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TURN Season 4 Premiere Review: The Woodhulls Present a United Front … and It Feels So Good

By on June 19, 2017

Jamie Bell as Abe Woodhull. Photo Credit: Antony Platt/AMC

By Chris B.

Turn:  Washington’s Spies doubles the pleasure with its two-hour hurricane of a season premiere.

At their camp in New Windsor, the Continental Army must take stock of the damage done by Benedict Arnold’s knowledge now in enemy hands.  Their list of informants is in jeopardy, but Ben Tallmadge is certain that Arnold has not the evidence to convict the forty odd men that he’s rounded up:  “He’s grasping; he failed to deliver them Westpoint, so he’s putting on a show; he’s puffing out his chest.”  If he had any specific knowledge, he would surely have boasted as such.  

General Washington, though, is roiling with angst about how to proceed after one of his most trusted associates has proven himself a traitor to the cause he’d once fought so hard for.  News that Arnold has actually written to Ben Tallmadge to beseech the Major’s defection does not sit well with him at all, nor the entire day that it took for him to find this information out.  Washington looks close to adopting The X Files credo:  Trust No One.

Caleb is sent to retrieve Abe He approaches the latter with all due caution, hiding in the bushes and whistling like a bird to signal his presence.  Caleb is therefore dumbfounded when Abe shouts his name and invites him to lunch at Whitehall with Abe’s father, more so when Abe says he’s no desire to leave Setauket since it is clear that his name is not known.  What’s more, Richard Woodhull is no longer a Kingsman—will wonders never cease?  Woodhull could “no longer abide the repeated violations of common law and common decency by those who claim to serve the crown.”  

Abe tells Caleb about the stockpile of hay at the fort, 300 tons to be sent to York City the following Monday, “enough to fuel the entire British army through the winter.”  Too much to steal?  Yes, but not too much to burn.  All they need is to delay the shipment by a day so that Brewster can return to camp for approval and reinforcements.  Mary provides the method:  get the officers drunk at “a banquet held in their honor.”  Once again, Mrs. Woodhull saves the day.

Daniel Henshall as Caleb Brewster - TURN: Washington's Spies _ Season 4, Episode 2 - Photo Credit: Antony Platt/AMC

Daniel Henshall as Caleb Brewster – TURN: Washington’s Spies _ Season 4, Episode 2 – Photo Credit: Antony Platt/AMC

Alexander Hamilton advocates trying to lure Arnold from York City so that he can be killed, but Washington does not want to reduce his men to assassins.  Instead, he wants to capture Arnold and return him to camp to “make a public example of him.”

But, truthfully, all involved must adjust painfully to the storm of Arnold’s turn of coat, foremost being Benedict Arnold himself.  His defection was accomplished in his desperate pursuit for what he craves most:  glory, respect, and wealth.  Thus far, he’s found none of these.

Suspects are rounded up in short order by British officers at Arnold’s behest, not the least of which is Hercules Mulligan, a clothier whom Rivington is ravenous to have advertise in his publication.  Mulligan demurs to Townsend, complimenting the latter on his own targeted postings:  “To the right reader, it sends the right message, just like your advertisement for, say, ‘French raspberry brandy’?”  He tries very pointedly to get Robert to understand that he may have more like-minded “friends” in the city than he realizes.

Mulligan is accosted by the newly minted Brigadier General Arnold; when he demands to be addressed by his rank, Mulligan mocks Arnold for his lack of a regiment, gaining him laughs from the other officers present at Rivington’s.  Thus, Arnold resorts to his stand-by:  physical assault.  He throws Mulligan against the bar and announces himself the Spyhunter General, tasked to arrest hidden traitors to the crown; their names will be known, and they will learn to fear mine.”

Owain Yeoman as Benedict Arnold - Photo Credit: Antony Platt/AMC

Owain Yeoman as Benedict Arnold – Photo Credit: Antony Platt/AMC

At a formal gathering in York City, Arnold once again finds himself on the outs.  He is blocked from the private card game being played by all of the senior officers, and then Colonel Cook shuts down his request for funds to recruit men by deferring it to General Clinton (who won’t schedule a meeting with Arnold), mocks his efforts to catch spies by calling him the “scourge of farmers and tailors everywhere,” and then shoves his piss pot at him when Arnold hastily tells him that he is a veteran of the field who seeks not an administrative post “like some invalid or coward.”  Apparently, he overlooked the fact that Colonel Cook himself holds an administrative position.  Oops.

