This Saturday is the premiere of the fourth and final season of AMC’s series, Turn: Washington’s Spies. The series has been met with moderate success with lavish and detailed costumes and scenes making the setting of the story, the American Revolutionary War, come alive but without ‘dumbing down’ the material for the average viewer. This is both a strength and a weakness for the series. Those who know the history in some detail will appreciate the lengths the series goes to try and demonstrate a seemingly genuine authenticity, but little ‘historical easter eggs’ may simply be missed by the average viewer.
The series starts off in the Fall of 1776 and the war is already in full swing with General Washington leading the Rebels but having recently suffered significant losses to the British. A good deal of the series centers around the character of Abraham Woodhull, a cabbage farmer in Setauket (on Long Island). Despite Abraham’s best efforts to stay neutral, circumstances land him on the side of the Revolutionaries and, being surrounded by the British and other loyalists, he takes on the mantle of spy and is eventually given the identity of Culper for information exchanges to benefit Washington.
The story itself is based in history… up to a point. The Culper Spy Ring did exist and, naturally so did Washington, Benedict Arnold, and a small host of others characters that make appearances in the series as well. Certain events portrayed in the series also match up but, with any movie or television series, there is an amount of artistic license taken to tell a story. Overall, it makes for a GOOD story, but while Woodhull did exist, the colorful drama which is presented to viewers is pure fantasy and has no historical basis whatsoever. Those viewers and fans who are more interested in the Culper Spy Ring and this period of history should seek out the book by Alexander Rose titled “Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring” which serves as the inspiration for this series.
What makes the series interesting is that Turn is not a romanticized tale or oversimplified take on good versus evil, and the British are not ‘bad guys’ nor are the rebels ‘good guys’. The series has, for instance, does a great job portraying Benedict Arnold and the context behind his defection to the British. However, what kind of story would you have if you didn’t have a villain to root against? And, if Abraham Woodhull is our hero in this story, the introduction of Simcoe makes for a fantastic villain. Alas, all stories need to end at some point and it looks like this series will need to start tying up loose ends to offer a satisfactory experience for the viewer.
Towards the end of Season 3, we witnessed the turn of Benedict Arnold to the British which was orchestrated by Major John Andre, head of British Intelligence for the Continental Army. In an action involving both Andre and Arnold, Andre was captured and the Season finale sees him hanging at the end of a rope. Likewise, in Setauket, the hangman’s noose threatens our protagonist as well when Abraham is arrested by Simcoe for trying to incite a revolt. Despite a trial, he is found guilty but, at the last minute, the town begins to stand against Simcoe and his men and save Abraham from death. Before Simcoe could retaliate against the people of Setauket, he was effectively banished from the town by Colonel Cooke and the regular army.
The beginning of Season 4 starts with a lot of turmoil. Spies and potential traitors are being rounded up and the viewer quickly discovers that this is the work of none other than Benedict Arnold — appointed Spymaster General. The general is desperately trying to prove himself and is still without a regiment of his own. Back in Setauket, things have vastly improved after the removal of Simcoe, and the Red Coats are not making it their main base of operations anymore. They are still close by with the newly formed Fort St.George. Even the tension and rift between father (Richard Woodhull) and son (Abraham) has largely been fixed. The Cupler ring is one of the very few that have not been compromised. The relative tranquility that exists in Setauket is in stark contrast to New York, where you find the series’ antagonist plotting and scheming.
Washington’s forces are also not faring as well as they could be. There is no money to pay the troops and Congress does not seem to be in a hurry to offer any sort of relief. Dissention is growing within the ranks and with Benedict Arnold’s recent betrayal and actions to break Washington’s intelligence network, tensions are running high.
It feels like Season 4 is determined to set up the pieces on the board in order to consciously bring about a satisfactory endgame. Without giving away the plot, the Culper ring is put into jeopardy when friends find themselves in trouble. Events end up forcing Abraham to confront the reality of the situation and he winds up losing more than he ever expected to. While Season 3 did wrap up some of the various storylines for some characters to satisfaction, there are still others that need some resolution. AMC’s Turn starts off with a small group of friends and the events of the war have all led them down various paths and ultimately, most of the Season will likely resolve those plot lines as well.
Being the final Season, and given the progress when measured against the historical timeline, we, unfortunately, will not see the actual end of the American Revolutionary War. With this Season being the ‘last’ act, the first few episodes of Turn deliver a couple of surprises, action, and a quickened march towards the final curtain call. From what I have been able to watch, it looks like we will be treated to a ‘tour de force’ by the actors portraying the characters we have come to know throughout the series. Not knowing where the series will end also means we won’t necessarily know what to expect for the rest of the season. Hopefully, this could mean the writers may have a few more pleasant surprises before the last show airs.
Season 4 of Turn premieres on AMC this Saturday, June 17th.