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TURN “Nightmare” Review

By on July 4, 2017

Photo credit: AMC

By Chris B

“You’ve ruined it.”

So Abe is told, tortured by a nightmare of his father berating and abusing him, a manifestation of his belief that he’s destroyed the entirety of the Culper ring.  He awakens in a leaky barn in the Colonial encampment being tended to by Anna Strong, the corpse of his father lying nearby.

He pronounces Samuel Culper dead.

As Abe and Anna salt and wrap Richard’s corpse, he reveals that Jordan (a.k.a., Akinbode) came out of nowhere and saved his life.  Anna wonders if Abigail knows he is back, as she has been waiting for him to return for her from Canada, despite the fact that “they have kissed only once.”  Abe is not surprised:  “If it’s done right, sometimes that is all that’s needed.”

An unfortunate doctor has the task of stitching Caleb back together, a task none too simple given his extensive cross pattern of wounds—and the fact that Caleb takes advantage of the doctor’s distraction by another suffering patient to finish stitching himself and gallop away on a horse.

Caleb doesn’t get very far before he falls off his mount, delirious and muttering a Catholic prayer.  He is returned to camp.  He makes Ben take him to Abe so that he can warn him (and unduly take responsibility) that Simcoe knows Abe is Culper.  Caleb tells Abe that Simcoe sent out his Rangers, and they are the ones who slaughtered his father and the other men present.

Abe has had it with Simcoe.  It is clear that this was vengeance.  Each time he has tried to defeat the psychotic Ranger, the latter had escaped—the ambush plotted at Rocky Point, the revolt in Setauket.  Now, he wants a horse and cart to go directly into York City to kill Simcoe himself.  Anna makes it plain how stupid that would be:  “Simcoe is a veteran soldier, a killer protected by killers, surrounded by the British army on a fortress isle.  You will die; he will laugh.”

Later, Brewster has to give Abe some perspective on Washington.  He reminds him that Washington doesn’t know Simcoe like they do and that the General is more interested in getting even with Benedict Arnold, who has cost dearly the country, its war effort, and him personally.  “[Washington’s] just a man—not a god and not the devil.  He loses men every day, and like any man…he feels each loss.”

However, Ben has a plan that he thinks will get everyone what they want: Abe will volunteer for Arnold’s regiment.  Since his father was supposedly killed (according to Rivington’s report) by “rampaging rebels,” it makes perfect sense.  Revenge is the order of the day.  In this position, Abe will have firsthand knowledge of Arnold’s schedule and movements; all Abe has to do is wait for Arnold to be captured before he makes his kill of Simcoe.  After he buries his dad in Setauket and goes to the city, he needs to make contact with Townsend, who will send the necessary intelligence to Ben, who will, in turn, send a man back to Abe using the phrase, “I miss the summer of ’73.”

As Abe says his good-byes to his wife, he tells her that the official goal is Arnold, but his own is Simcoe only.  Mary has one very good piece of advice, one she and Simcoe’s mangled ear know about all too well:  “Don’t miss.”


Washington is less than sympathetic to Abe’s decision to quit his tour of espionage.  He commands Ben to convince Woodhull now, as he had before, to continue his efforts.  Washington is more concerned on the efforts to kidnap Benedict Arnold and return him to camp as an example of what happens to those who are disloyal to the Patriot cause.

He’d batter make it quick; his own men are plotting an uprising within the camp, “just looking to get what’s owed” to them after three years of service.  Their reasoning:  “If a general like Arnold can’t get paid, what chance have we got?”

The mutineers march through the camp, killing a couple of their own comrades who try to stop them.  They rebels meet the troops of Anthony Wayne, chanting, “We are not Arnolds!”  Terms are negotiated, relaying to Washington that the men never intended to defect, marching merely to achieve “open confrontation.”  It is decided that most will be discharged and not asked to re-enlist until paid; the leaders, however, must be punished.  This would involve the hanging of ten men.

