In Turn, AMC’s take on America’s first spy ring, the enemies are clearly defined, as they are dressed in red. They are the British Redcoats, and they are depicted as being sadistic, ruthless men who think it will be a simple task to squash a colonial rebellion that is in its infancy. After all, they have met with success everywhere else they’ve fought in the world; America, they feel, will be no different.
And, why shouldn’t they have felt that way? America had many people in it who were still loyal to the British crown and who even fought for England, called the Loyalists, despite the emergence of factions who wanted there to be taxation with representation, and the ability to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, with their own elected representatives in place.
Yet, the colonialists were remarkably tougher to defeat than the Redcoats imagined would be the case. Though George Washington didn’t win nearly every battle he fought in gainst the British, he proved to be a capable leader, and in the end, the Revolutionary War was won by the leadership of people like him, and the fighting and sacrifices made by the men who he commanded.
Turn is about the Culper Ring, America’s first spy ring, which was written about in Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring by Alexander Rose. The title refers to the main character, who became one of the spy ring’s most prominent figures, Abe Woodhull (Jamie Bell, from Billy Elliot). He is a cabbage farmer on Long Island who has just been trying to lead his regular life of working away at his farm, while the Revolutionary War begins around him.
Woodhull’s town, Setauket, is transformed into a garrison. while this seems to annoy him, it is not yet the turning point that pushes him into becoming a spy. His father is a Loyalist, and his childhood sweetheart, Anna, serves ale at a pub to the churlish Redcoats.
However, Abe has a wife and an infant son to think about, and with General Washington now having been driven out of New York, Woodhull thinks that the rebellion will be a short-lived one and over soon.
The Revolutionary War has barely begun, though, and eventually, Abe is recruited into creating what became known as the Culper Ring by his old friend, Major General Ben Tallmudge, played by Seth Numrich. Abe goes from a person who tells his old sweetheart, Anna, that he won’t get involved, into one of America’s first spies, after Anna asks him: “Why not?”
Besides Abe Woodhull, Tallmudge recruits other old friends of his, the pub’s landlady Anna Strong and Caleb Brewster, who makes his living as a fisherman. They become united by their opposition to the British being in New York.
What does Turn have in common with Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead?
Besides Turn being on AMC, the same channel that the hit series Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead have been on, another thing that Turn has in common with these other two shows is that it is different from any other show on TV. As Craig Silverstein, executive producer of Turn put it, AMC is a channel that takes “risks.”
Turn, AMC hopes, will be a period drama that succeeds as well as Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead have, though can a series that isn’t as fast-paced and filled with graphic, violent, and gory images every five minutes be a big ratings success for them?
That’s what AMC’s banking on, and they just might have another hit on their hands with Turn. Until The Walking Dead returns in the fall for its fifth season, fans of the series will likely stick with the same channel and same time slot, at least to see what Turn is all about. And, if they like what they see, they might become as loyal viewers of Turn as they have been to The Walking Dead.
Though Turn is based on real events, not much is known about the Culper Ring other than information about it that has survived in letters left behind by George Washington, corresponding with members of the spy ring.
Little is known about the type of person that Abe Woodhull was, other than he was a failed farmer and, according to Jamie Bell the actor who plays him, “a family man” who isn’t a “hero” and who just “wants the war to disappear.” Bell adds that, other than those facts and a scant handful of others, “there was nothing known about him,” so they “had to take a bit of liberty,” with the development of his character during the course of the series.
Spying in America was fairly low-tech, and the members of the Culper Ring had to rely on sending messages using invisible ink and dead letter boxes. What the spy ring had was determination and drive, and Turn gives viewers a glimpse at what is was like to live in the Revolutionary War era in America.
Will viewers of The Walking Dead tune in to watch Turn, or is it so unlike that series that they will ignore it? If so, will Turn be able to attract an entirely new audience, one that is large enough to assure that Turn is a success?
It’s probable that fans of The Walking Dead will, at the least, give Turn a chance, and view the premiere on Sunday, April 6. If they are attracted to the plot, the characters, and the writing, which are all crucial to the success of The Walking Dead, they are likely to help make Turn into another success for AMC.
Written by: Douglas Cobb