While ‘Mr. Culpeper’ featured a storyline about a fight club for slaves that wasn’t all that interesting and Abe Woodhull’s journey this week wasn’t as nuanced or thought-provoking as the writers probably would’ve liked it to be, it definitely was a solid episode because we finally got into the early stages of spy work, a practice that wasn’t all that common back then. George Washington himself was at the forefront of the episode, portrayed by Ian Kahn, who managed to give Washington a gravitas, vulnerability and warmth despite his strong and stern exterior. Washington, Tallmadge, General Charless Scott and Stephen Root’s spy aficionado Nathaniel Sackett we’re mostly talking in a room together, but because of the subject matter and their acting talent, the conversations were a joy to behold and never dull: it really showed you how armies, up until that point, thought of spying. General Scott, a conservative, wanted to keep doing things like he was used to: sending in multiple scouts to analyze a situation from afar to then report back, providing multiple accounts with common denominators. Tallmadge, Sackett and Washington on the other wanted to rejuvenate the practice, with anonymous civilians infiltrating enemy territory and gathering intel, getting messages across through messengers they’d never meet in person. Especially the conversations rookie Tallmadge and veteran Sackett had were fun to watch, the former naive and the latter baffled by the boy’s lack of knowledge. Seth Numrich bounced off each other Root well and provided the episode with some genuine humor. The episode ended with Tallmadge and Washington picking an alias for Abe, namely Mr. Samuel Culpeper, the name the tile of this outing referred to.
Unbeknownst to them Abe was almost a dead spy, though. While traveling to New York, Abe was ambushed by a blue coat who wanted to steal his identity to make it out of enemy territory alive. While Abraham tried to tell the man they were working for the same side, the soldier didn’t take kindly to his story and thought the way Abe went about protecting his country was rather cowardly and unheroic. In the end Abe made it out alive because a British patrol came looking for him and shot his captor. While there were some neat ideas here, the execution was rather clunky and one-dimensional, once again missing the shades of gray that could really make Turn the interesting show it so desperately wants to be. I’ll have to give credit where credit is due, though: while Samuel Roukin’s Simcoe is a caricature of an evil Brit, JJ Feild’s Major John André is a fascinating and well-rounded character. Feild’s performance lends strength, vulnerability, kindness, wits, perseverance and force to his character and he’s electrifying to watch each time he’s on screen. Much like myself he got fed up with Simcoe too, because the man stabbed a spy to death at his dinner table, a crude and dumb way to deal with the situation; André saw it as an opportunity to learn more about the enemy. Because of his behavior Simcoe immediately got himself sent back to Setauket, which undoubtedly spells trouble for Anna.
With ‘Mr. Culpeper’, Turn got much closer to being the intriguing and fascinating period piece we’ve always wanted it to be. 7/10