In the pilot of Turn (AMC) on Sunday April 6, the groundwork was laid for a promising new series about the first spy ring in America, the Culper Ring. The series, based on the book by Alexander Rose Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring, focuses primarily on the main male protagonist, Abraham (Abe) Woodhull, played adroitly by Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), a failed cabbage farmer whose father (Kevin McNally) is a Loyalist, who gets recruited into the fledgling spy ring by his old boyhood friend, Major General Benjamin Tallmadge ( Seth Numrich).
At the beginning of the pilot of Turn, things aren’t looking very good for General George Washington and the Revolutionary War. Washington’s army has been kicked out of New York, and there doesn’t seem to be any friends there who will keep Washington informed of troop movements and other useful knowledge.
Scottish Loyalists, close to the start, have massacred some of Washington’s men, and are finishing them off with their bayonets. One man, however, manages to escape: Benjamin Tallmadge. He is determined to recruit his old friends into a spy ring that he hopes will help turn the course of the Revolutionary War in the Continental Army’s favor.
This will be no easy task, though. Even Abe Woodhull, despite his growing resentment of the British using his town of Setauket as a garrison, takes some convincing, as he has grown up in a Loyalist household.
Abe smuggles a boatload of his cabbages to his friend, Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall), who he meets on the shoreline in Connecticut. Caleb gives him silk, in return; on his way back to New York, a ship belonging to the Continental Congress stops him, and Abe is taken into custody. He has cloth around his head, and is dunked into a trough of water, to try to get him to talk and reveal where he got the silk. However, he won’t name his friend.
That’s when Abe’s old friend, now a Major General, Ben Tallmadge stops the men from this early form of waterboarding. He has with him a paper pardoning Abe, but he asks Abe to reveal who he met with that gave him the silk. Abe refuses; later, Caleb tells him that this was a part of the tests to make sure that Abe was loyal to his friends, and could be trusted.
Abe learns that Caleb had actually been recruited before he was. Abe gives him the information he’s learned that the British Redcoats have found out where a Rebel safehouse is — when the Redcoats later attack the house, firing into it from outside, they are perhaps disconcerted when they don’t hear any screams of pain coming from inside. They enter it, and the Rebels, who have been in hiding outside, shoot into the house, killing many of the Redcoats.
Some of the Redcoats try to leave the safehouse and escape, but they are opened fire upon by more of the Rebels. Caleb is there, and makes short work of a couple of them with his tomahawk. Tallmadge also takes part in killing the British soldiers, and he places on the head of one of the dead Redcoats the Scottish tam that he earlier took off the head of one of the Scottish Loyalists he had escaped from.
The acting is fine throughout, and, though Turn isn’t as action-packed as other AMC series such as Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, there is still quite a lot of suspense and action in it, like seeing scenes of Woodhull vowing to be loyal and serve the British king with scenes of the safehouse and the trap that he has made it into by telling Caleb about the intentions of the Redcoats to kill the Rebels inside of it.
The Redcoats are portrayed as being sadistic louts, and the one thing, above all, that seems to convince Abe to turn and serve the cause of the Continental Congress is how a particular Redcoat, Captain Simcoe (Samuel Roukin) treats his old sweetheart, the landlady of a pub, Anna Strong (Heather Lind). She also is recruited into the spy ring, as she is a mutual friend of Woodhull, Brewster, and Tallmadge.
After Anna’s husband is placed into the stocks and then imprisoned for daring to stand up to an English officer who is is his pub, Abe tells her to not worry — he hasn’t joined the Rebel cause. She tells him, “Why not?” This happens after Simcoe has taken over her house for himself and his men, and has chosen a room for himself, intimating that he wants to have a sexual relationship with Anna.
Though Abe has a wife, Mary, and an infant son who is just now learning to walk, he still has feelings for Anna and doesn’t want to see anything bad happen to her. Her words of “Why not?” seem to stir up in him rebellious feelings that cause him to no longer want to turn a blind eye to the injustices occurring around him.
The pilot episode of Turn was also marked by fine acting on the part of Burn Gorman, as Major Hewlett. He seemed to be the one Redcoat who had at least a few shreds of decency about him. When Simcoe is convinced that Woodhull was the person who killed a British officer, the one in the pub earlier in the episode who was causing trouble, Major Hewlett wants to hear the facts behind what happened.
Major Hewlitt is willing to be swayed by the words of Abe’s father, and the public affirmation that Abe gives that he is a loyal British subject is enough to keep him from hanging — for now. But, at the end of Turn, Abe’s father tells him that he knows the names his son gave up of people he claimed had beaten him up weren’t the names of anyone real. His father said he will get the truth from Abe, and he won’t stand up for him anymore.
If the excellent acting and strong plotlines continue, AMC will have another success on their hands with Turn. It remains to be seen whether or not they will be able to make Turn into the ratings success that show like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead; but, the series is definitely off to a good start.
Written by: Douglas Cobb