Turn: AMC Look at History of U.S. Spy Trade (Review)

Turn: AMC Look at History of U.S. Spy Trade

Turn: AMC Look at History of U.S. Spy Trade
Turn, which is the AMC look at the history of the spy trade in the American war of independence, replaces The Walking Dead over the summer. Certainly the whole thing starts quite well, with a man escaping by the skin of his teeth from the King’s mercenary troops by the clever device of borrowing a dead man’s coat. A man that said escapee just killed and who almost gets caught because he doesn’t respond to an owl hoot signal by the head mercenary.

The fact that America used spies in the Revolutionary War, is something that most children learn in school. Names like Nathan Hale and Benedict Arnold and the phrase of “give me liberty or give me death” are required learning, or they were. At any rate, the presence of spies in the days of Paul Revere and George Washington are a given. After the start of the show, things did continue to progress at an even pace.

Certainly there were some things that did not require any sort of historical significance or correctness. Villains, for example, are timeless. Making the British soldiers and their supporters in the Colonies as unpleasant as possible sets up reluctant good guy Abe Woodhull, English actor Jamie Bell, with relative ease. There were disturbing “modernizations” that had the effect of taking one right out of the historical setting.

AMC’s look at the U.S. history of the spy trade in Turn, could be entertaining in an old fashioned sort of way. Without the charm of a modern day story of espionage and things like decoder rings and encrypting machines the mechanizations of revolutionary spies may leave the viewer a little cold. Although, history may prove to be fascinating enough without bringing things up to date. Although the dialogue itself seems to have “jumped forward” in relation to the times.

When Woodhull is captured by the authorities after his meeting with the “rebels,” selling cabbage across the sound, he swears that he was mugged. Whether or not this phrase was really present back in the 1700’s or not, is beside the point, it sounds wrong. A few other things did not ring quite true, the amount of time that farmer Woodhull spends with his son. Fathers did not, as a rule, have time to teach their children to walk or spend too much time with them. In terms of firearms, the show also deviates from what was “on par” with the weapons of the day.

While the end of the show did feature a massacre of those horrible red-coats during Abe Woodhull’s declaration of loyalty to His Majesty the King, this too was spoiled a bit by having the flintlock, or percussion for that matter, rifles and pistols not smoky enough. Back in 1776, black powder was still very black when let off and accounts of battles “back in the day” report that soldiers often could not see their targets due to the denseness of the black smoke.

The British troops caught up in their own intended ambush were also shot through walls by minnie balls surrounded by very clean white smoke. Certainly these can be overlooked for a show with a good plot and action that thrills. However, in a program where the audience know already how the story ends, it remains to be seen whether or not this old fashioned version of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will hold viewers interest or not. AMC and their look at the history of U.S. spy rings in Turn may do quite well over the long run. However, the show’s writers really need to watch those “modern” terms. “Where are the rebels now,” sounds too much like the horrid lad in Toy Story who broke toys and less like a colonial mercenary.

By Michael Smith



The Boston Globe

One thought on “Turn: AMC Look at History of U.S. Spy Trade (Review)

  1. As a Revolutionary War historian who has recently written a novel involving spies and intrigue during the Revolution (Scoundrel! The Secret Memoirs of General James Wilkinson) , I was amazed to see how historically accurate the pilot was. I’ve read Alexander Rose’s book and I was sure they would sensationalize events in the best Hollywood tradition and throw the real history out, so this was a very pleasant surprise. (Of course, if they had screwed it up with a lot of phony heroics it probably would have gotten better ratings–the price you pay for not pandering to the lowest common denominator.)

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