Because of Abe and Anna’s efforts last week, Washington’s men ambushed an ambush. The fallout was the main focus of Turn‘s second episode at first, but halfway the attention shifted to the investigation of the murder of Captain Joyce, who was found with his throat slit during the pilot. Abe was a suspect in that case of course, which is why, in ‘Who By Fire’, his barn was burned down by men wearing Guy Fawkes masks. The British celebration of Guy Fawkes Day added to the sense that the British in a way had already won, that the pesky rebellion didn’t stand a chance. It added a palpable sense of danger to Abe’s actions, a man operating in enemy territory, not so much because of political ideals at the moment, but because of his loyalty to and feelings for his former love Anna.
After his barn was burned down Abe turned toward his father, who he confessed last week’s actions to. Obviously he didn’t tell his father, a Loyalist, that he’s spying for the enemy, but he did correct his mugging tale: he told his father that he had cut himself and hid his profits to take care of his family. This instantly smoothed over their relationship, which seemed like a bit of a stretch given where we left these two last week. It was a convenient way to get into the new story, to get Abe involved with Major John Andre, who visited the town to investigate the Continental Army’s victorious reaction the ambush planned by the British. He believed the murder of Joyce was somehow connected so he turned to Abe’s father, a local magistrate, and Abe himself for help. Angus Macfadyen did a fine job playing Andre, a man pathetic and extremely capable at the same time, but no doubt a shadow of his former self because of alcohol and his obsession with revenge on George Washington.
Eventually it turned out that Joyce was killed by his gay lover Robeson, a man who was immediately blackmailed by Andre into becoming a spy for the British. In addition Andre recruited Abe as his handler, adding another complication to Abe’s life. Abe’s no fool himself though so he was well-aware of the danger, especially when he found out British Captain Simcoe wasn’t killed by his friend Tallmadge in the Continental Army. It’s another setback and possible threat, and because of it he told Anna they couldn’t meet anymore. Tallmadge has his own problem right now: he was threatened with court-martial. As of yet things don’t go well for the people we’re rooting for.
While the plot thickens, an element I’m definitely enjoying so far, Turn seems to be racing through all its different ideas. Like the Woodhull family struggle, most things get resolved very quickly, or seem too convenient. For example: Abe was very skilled at questioning Robeson. While he’s the son of a magistrate he is mainly a farmer and has been for most of his life. While Abe has just been thrust into the spy game, he already seems to be able to handle himself extremely well. Again, it’s a stretch, and it takes an uneasy suspension of disbelief to buy into his sudden adequacy. Another problem I have is that his motivation is paper-thin: Abe is still very much a blank slate, a man propelled forward by what’s going on around him, not by his own decisions. While that can be interesting, his character needs to be much more defined for viewers to feel any emotion for him and his predicament. Despite Jamie Bell’s efforts Turn so far is lacking a firm center, which doesn’t make the show as compelling as it could be.
Turn‘s second episode was entertaining, but its main character is not yet layered enough and the obstacles he’s presented with get resolved much too quickly and too easily to make Turn very compelling. It keeps the show from greatness, despite it’s intriguing setting and wonderful actors. 7/10