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TURN “Belly of the Beast” Review

By on July 31, 2017

Photo Credit AMC

By Chris B.

Abe and Champe find themselves in the heat of battle in Richmond, Virginia.  The former can scarcely make sense of the carnage around him, watching in horror as his bunkmate shoots down a man before his eyes, one who’d been about to shoot Abe.  Benedict Arnold, riding smugly in back of the line, calls out his encouragements:  “Push on, men!  If Tommy Jefferson won’t surrender, he’ll be governor of nothing but char and ash.”

The American Legion camps at Westover, Virginia, where Benedict Arnold entreats Abe’s assistance with “processing Colonial goods” and gives him a list of all he’s acquired during their time in Virginia.  Simcoe enters, noting that Arnold’s men are disposing of gunpowder in favor of tobacco, which is hardly a wise move in time of war.

Simcoe suggests that Arnold’s plan to push further south is something that should wait until the men are better rested.  Arnold is a mite surprised and totally dismissive of his concern, despite Simcoe’s mild return that “rested warriors are more effective,” and his reminder that Arnold had lost nine men in his last march, which the General blows off as “wheat from the chaff.”

Simcoe reports that rebels are gathering in North Carolina and Cornwallis might appreciate their intervention there.  However, Arnold has “several prospects” he wants to check instead.  Simcoe, still with his mild, smiling demeanor, asks, “Is this campaign meant to stamp out rebels or to enrich your coffers?”

Arnold assumes that all men are motivated as he is, so he thinks that Simcoe objects solely due to wanting a part of the valuable commodities they pillage from the region.  At that, Simcoe’s practiced good humor wanes:  “With respect, sir, I came here to fight, not to loot.”  This triggers another defensive, self-pitying rant from the General, who thinks that “Fortune favors the bold,” so he’s going to get his, just as he thinks others are.  “Am I to be the only honest man in this war?” is the turncoat’s ironic question to Abe, whom he then orders to find him suitable ports through which to funnel his spoils.

Abe seeks out Champe to discuss getting away from the British camp, though Champe is reluctant because his mission for Arnold is unfulfilled.  Abe, though, would rather have that than to remain and be forced to kill men from their own side.  They agree to wait until the opportune moment to leave, at which time Champe can make good on his determination to burn his dreadful red coat.

Unfortunately, both Abe and Champe forget that canvas is not an impenetrable sound barrier.  Their entire conversation is heard by Sturridge standing just outside.

When Cornwallis and his men arrive at the British camp, Abe and Champe see their window and prepare to leave.  As they sort munitions, Sturridge peeks in and makes a comment about how their timing is good as their “rebel friends” are about to make a stand.

Bad idea.  Champe grabs Sturridge, pins him to the ground, and is about to run a stiletto through him but for Abe’s intervention.  It turns out Abe’s former bunkmate only wants to go with them, pleading, “I’ve got to get out of here…I’m certainly not a soldier; I never have been!”  He’s allowed to live and to leave with them at sundown.  They even give him a pistol.

Bad idea.  As they run from camp, Sturridge falls and accidentally shoots himself in the leg.  This alerts all to their actions.  Champe gets away, but Abe stops to help his friend, who bemoans that he’d wanted to be brave just once in his life.  Then, he thinks of a way:  “Catch me.”  He trades guns with Abe, who poses to make it seem he’s stopped a deserter.  Sturridge is promptly killed by their sergeant and Abe gets kudos from Arnold.

Abe is summoned by Arnold who wants the information on ports he’d requested earlier.  It turns out the General is leaving, but not before he whines to Abe about the faulty battle plan that the British have for Yorktown, Cornwallis’s “fool’s errand.”  Arnold’s warning about the army’s vulnerability there has fallen on deaf ears.

But the paper Arnold sketches out the details of that vulnerability is curled into Abe’s eager hand.

After the fight at Blandford, Abe makes his way to the water where he is captured by French troops and taken on board Lafayette’s ship.  He tells the Frenchman who he is and that Benjamin Tallmadge can vouch for him.  The Marquis doubts him, never having heard his name, and when he claims also to be known as Samuel Culper, his suspicions only increase.

Before they can finish, Lafayette is called away by gunfire, and Abe is dragged away to the brig.

The information that could turn the clinch the war is forgotten on the Marquis’s desk.


Partners in Crime

In New York, Townsend is summoned by Mulligan, the tailor who had made his loyalties known to Robert previously.  He offers information that his father-in-law, an Admiral in the Royal Navy, is hiring Rivington to print a signal book, fighting instructions for the squadron commanders; he tells Robert to steal a copy to forward to the French fleet.

Robert suggests a gutsy alternative:  he could mess with the typeset, fouling the instructions and creating mass chaos amongst the British troops.  But Mulligan warns against that; it is too easily traced back to the source.  “They’d come for Rivington, but he’d know it was you.”

Later, after Rivington leaves for the night, Robert proceeds with his own plan.  He sneaks down to the presses, burns what was printed of the naval codes, and proceeds to reset and reprint the pages.

He’s caught.

Rivington returns and finds him the midst of his deception, quickly deducing that Robert is a spy.  Robert is not cowed; he tells Rivington to save his empty threats, claiming he’d go public with everything he’s done in the tavern, making James either a punchline or a presumptive co-conspirator.  “If it’s one thing I’ve learned here, it’s how to spread a lie.”

