TURN: Washington’s Spies Season 2 Review- A Good Egg

Turn Washington's Spies 2

“You and your plucky young freedom fighters: the tavern wench, the smuggler, the cavalry lad, and the farmer who can’t catch a harvest. All of Georgie’s bastard children.”

With an ending like that, I’m going to be angrier than Robert Rogers if AMC neglects to renew Turn, excuse me, Turn: Washington’s Spies.

More often than not, changing the name of your show can spell problems. I thought on its own, Turn was satisfactory, yet I could see how many would tune into Halt & Catch Fire thinking it would be the Revolutionary War drama. Both were low-rated. Both received renewals. Turn got the addition to the title. In retrospect, this was a smart idea. Now there is no confusing that this criminally underrated show is indeed about Washington’s spies.

**To make things short, I’m still going to refer to this gem as Turn**

To start off, I know of many people (critics included) who found Season 1 wanting. I was not one of them. Perhaps it’s because the era being shown is my favorite to study in U.S. history. That being said, as much as I enjoyed it, Season 2 is leaps and bounds better. The main reason is (and it’s often one that causes these types of programs to fail) an expansion of scope. With the addition of George Washington, Peggy Shippen, and Benedict Arnold as series regulars, the pedantic love quadrangle of Abe, Mary, Anna, and Simcoe took a backseat. In fact, there wasn’t much of these pairings at all: Abe/Anna, Abe/Simcoe, and Anna/Simcoe. Instead, we were treated to the more interesting couplings of Abe/anyone else, Anna/Major Hewlett, and Simcoe/Jordan.

My personal favorite interaction of Abe’s was with Robert Townsend and his father, Samuel (the always wonderful John Billingsley). Townsend’s participation in the Culper Ring was as vital as Woodhull’s yet shrouded with secrecy. Ben Tallmadge mentioning his actual name to Washington was an invention of the show, but one I can live with. And in an inverse to last season, Abe was now the instigator in the turning of a spy. On the Anna/Hewlett end, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed their budding friendship. Yes, Hewlett wants more which means another man has fallen head over heels for Anna Strong, yet it played out so sweetly. He may be daft when it comes to many things, but Hewlett is a good man, and Anna can see that. Not to mention I think Heather Lind has a better chemistry with Burn Gorman than she does Jamie Bell. On the Simcoe front, I would have never guessed at him being partnered with Jordan, but damn if I didn’t enjoy those scenes. I’ve mentioned in my Outlander reviews that I’m worn out with sadism on television. Samuel Roukin brought different shades of grey to his character this season though. Unlike Ramsay Snow or Black Jack Randall, John Graves Simcoe is able to control his sexual appetites, something I am thankful for. And his treatment of Jordan was not one based on race but ability. He saw the best man to be his second-in-command, that’s all. I don’t know if he’s truly fooling himself regarding Anna. Yet he understands his feelings of “love” for her enough to let Jordan escort Cicero to New York (and thus reunite with his love, Abigail). Season 1 had my patience regarding Simcoe grow thin. Roukin’s work this time around has me fully engaged with show’s de-facto villain again.

Speaking of villains, while Simcoe is the one we’ve known since the beginning, Season 2 of Turn introduced someone I found much worse: Benedict Arnold. I’m not just saying this due to his part in the war as the American Judas. No, I’m saying that because the way Arnold approached his courtship with Peggy Shippen was downright disgusting. The show has done a good job in making us care for John Andre. That expanded this time with his own romantic relationship with the most eligible bachelorette. There was not enough JJ Feild last season, and that was more than made up for this year. Andre is the accomplished, brave, musical Prince Eric. Arnold is the live embodiment of Gaston: vain, lustful, and obtrusive. That first aspect was shown plenty in his interactions with Washington and Tallmadge. No wonder the former wants Arnold sitting behind a desk in Philadelphia. And poor Peggy is caught in the middle. Now Ksenia Solo did a fine job in the role, yet I wish the writers would have made her more complicit in Arnold’s turning. Shippen is seen by some as a victim in her relationship with Arnold, yet she is seen by others as the one responsible for turning him. Wouldn’t it have been interesting had she brought up the idea of contacting him to Andre? Here’s my thought: Andre strikes up a friendship with Peggy over their Loyalist ideals. He mentions wanting to turn Arnold. She says she’ll write a letter engaging him. That makes all the following actions a result over HER own doing versus Andre’s. At the same time, she could still fall in love with Andre yet realize marrying Arnold is the best way to serve the cause. Her motivations are then about something other than a man. And Solo could play that easily. Instead we got the Romeo and Juliet version. Now don’t get me wrong, it was done very well, and I enjoyed every scene with Andre and Shippen immensely. I just think the other would have come across less cliché. Either way, I think Arnold would still probably be positively vile. Simcoe may commit horrible acts, but at least he doesn’t switch sides. Should there be a Season 3, Arnold will be the one to look out for.