The next day, Simcoe arrives at Rivington’s, bullying his way in by claiming to know Townsend.  Robert then finds himself grilled by Arnold and Simcoe about Mulligan and his potentially seditious behavior.  So unnerved is Robert by Simcoe’s malevolent staring that he rushes to his room to destroy the any evidence of his spy craft.

Later, as Peggy sneaks a look at John Andre’s notes, the ones that her husband is to turn over to the new head of intelligence when the position is filled.  But her ruminations enable Benedict to put together the identity of one member of the Culper ring:  Tallmadge’s courier, Caleb Brewster.

Lipstick Mafia

At camp, Martha Washington visits Anna’s cart and trades her shawl for a spork. She compliments Anna on her ingenuity, finding a way to earn money in lean times and for bringing together the camp’s two worlds:  men and women.

Ksenia Solo as Peggy Shippen -- Season 4, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Antony Platt/AMC

Ksenia Solo as Peggy Shippen — Season 4, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Antony Platt/AMC

At night, Martha consoles her overburdened husband and tells him of her encounter with Mrs. Strong.  She notes that women, being so often on the outside of things, are accustomed to finding clever solutions to problems.  She suggests that if they cannot petition Congress, she could speak with their wives, organize women throughout the colony to raise money for the war effort to continue; she could even publish a letter, The Sentiments of an American Woman.

While Mrs. Washington seeks an end to her husband’s strife, Mrs. Arnold seeks an end to her own.  Rebecca Franks and Freddie Morgan, Peggy’s old friends from Philadelphia, are able to finger Philomena Cheer as the actress that Major Andre turned into the Dress Me Up Peggy doll.  The former Ms. Shippen cannot resist; she gushes to Philomena of her respect for her craft, how she “must become the women that [she] portrays even though…[she] is nothing like them,” and create fake emotion out of thin air.  “I could never do what you do,” Peggy demures, the perfect knife to the heart delivered with fluttering eyelashes and sweet smile.  

It seems that Peggy, however, brought her knife to a gun fight.  The next day on the street, Philomena approaches Peggy and apologizes for her rude behavior at the party, for the desire “to correct someone paying [her] such a gracious compliment.”  Her correction:  “After much applause and many encores, John testified that in portraying you, I…outshined the original, perhaps that is because I chose to portray you as the woman you might become, rather than the fumbling child he knew.”  Ouch.  That bullet should leave quite a mark.

But hold on—it seems that Philomena brought her gun to a cannon fight.  Peggy convinces Freddy to tell her husband that while dressing her hair, he heard Ms. Cheer say things of a treasonous nature, fearing she was seducing officers to gain information for her rebel masters.  Peggy is there when soldiers drag Philomena away, face expressionless.  

Target destroyed.

Spies Are Us

Abe’s visit to Fort St. George to invite the officers to dinner nets him more doubts about the motives of his own father,  who is getting kickbacks from Colonel Cook.  Richard asserts he is really gouging Cook, charging him thrice the normal rate for meat for his men.  He warns Abe not to burn the hay until the farmers have been paid, but Abe knows that they’re never going to get paid, receiving letters of promise instead.  Richard still backs up Cook and his men as “doing their duty” and should not be slaughtered for it. Abe, however, sets him straight:  “They’re not sheep; they’re soldiers, and they’re on the wrong side.  You’re in the war now, Father—this is how it’s done.”

Abe, though, should know from the magistrate’s handling of Simcoe not to underestimate his dad.  While the soldiers feast at Whitehall, Richard suddenly looks put out that he’s forgotten the day; cue the arrival of the farmers whose hay lies in the balance.  The elder Woodhull has led them to believe that they were there to be paid, which the British officers are quick to deny. When the men threaten to block the shipment until they get their money, the soldiers threaten death to any who try.  Richard gets them to agree to negotiate at a sit-down meeting the next day.

While both sides sit at a table in Strong’s tavern, Caleb and Ben and the other Colonial operatives gather outside the fort, preparing to storm the facility and burn the hay.  When a single officer stumbles out of the fort’s gate, it’s on.  The sentry falls to Caleb’s hatchet, the house is cleared, and the hay is set alight.  Mission accomplished by the disparate plans, yet common end games, of both Woodhulls.

One Woodhull fighting against them has done enough damage; I’m not sure the Royal army is prepared for the dynamic duo of father and son.

