tv review – AMC’s Turn, episode 1.8

‘Challenge’ was a decent Turn episode, mostly because there was very little filler this time around. The two main plot threads both felt essential, even though the pacing was off and, in the end, nothing big happened… once again. So far the show has had a habit of raising the stakes over the course of an episode, to build up to a pivotal and possibly game-changing scene, only to back out of it at the last minute. The setup for this week’s storyline involving Benjamin Tallmadge, Caleb Brewster and, surprise, Selah Strong was established last week and ‘Challenge’ showed the ramifications of Robert Rogers’ plan: during a peaceful exchange of prisoners, Rogers fired a shot at Caleb and Selah, which caused them to flee toward neutral territory with Rogers chasing them. Meanwhile an English officer rode out to report back on Rogers’ breach of conduct to John André. Selah’s presence, who took the place of the dead Samuel Tallmadge whose name Rogers had used to lure in Ben, nicely tied these proceedings together with what was happening in New York City: Anna hoped to collect her husband, only to find out he was reported deceased (because of Rogers trap for Tallmadge), and this set her on a path to find out whatever she could at a local dinner party… at John André’s.

This episode’s greatest strength was how compact it felt: the actions of several people influenced the bigger picture, like multiple spiders in one web. Rogers’ plan set Anna on a path, not only in regard to spying on the British, but also in regard to her stance regarding Abraham. These two visited New York together on business and the episode opened with a sweet scene of them getting dressed in separate rooms, after which Abe got in to help Anna with a button on her dress she missed. Their love was unmistakably present, as was Abe’s feeling of his responsibilities to his father and his wife and child. When Anna confronted him about their engagement in that moment, he lashed out and they went their separate ways. What happened then proved to be quite eventful for Anna: she found out her husband had died (which is not true) and during the party, one she got into pretending to be a prostitute, she learned more about how Abe really feels about her and how the loss of his brother is still affecting him (illustrated by Abraham’s wonderfully written speech, stunningly performed by Jamie Bell). Because of all this the final scene had Abe and Anna finally commit to each other: they took each other’s clothes off and had sex, even though it’s yet to be seen if Abraham will not slip back into his old habits once they return to Setauket. The juxtaposition of the two intimate inn scenes that began and ended the episode was nicely done, as was the interplay between Anna and Abe at John André’s party. Heather Lind was a mesmerizing presence once again, but I do find it hard to buy into her character’s love for Abraham; not because she doesn’t sell it, but because he is still very much a cipher, a blank who, so far, has been characterized more by his flaws than by his qualities. The only reason the script really gives us for Anna to love him, is because of what’s happened in their past, something we were never shown. Turn really needs to make Abraham more likeable and nuanced if we are to care about the show’s main character. More scenes like his heartfelt words at the party are certainly welcome.

Tallmadge and Caleb Brewster fare slightly better, but that’s mostly because of the situations they’re put in. Ben eventually came to the rescue and dug in next to Caleb and Selah, and they held out in the woods facing Rogers and his two men. Meanwhile John André got word of Rogers’ misconduct and sent soldiers after him, telling their superior that they were allowed to kill Rogers if need be, immediately raising the stakes for what was about to happen. Unfortunately the execution of what followed wasn’t done that well: the soldiers came in and ordered both sides to lay down their arms and step out where they could be seen, effectively saving Ben, Caleb and Selah. It put a sudden and convenient halt to a tense game of cat and mouse, and this plot stand sizzled out because of it. It will be interesting to see though how Selah’s survival will play into things, given Anna and Abe’s entanglement.

Lastly: we were treated to a few Setauket scenes that really had not place in this episode’s narrative. These distracted from the bigger picture and more interesting affairs, and threw off the pacing with repetitive moments of Simcoe trying to sniff out rebels. The one scene featuring both Simcoe and Major Hewlett even repeated a moment from last week’s episode, beat by beat, making it entirely superfluous. The fact that both actors are totally hamming it up doesn’t help either, because it really doesn’t gel with the serious tone the show seems to be going for.

Turn‘s ‘Challenge’ was quite engaging because of its, for the most part, tight construction, featuring two compelling narratives. The inclusion of a few unnecessary scenes held it back though, as did the anticlimactic resolution to the Tallmadge vs. Rogers situation. 6/10

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