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TURN: “Our Man in New York” Review

BY The Screen Spy Team

Published 4 years ago

By Chris B

This week’s episode of Turn examines in several acts the twisted Russian doll of men’s secrets.

The meeting between Abraham and Major Hewlett is loaded.  Arnold, in the background, is oblivious to the real conversation that takes place, completely contained within the heavy gaze held between the other two men.  “Deception, Betrayal, Chaos:  these are the enemies that we face, the enemies of the truth,” Hewlett drawls aloud, before he questions Arnold’s hasty conclusion about rebels engineering the ambush and killing their own.  Arnold labels his former comrades as “savage and incompetent,” but Abe offers that he is uncertain that it was truly rebels behind the attack.

When Hewlett expresses a desire to interview Woodhull alone, Arnold is taken aback that they seem so familiar.  Abe, with that loaded stare unflinching, declares, “There’s not much we don’t know about each other, though I must confess, Major, you have me at a disadvantage…What brings you back to the colonies?”  Hewlett brushes off the question so that they can focus on Abe’s story and “to secure the justice that [Abe] deserves.”  He then goes on to torture Woodhull subtly:  “I shall contact my sources and seek to identify the CULPrits of this crime, and I assume those CULPable will have made the wise choice to flee…if not, they will be caught and hanged.”  He’ll let Abe sweat it out for the Major’s full report, to be completed in twenty-four hours.

As they exit, Arnold quips, “Don’t get your hopes up, Woodhull.”  Really, hope is all that Abe is hanging onto at this point.

Abe follows Hewlett to Rivington’s, and from a post outside, he sees Hewlett interact with Townsend; they are friendly and seem to know each other, which sets Woodhull’s teeth even more to the edge.  However, before he can investigate further, he’s interrupted by his drill sergeant who wants to know why the Private is out past curfew, dragging Woodhull off to the barracks.

The next day, the paranoid Abe follows Robert into his room and pulls a blade on him, demanding to know how he knows Hewlett.  Robert maintains his usual unflappable surface, stating flatly that Hewlett was merely paying his bill; plus, it is a standard part of his job to be friendly with the patrons.  “I make it my business to know every officer who frequents the coffeehouse; why is this one so different?”

Abe can see Townsend’s sincerity, finally relenting to explain, “He knows I’m Culper…we made a pact to kill Simcoe back in Setauket, but it didn’t work, and then he quit his post after my father blocked his attempt to marry Anna Strong.”  Robert is ticked that he is only now hearing this information, fearful that Hewlett may know about him as well.  Abe vows to deal with Hewlett before the latter can act, and Robert gives up Hewlett’s bar bill which contains the Major’s address.

Inside Rivington’s, Simcoe and Hewlett get their first blazing look at each other.  The next day, Simcoe heads to the Holy Ground to speak to the two Rangers in plain clothes with whom he is plotting Hewlett’s murder.  Since the Major is a commissioned officer, they cannot simply stab him and leave him in the street, as his murder would be investigated, and it would most certainly lead back to the Rangers.  Thus, Simcoe is going to have Hewlett brought there, to the tent of Miss Lola, who Simcoe is going to frame for Hewlett’s murder.  She, though, will be unable to counter her own guilt, as “she’ll be the tragic victim of the men who heard poor Major Hewlett’s cries from her tent and were moved to avenge him.”

Abe breaks into Hewlett’s house to rifle through the Major’s papers on the very night that the killers appear.  Abe and Hewlett work together to dispatch the man, who the Major is fully aware is “proof of Simcoe’s plot to murder [him].”  Hewlett then dumps the body out the window into the cart that was intended to carry his own corpse, quipping to the stunned accomplice, “Courtesy of Major Edmund Hewlett.”

Hewlett then explains to Abe why he’s returned.  He’s failed to sell his commission.  “No takers for a loosing war, it seems, so I’m here to recoup my investment.”  The major’s scheme is to get “fake tips from fake informants for real money.”  He realizes that most people think that the intelligence game is foolish, “but they’re certainly willing to pay for it.”  With the hearty fee of 1000 pounds sterling per month, he figures in a few years, he can buy himself a nice estate and leave all this unpleasantness in the past in favor of his true love:  science.  His telescopes, his books, and his solitude are all he is really wants.

Hewlett has had to relinquish his previously held ideas that the actions of men are purposeful, carried out by divine decree.  His experiences have shown him that “there is no order, no justice.  Men are nothing but creatures of deceit and folly and greed.  Why should I be any different?”

Abe reminds him of their pact to kill Simcoe, offering Hewlett Whitehall in return for his help in destroying their mutual enemy.  Abe hates his father’s estate, almost as much as he hates the murderous Ranger.  “Sell it, live in it, burn it down—I don’t care.”

All Abe wants is Simcoe dead; the rest is just details.

The Best-Laid Plans

As Caleb aggressively sharpens his hatchet, he’s pulled into a disagreement among the men at camp with “Arnold lover” Sergeant John Champe.  Ben bursts from his tent and drags Brewster and Champ inside to rip them in half.

Or does he?