Rivington simply wants to know why.  Townsend tells him, “Those who sit on the picket fence are impaled by it.  I was here, and I could do something, and that’s as much a reason as anyone ever needs.”
James commands Robert to buy his silence by signing over his share of the partnership to Rivington, and then running.

Then, the unexpected happens.

As Townsend complies and turns to go, Rivington stops him.  “Aren’t you going to finish?  We’ve already made a hundred copies; I’ll be damned if I waste more paper.”  James tells Robert to tamp the stove down when he’s done and leaves the latter to his work.


A House Divided

Arnold and Cornwallis receive the bad news from Clinton that he’s not sending reinforcements to them; instead, he wants them to proceed to Yorktown to establish a naval post; then, Clinton can better prepare for his “titanic clash” with Washington in New York.

At the New Windsor encampment, Washington still is resolved to take New York, regardless of the events unfolding to the south.  Lafayette insists upon going to aid the Virginians and “chastise the traitor,” while Washington offers a sizable bounty to any man who takes out Arnold, coldly advising them, “Shoot on sight.”

Anthony Wayne begs Washington to let him take men south to assist General Greene, but he refuses.  Instead, Washington asks Ben for his battle plans for New York, wanting to know if the Major sees how wrong Wayne’s opinion is.  Ben will not lie to him.  “Your Excellency, everyone disagrees…they are all telling you the same thing…you must abandon this obsession with taking New York.”  The General cannot see how the war can be won without retaking the city, scoffing at Tallmadge that his choices are being made out of “cowardice and fear”; Ben counters that Washington makes his own out of “vanity, just like Arnold did.”

At those words, Washington looks like he’s just had a blow to the face.  But Ben won’t retract it, and even piles on:  “You have been blinded by self-centered ambition, and it will be my men—no, my friends—who pay the price.”

Washington screams at Ben to get out and turn over his duties to Hamilton.  Ben tosses down his papers and quips, “Already done.”


A Nightmare on Simcoe Street

 General Arnold blithely reintroduces Abe and Simcoe, and the latter takes the opportunity to step forward, towering over Abe in his personal space, and tell him how sorry he was to hear of Judge Woodhull’s death.  Abe does not seethe or cower; he merely stares back without comment, and the moment passes.

When the two are dismissed, Simcoe taunts Abe that soon they will both be on a battlefield, implying that a newbie like Woodhull will find it “quite frightful.”  Abe, with his usual grit, decries his readiness.  Then, Simcoe leans closer for his threat:  “And when the cannon sounds and the smoke clouds, who’s to say whose knife is whose, which gun?”

Abe is unimpressed.  He, too, steps forward and angles up into Simcoe’s face to add, “Whose bare hands?”

Back at the Colonial camp, Mary is frantic at the idea of Abe at the front, imploring Ben to retrieve him, but Anna wisely cautions Ben not to leave camp against orders and risk being branded a deserter; she suggests Caleb should be the one to go.  Ben is not keen on this idea since Brewster nearly botched the mission to New York with his misery and drunkenness since “Simcoe has gotten into his head.”  Anna knows Caleb’s strength, though:  “As long as you treat him as a broken man, he will be broken; give him your trust, as a friend, and he will earn it back.”

Now that Mary knows Caleb is still haunted by memories of his torture at Simcoe’s hands, she apologizes to him for her harsh words and bad attitude towards him, blaming all on her overwhelming fear for her husband’s safety.  She tells Caleb that Abe has been shipped to Virginia and implores Brewster to go to retrieve him.  

But Caleb is forlorn:  “I can’t.  I’m not the same man I was…I can’t ride…I can’t shoot, I can’t even throw my axe.”  Mary, however, was apparently listening to Anna; she reminds Caleb that he will do anything for his friends, offering him a bit of scripture and the stolid reassurance that he can do the job.

It works.

Brewster meets with Ben and Alexander Hamilton, telling them he needs to resign his commission.  They are surprised by the news; Ben can barely look at him.  However, when Hamilton inquires about Caleb’s future plans, he claims, “Actually, I was thinking of heading south, see if I can’t find a friend of mine down there; he’s a farmer…Thought I might go lend a hand.”  He holds Ben’s gaze to make sure his meaning is clear, offers his signature grin, and is off.

Ultimately, Blandford sees the intersection of a fight between Abe’s legion, Caleb’s rebel band, and Simcoe’s Rangers.  In this battle, though, the groups are irrelevant.  This is a showdown of individual players.

It has all the makings of a horror film, as both Abe and Simcoe break away from the others for their unfinished business; as Abe runs frantically through the creepy abandoned building, the latter merely lopes along, cooing all the while, “Culper…Culper.”

Abe is able to get a shot off.  He misses.

Finally, Abe is trapped by Simcoe on the upper floor of the building.  Luckily, Caleb happens to see the confrontation unfolding from the woods below.  Mustering all of his angels, he shoots Simcoe in the gut, leaving Abe to punch the wound and toss the Ranger over the railing onto the bricks below.

Then, in true horror style, the monster seems dead but suddenly coughs to life, and by the time Abe gets down to retrieve papers and a weapon, he’s disappeared.

But all he’s managed to do is drag himself to the troops outside.  As Simcoe is tended to, Abe approaches, raising his gun to the bloody face of his nemesis, while holding the papers with the Yorktown details in the other.  He has a choice to make—speedy revenge or long-lasting victory.

He chooses wisely.  He lowers his gun.

Simcoe is as good as dead, anyway.

I mean, isn’t he?

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