Kevin McNally as Richard Woodhull, Jamie Bell as Abe Woodhull -- Season 4, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: Antony Platt/AMC

Kevin McNally as Richard Woodhull, Jamie Bell as Abe Woodhull — Season 4, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Antony Platt/AMC

When Caleb is captured after one of his smuggling contacts trades him for his imprisoned brother (who, when released, promptly beats his traitorous kin for selling out the cause), Ben goes to Setauket to secure the Woodhulls’ help getting smuggled into York City to save him.  However, Abe knows well that it is not getting in that’s hard; it is getting out.  He and his father come up with an alternative plan:  a trade of Brewster for a Tory, or two, prompting a worried Mary to conclude, “So you’re both fools.”

The abduction of the Woodhulls experiences a minor glitch (in Woodhull terms, that is); just as Tallmadge and two of his men handcuff them, three officers of the Crown pass by on the road.  The Royal soldiers get too inquisitive and are shot down.

Hole-hearted Revenge

When Simcoe learns that Brewster is in custody, he goes to Arnold for a favor:  “He interrogated me after my capture and was quite brutal about it; I’d like to repay him in kind.”  Arnold refuses the request, even one to sit in to “observe [his] methods.”  Simcoe is told he should sit outside, given his history with Brewster, to which he acquiesces immediately with a flicker of a smile.  Clearly, he’s a plan of his own.

Caleb starts his session with Arnold in his usual flippant humor, using the opportunity to finally tell the General how he feels about him:  “You are a two-faced, pompous shite.”  Caleb flatly refuses Arnold’s lame offer to simply let him live if he confesses and rats out his fellows; he wants to know what Arnold got for jumping ship, able to glean from the General’s constipated expression that the British stiffed him on the money he’d demanded.  This gets a hearty chuckle out of Caleb, and from Simcoe, who is watching the whole fiasco from his little chair in the hall.

Caleb goes on the offensive, bringing up the General’s court martial in Philadelphia. Then, Arnold simply has to know what those at camp say about him; Caleb is happy to oblige:  “They say that if you were ever to be captured, they’d cut off your leg, the one that was wounded in Saratoga, and they’d bury it with honors; but the rest of you, they’d just hang.”  Benedict’s scintillating retort is to call Brewster a “dirty little runt,” but Caleb smoothly shuts him down as a “Judas who sold out his whole country for a pile of silver!”

At that, Arnold taps out.  Simcoe’s turn.

Simcoe opts for a preliminary beatdown, then wakes Caleb up via a pot of water to the face for a little discussion.  He claims it is a “warrior’s respect” to inflict pain, as nothing less would break either of them.  “As beasts, we make a promise that one shall stand and one shall fall.”  But this contract has gone unfulfilled between them, and Simcoe implies that it is because he was able to best Brewster at Rocky Point (despite being at a disadvantage), as well as his “master” Robert Rogers, a.k.a., Samuel Culper.

Samuel Roukin as Captain Simcoe - TURN: Washington's Spies _ Season 4, Episode 2 - Photo Credit: Antony Platt/AMC

Samuel Roukin as Captain Simcoe – TURN: Washington’s Spies _ Season 4, Episode 2 – Photo Credit: Antony Platt/AMC

Caleb’s only reaction is a short laugh, but it is enough for Simcoe to free-associate himself into a new realization:  Abe Woodhull is Culper.  The ring of the four friends from the same little town—it all falls into place.  But Brewster’s full confession will be necessary to convince Colonel Cook.

Simcoe’s efforts to extract this confession allow him to recreate a hideous environment akin to what his own father was subjected to in India, a prison known as the Black Hole of Calcutta.  His torture of Caleb goes on for the entire night and into the next day, for “mercy is weakness” is the lesson that John learned from the brutal events of his childhood.  [As a side note, it is to the absolute credit of both actors, Daniel Henshall and Samuel Roukin, that these scenes are both disturbing and enthralling; throughout, the audience can neither bear to look, nor to look away.]

Ultimately, Colonel Cook is eager to make the trade of one courier for his two supposed allies in Setauket; he interrupts none too soon for Caleb, bloodied and barely conscious, driven to the brink of death by his captor.  As the episode closes, we see Caleb teeter on the brink of his event horizon as the black hole threatens to swallow him for good.

TURN: Washington’s Spies continues Saturdays on AMC.

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