Their scuffle turns out to be a carefully planned skirmish to conceal the sergeant’s assignment to go unaccompanied into New York with a book of false intelligence that Anna is busy creating.  Once there, he is to convince the enemy that he has changed sides “and that others are soon to follow” so that he can get close to the target, Benedict Arnold, who must be taken alive.  Then, he is to make contact with Abe using the agreed upon phrase (“missing the summer of ’73”).

When Sergeant Champe tries to make his escape, he’s seen by scouts, so the head start that he’s promised is nil.  Caleb, Ben, and some dragoons follow him into the forest, where he approaches a British camp crying for refuge.  Caleb is tasked with shooting at Champ as he makes his run for it.  All he has to do is miss and pretend to be disappointed, but much to his dismay, he hits his target.  He waits a few anguished seconds before Champe rises and keeps running, apparently only hit in the shoulder.  

“What the hell was that?” Ben hisses.  Caleb plays it off with a joke:  “Well, he got through, didn’t he?”  But his stunned expression makes it clear he has no idea how that happened.  Apparently his hatchet is not the only weapon Brewster has lost control of since his torture at Simcoe’s hands.

Then, Ben interrupts a planning session between Washington and their French allies, in the persons of General Rochambeau and the Marquis de Lafayette, the latter serving as translator.  In this session, the French commander offers a master class in diplomacy, seeming to agree with everything Washington says, while at the same time, suggesting the alternative course that he prefers.

The General declares the retaking of New York to be their primary goal in the coming campaign, and the Frenchman concurs “when the time is ripe,” though he also sees benefits to attacking parts to the south where Cornwallis has been dogged by General Greene.  Alexander Hamilton tries to offer some perspective on this:  “Hunting a fox is not the same as killing the wolf.”  But what of the wolf in sheep’s clothing?  Washington then reasserts the taking of New York as “critical to a successful…conclusion to this war,” and the Frenchman again heartily agrees, “given the favorable alignment of circumstances, climate, and conditions.”  So Hamilton tries again:  “Cut off the head and the beast dies.”  Not so much.  “Slicing into his soft underbelly achieves the same.”

In the end, Washington is most dissatisfied by the encounter, piqued by the French desire not to go for the motherload of New York, but to settle for the “fool’s gold” of the south.  Thus far, the plan is clear as mud.

Spies Among Us

Mary continues the slog of laundry duty at camp, growing more dissatisfied as time rolls on without word from Abe, until she sees the notice in a spare newspaper.  She follows Anna into the barn, interrupting her meeting with Ben to hand over the intelligence book she’s finished.  The two try to convince Mary that they are keeping her in the dark solely for her husband’s benefit, for “the fewer people who know the his secret, the more secret it is.”  

Mary comes out swinging:  “You don’t trust me—you, an adulteress how many times over?”  When Ben cuts her off, she huffs off with a parting shot to Anna that she “may not care where [her] husband is, but I do.”

She should have cared where her son was.  

While Mommy was away, Thomas was practicing his letters with Mrs. Barnes, writing out on a little chalkboard his real last name.  Mary is stricken, but Mrs. Barnes tells her not to worry because she, too, is in camp under a false name.  She is actually Anne Bates, cooing that “Tories have to stick together before these rebel bastards drag us all into hell.”

When Mrs. Bates demands to know what information Mary has on Anna Strong and Ben Tallmadge, Mrs. Woodhull’s face screams that she’s already there.

Loyalty’s Reward

In Abigail’s absence, Peggy needles Cicero, imploring the name of the soldier with whom the boy had been speaking at the Kennedy House party, “the one I saw you talking to in the cloak room.”  Cicero knows too keenly the conversation, but he’s no match for the needling machinations of Mrs. Arnold.  Eventually, he gives up Woodhull’s name, but claims they were only speaking of Setauket.

That evening, Peggy approaches her contentious manchild—I mean, her husband—to ask if he trusts Cicero, even hinting that the lad’s discussion with Private Woodhull had seemed “very conspiratorial.”  Arnold, however, is less than interested in her frippery:  “I’m a damn General, in case you’ve forgotten.  Do you think I have time to poke around in the lives of servants and Privates?”  He then accuses her of only trying to manipulate him, as she did with Ms. Cheer, her “rival for Andre’s affections.”

He pulls Abigail into the room and barks at her that both she and her son are his servants and she is not to “beg and harass” Peggy to dismiss Cicero from his duties as valet.  When the startled Abigail leaves, the “master of this house” issues his final proclamation:  “Let me be frank with you, Wife; your opinions…no longer concern me…You will fulfill your obligations—you will service my needs, you will provide me with sons and the social standing that my rank requires.  Is that clear?”

A stunned and bitter Peggy can only offer one word:  “Abundantly.”

Now, it’s on.

The next day, she marches up to Cicero and demands to know what he discussed with Abraham Woodhull, a nervous Abigail following her.  Peggy intimidates the young man with an icy threat:  “My grandfather used to always whip servants who lied to him; my father, a kindlier man, always taught me to reward loyalty.  Which do you prefer, boy?”

We know which one Abigail prefers.  Behind Peggy, she takes up a candlestick.

Then, Cicero outs Abe as a spy who’s come to kidnap her husband.  Peggy does not even need to mull over her answer.  “A plot?  Count me in.”

Candlestick down.

Is General Arnold next?

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