Let me rephrase that, Arnold will be the one to look out for on the side. Front and center the problem (and maybe solution) will be Robert Rogers. I can’t tell you how pumped that final declaration from him to Abe got me. Angus Macfadyen delivers 110% every time. Having him know about Georgie’s bastard children is outright genius. Let’s be honest, out of the main four (including Anna, Caleb, and Ben) Abe is the sloppiest spy. He could use Rogers’ tutelage. What makes this even better is the chance that Rogers could double-cross him. He very well could after getting his revenge on Andre and King Georgie. There is another George on his list, and Rogers is the type of person who will not leave a name unchecked (similar to Arya Stark). I can’t be the only person who wants another scene with Rogers and Washington again. Bring on Season 3, AMC.

Notes from the Dead Letter Box

– Best Episode: Valley Forge, a tour de force for Ian Kahn as Washington along with Gentry White as Billy Lee (not to mention Jamie Bell and Burn Gorman). I cannot applaud enough the work Kahn has done here. His Washington is intelligent, revered, heroic, and yet unmistakably human.

– Actor MVPS: Ian Kahn, JJ Feild, and Idara Victor. Regarding Abigail- not only does she give the most vital intel, she also has the most to lose. She is a character that could have been pushed to the side and yet was made the famous Agent 355 (which I thought would be bestowed upon Anna Strong). Whether with Feild or Solo, Victor brought a compassion, intelligence, and bravery to a role that I am so happy to see on television.

– Perhaps the Peggy Shippen route I was hoping for was forgone because that role ended up being thrust upon Mary. Yes, annoying Mary Woodhull from last season, who became a player in the S1 finale, revealed she is a formidable opponent. From recognizing Abe’s game at the dinner table to dropping the mic in front of Judge Woodhull to telling Abe to kill the courier, she is someone you absolutely do not want to cross. She may be more help to the Culper Ring than Anna just by sheer cojones.

– Robert Townsend may have only been introduced this season, but two of his major character turning points should have made it onscreen: (1) Simcoe burning his father’s barn and (2) his meet-up with Caleb discussing how to work within the Ring. In fact, I would have taken the whole Caleb/Turtle subplot out to see the latter scene. I like Caleb as much as the next person, but the Turtle excursion revealed again just how shoddy the CGI is on the show and didn’t add anything other than the cool explosion at the end. A Robert/Caleb interaction would have been more rewarding.

– RIP: Nathaniel Sackett aka Stephen Root. And wonderful work by Seth Numrich in the moment where Ben discovered Sackett’s body.

– Who do I think Jamie Bell has the best interactions with? Sprout.

– Top Moments: (1) Washington gives Lawrence’s watch to Billy Lee (2) Abigail is reunited with Cicero, and thus Jordan (3) Peggy and John are “married”

– Caleb shaved his beard! That was so weird.

– Best episode openings (tie): Episode 6 Rogers/Washington 1775 and Episode 9 Cicero reads in a field then discovers the dead British soldier

– Best episode ending: Episode 10 Rogers tells Abe he needs a trapper to help him set traps

– Most improved aspect: mentioning location (and sometimes date) for every scene

– The title theme: Still love it.