This past week's viewing obsession has been AMC's historical drama, Turn, about the spies of the American Revolution.
I am so happy to find out that this has been picked up for a second season, because while a lot happens in the first season, the upcoming seasons are the ones that will be about John Andre and Benedict Arnold. (Let's be clear: historical fact doesn't count as spoilers, OK?)
What the first season does spectacularly is examine the formation of the spy ring. Oh, yes, it's fictionalized and adjustments have been made for making this a visual story. (For more on the real history versus the television history, check out J.L. Bell's posts at Den of Geek.)
Abraham Woodhull is a young farmer living on Long Island during the British Occupation. He appears to be, like his father and brother before him, a Loyalist. Instead, for various reasons, he becomes a spy for the Continental Army. Season One is primarily about Abe's motivations and in a way, Season One is a slow burn of character growth: why will Abe end up risking everything to spy for a cause? If his sympathies are not with the British, why didn't he join up at the beginning, like his two friends, Benjamin Tallmadge and Caleb Brewster?
Without giving too much away, there are reasons! And feelings! So. Many. Feelings. Abe's older brother, Thomas, died, and Abe did the "right" thing by breaking off his engagement with Anna and married his brother's fiance Mary. While he appears to be happily living with his wife and baby son, the truth is he still wants Anna, even though Anna is now married herself.
Abe's own choices are second to what he thinks he should be doing as a loyal son to his father. And yet, what he wants bubbles to the surface: he refuses to live off his father's money, in his father's house, instead doing a (rather poor) job farming. He cannot help his continued love for Anna. And there is more to it, but that's not until about episode 8 or so. (See the metaphor there? Abe's conflicted feelings towards his father, love and resentment, wanting to make his own choices instead of following his father's wishes, mirrors what is happening in his country: loyalty to England, or independence?)
And so it's about Abe, going from unwilling to willing spy. But it's also about the others in his circle, Ben and Caleb and Anna, who while all are stronger (and more vocal) in their political stance, there is still the mechanics of just how a spy ring is put together.It's watching not just a puzzle be put together, but a puzzle be made. And just because I'm talking about the character growth over episodes, and how the building of a spy ring isn't something done in five minutes, there is plenty of action. This is 1776, after all, and there are battles and skirmishes and betrayals.
Slavery factors in: Abe's own slaves are shown so matter of factly that at first I didn't realize that was what was happening. Two of Anna's former slaves factor into the story, also: Abigail and Jordan. Abigail has a son who has been taught to read, and one of the reasons I want another season is to find out more about her and her son. Jordan was born in Africa, and was trained as a Maasai warrior -- and his chance at freedom is offered him not from the Continental Army, but from the British.
The British Officers are interesting, yes -- but here the person who really intrigues and captures me is Major John Andre. He's handsome and cultured and smart. I admire smart in a character. Major Hewlett is a bit of the stereotypical by the rule soldier; and Captain Simcoe is scary-crazy-ruthless; but Andre . . . Andre is one major reason I want to see more seasons. Because I cannot believe that Andre would ever do something as stupid as get captured; yet history tells us that happens.
Jamie Bell grew up mighty fine. Even though it's like impossible to find a photo of him from Turn of him smiling, because he always has so many feelings. So, many, feelings. Also, hats.
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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
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