judge Woodhull turned in his only son to the supremely oblivious Major Hewlett. Will the British commander send Abe directly to the gallows? Will he shoot him in Whitehall’s parlor?
Of course not…because it’s hapless star-gazing Hewlett we’re talking about. In fact, only Hewlett can pull defeat from the jaws of victory. He has Abe dead to rights the morning after the judge finally comes clean about his suspicions. But when cornered, Abe has two options, and he doesn’t opt to beg for mercy. He angrily calls his father a coward and practically scoffs at Hewlett’s threat of a death sentence. “But what will happen to you?” Abe taunts the officer pointing a pistol in his face. “You’ll be stripped of your command. Who provided the papers that got me into New York? Whose letter got me out of jail when I was arrested for being a spy? I wonder what your superiors in New York will have to say about that? You never know — you might be hanging with me. At any rate, you’ll be shown to be the fool that you really are!”
Mary steps between the men, as Hewlett considers the likelihood of Abe’s scenario, and Abe makes an exit with Thomas to the cabbage farm. Abe might be terrified that he’s been exposed, but he should take some comfort that his Javert is one Wile E. Hewlett.
Am I being too hard on Edmund? Let’s table that discussion and check in on New York, where some real spycraft is getting done. Welcome to Rivington’s Corner, a fashionable Wall Street coffee house for British officers and Tories. In the basement, James Rivington, the renowned Priest of the Temple of Falsehood publishes his loyalist propaganda sheet, Rivington’s Royal Gazette. (It’s important enough to make the show’s new opening credit animation.) Rivington’s very silent partner: Robert Townsend, a natural-born observer who blends in with the surroundings. It was he that alerted the rest of the Culper ring that Washington’s life was in danger — likely from the same careless gabbers who spill the name of their next Judas, Rev. Worthington, five minutes into a conversation with John André, a mere stranger to them except for the red uniform.
Townsend raises the Culper’s flag by purchasing an ad in the next day’s Gazette for “French Rasberry Brandy,” setting in motion an intelligence drop. (The major news headline was a British spin on General Washington reeling after being routed at Monmouth, but did you notice what dominated the rest of the front page: advertisements for the sale of slaves and the request for the return of runaway slaves.)
Rivington (John Carroll Lynch) has a unique operation working. He is a prominent mouthpiece for the Crown, with personal friendships with high officials such as Governor Tryon and Mayor Mathews, the men behind the failed Washington assassination. But just as Townsend is the perfect spy because of his reserve, Rivington could conceivably be even better because of his flamboyance — Townsend hears every word, but Rivington actually gets them to speak. When Townsend’s father arrives to pick up the coded Geneva Bible, Rivington pounces for details. But is it suspicion that motivates his fascination or just natural curiosity (and perhaps sympathy): “I’m a newsman, which is a religion all its own,” he tells Samuel Townsend, a day after he warned the Brits of Washington’s unholy alliance with the French papists. “While others worship mysteries, I seek to dispel them.”
Rivington isn’t the only person in his establishment with potentially conflicting motivations. Note the return of the New York actress Philomena Cheer, who had a previous dalliance with André as well as Gen. Lee. She seemed hurt by André’s cold shoulder, but she may yet have a role to play as a figure with close intimate relations with power brokers from both sides. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned?
NEXT: Can Abe afford to let Hewlett live?