But hanging is not what Washington has in mind.  The leaders of the revolt are tied to posts while the men who’d followed them—their own men—are tasked with serving as the firing squad and shooting their friends down from a range of only a few feet.  While some of the shooters wretch and nearly collapse in the aftermath the hideous deed, Wayne orders them not to look away.  The survivors may not have received a literal bullet to the head, but they’re irretrievably damaged by a figurative one to the heart.

Unslip the Dogs of War

Arnold takes advantage of the disaster in Connecticut to whine to General Clinton about his lack of a regiment to carry out his orders, thus his need to resort to privateers:  “I am entitled, sir, given what was negotiated with Major Andre.”  Clinton is not impressed by this assertion, disliking the name of his former officer on the lips of this traitor to his own cause that the British are left with instead:  “I, too, must make due without preferred talent.”

Benedict tries another tactic: subtle intimidation.  He claims that Washington’s hatred of him is not from his defection, but from his basic fear of Arnold and his dangerous superiority.  Arnold implores the General to “unleash” him, to allow him to resort to methods that even his regulars would not.  “With fear and terror on my side, I will bring the hammer of war down on Washington’s head, like the god Ares himself.”

What Arnold doesn’t realize is that General Clinton is going to unleash someone, all right—Simcoe.  He is commissioning Simcoe’s Rangers and Major Dundas’s troops to serve under Arnold and follow his orders; however, they need only do so until Arnold’s death or incapacity, when they will take control of the unit, and Clinton’s leaving “the definition of ‘incapacity’ to [their] own judgement.”

Simcoe takes a direct approach to Arnold, hitting the buttons the Brigadier General responds to like a puppy getting a belly rub.  Simcoe appeals to his vanity:  “They hate you, you know, the other generals…and they should.  They hate your tenacity, but I find it purer than their politics and avarice.  Your whole future, your name, depends upon the outcome of this war—suffer defeat, and you’ll face infamy as America’s Judas; achieve victory, they’ll build monuments to you.  You’ll never quit; you’ll do whatever it takes to win.”

Arnold references his upcoming fatherhood, that a name is not something one inherits from those past, but something “that is rather a loan from one’s children, a treasure that must be protected.”  With a completely straight face, Simcoe vows to protect that treasure for Arnold.

Freedom and the Press

General Arnold stops in at Rivington’s to purchase an advertisement and to buy a round for all to celebrate his new Loyal American Legion.  Rivington encourages Arnold to embellish his announcement with some exciting claims, referencing “the recent bloodbath out at Lyme, Connecticut”; Rivington wishes to change Arnold’s insistence that “banditti” were to blame, to sub in “treacherous, hated rebels seeking to hide their tracks.”  He claims this merely “adds color to an otherwise dreary report,” but Townsend casts a disapproving look, for “such editorializing is unnecessary when the truth is bloody enough.”

Robert later approaches Rivington to demand that he be treated as an equal, the partner to Rivington that he truly is, not as a mere subordinate, especially in front of the patrons.  Rivington compliments his moxie.

Apparently, Rivington’s turn to the salacious press is a recent one.  Robert asserts that it is the newsman’s obligation “to report every event as fairly and as objectively as he can.”  At one time, his partner would have agreed, printing stories that were “open and uninfluenced…without personal satire or censures acrimonious to any society or class of men.”  His former newspaper, it seems, was run aground by the Sons of Liberty, who objected to his printing stories that looked at both sides of an issue, for “they thought that any word that did not actively indict the Crown was a sin to be punished, and punish they did.”  His shop was ransacked, and he was driven from the Colonies.

Townsend asserts that by debasing himself, by reducing the expectation for his own work and for his integrity, Rivington let himself be beaten.  Rivington disagrees:  “I’ve let them teach me.  One cannot speak truth to power when power has no use for truth.”  He accuses the Patriots as being every bit as intolerant and zealous as the enemy they seek to defeat.

It is an interesting conundrum:  If a public has no use for unadulterated news, if the reader is deaf to plain facts, if men of power are too corrupted to bother with integrity, what hope has a society?

Nearly two and a half centuries later, we are still seeking an answer. 

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