Turn Review: Episode 1×01 – “Pilot”
Finally a historical fiction television series! The dialogue, costumes, settings, music — not a single thing felt out of place and everything from the casting to cinematography to the sets immersed the viewer in the period.
The episode presented potential character flaws in what is probably the main protagonist — let us love him without reservation for a while! Drop bombs a few episodes later. Some might say things got off to a slow start.
The American Revolution Is Under Way In The Colonies: In AMC Turn!
Turn, a series set in the American Revolution era, premiered on AMC this past Sunday night. We meet characters on both sides of the War — Ben Talmadge played by Seth Numrich and Caleb Brewster played by Daniel Henshall for the Patriots and Major Hewlett and Lieutenant Simcoe played by Burn Gorman and Samuel Roukin respectively, for the British. There are also characters such Abraham Woodhull (who appears to be the character whose story we follow) who haven’t quite picked a side yet. Abraham is a young cabbage farmer just starting a family and barely scraping by. He owes Selah Strong, a local pub owner, money that he borrowed to finance his crops. When he goes to deliver the bad news that much of his crop is infested with maggots, he gets into a brawl with a slew of British soldiers. The trouble starts here for poor Abraham, let’s take a look at what challenges will face our protagonist in this episode.
Looking for Trouble?
Determined to pay off his debts to the now imprisoned Selah, Abraham harvests what good crop he has and smuggles it to Connecticut to barter for money. To his great surprise, Abe is reunited with an old friend, Caleb, who agrees to trade with him. Upon his return home, Abraham is ambushed by Continental soldiers — smuggling is, afterall, illegal. For a different kind of trade, Abe can win his freedom and a pardon. His childhood friend, Ben Talmadge tries to persuade Abe to join forces with the Patriots in exchange for a pardon. Abraham is hesitant at first but his decision is sealed when an old love, Anna, is harassed by Lieutenant Simcoe while she is being forced to quarter him in her home. Soon he contacts the courier who’s job is to relay information Abraham has to the leaders in the Continental Army. We could see Abraham struggle with the idea of spying, he seems to be the guy who’d rather stay as far away from conflict as possible. However, it does seem to me to be honorable that he would put himself in danger to help someone he cares for. It will be interesting to see if any further camaraderie develops between Ben and Abraham in future episodes.
“We’re of the mind, that if you can smuggle cabbage… you can smuggle something more valuable, information.” – Ben Talmadge
When Doing Right Is Wrong
But the trouble doesn’t stop there for Abe. After all, he has to be punished for his crime of smuggling. Luckily, British Major Hewlett is ready to cut him a deal — if Abraham turns over the names of the Patriots who captured him, he only has to read an oath reaffirming his loyalty to the King as punishment. This presents a problem for Abe because Ben Talmadge is an old friend and after all, Abraham has basically agreed to spy on the British, making him a treasonous criminal in the eyes of the British. Abe cannot very well turn Ben over without breaking his moral code and incriminating himself. What is the man to do? Hopefully he will make the right choice for him, which seems to be to continue to spy for the Patriots. I don’t think Abe’s moral compass will allow for anything less!
Abraham Woodhull is an incredibly relatable character. He wants to do what he believes is right, regardless of what side that pits him against. It is his sense of duty to his friends and those to whom he owes a debt that pushes him to spy for the Continental Army. However, he doesn’t seem to have his wife and young child in mind, as his father warns him. It is dangerous for them if Abe gets involved with the “enemy”. Perhaps Abraham doesn’t have as good a grasp on what is really the right thing to do as he believes he does. Abraham’s father, Richard Woodhull, saved his son from a fate on the prison ship after he gets in the bar fight with the British soldiers. However, after Abe decided to smuggle and lands himself in more trouble, tensions rise between father and son.
“You have responsibilities to more than this farm. To more than yourself. Legacy is everything.” – Richard Woodhull
Richard’s patience and compassion may have well run out during one of the most cringe worthy scenes in the episode. When Abraham takes Major Hewlett’s deal he does so knowing that he will not supply the actual names of his Patriot captors. Sitting in a forebodingly dark dining room with the Major and his father, Abe spits off several fake names. I couldn’t help but to feel mortified for Abe — it was clear that the Major bought the intel but you could tell from the look on Richard’s face that he knew his son had just lied, possibly essentially committing treason. The scene was well executed and the audience could feel the tension steeping in the words exchanged between the three men.
The Best Motivations?
Anna Strong is married to Selah, who is now jailed for his fight with the British officers — we don’t know if we will ever see Selah again. Abraham certainly seems to care for her even though they are both married to other people. After all, he agrees to spy on the British so that he can rid her of her harasser, Simcoe. When seeing the exchanges between the two, I couldn’t help but wonder what the future would hold for their relationship. Would it remain platonic? Or would Abe abandon his family for Anna? The audience couldn’t help but wonder if the reasons Richard gave for them calling off their engagement were true or perhaps parts of a bigger story. In any case, Abe should probably keep his own wife and child in mind given that he’s putting them in enough danger as it is by not compiling with the British. It would be hard to continue to think of Abraham as our protagonist if he can so easily discard those he is supposed to protect.
Burn Gorman was the perfect choice for the role of Major Hewlett — his mannerisms and facial expressions are fit for the man in charge. I know that Major Hewlett is probably a bad guy as far as Abraham is concerned but I couldn’t help but love him! On the other hand, the other bad guy, Lt. Simcoe — I hated his guts! The guy was creepy and cruel but also incredibly well played. Samuel Roukin is doing a pretty convincing job as the power hungry, possibly corrupt soldier. This show seems incredibly well cast, needless to say.
“Abraham has a dreamer’s heart, a romantic heart… He keeps room there for Anna.” – Richard Woodhull
It was pretty exciting to see a historically themed television series, it certainly is not as common as other genres. Everything from the costumes to the music to the opening credits sequence pulled us into the Revolutionary era. The dialogue felt natural and the characters certainly appeared to be genuine representations of the kind of people one would find in such a time. The blood and gore was not gratuitous but descriptive of war time. The characters were not unreasonably written — they all felt like real people with no superfluous or unbelievable traits. The pilot may seem too slow to some viewers, but I think it was a fair pace for setting up a complicated story. We had to meet Abe and other characters, see the various conflicts each faces as well as the wartime nature of the time. Together director Rupert Wyatt and writer Craig Silverstein wove an incredible story, setting us up for an epic tale of a spy behind enemy lines during the Revolution. I am incredibly eager for next week’s episode and to discover if Abraham will continue his spying and if so, what sort of trouble that will bring him.
Give Turn a shot — it’s second episode is due next Sunday so there isn’t a whole lot of catching up to do (for those craving a Netflix binge, sorry!). Turn is a refreshing bit of historical drama so join me next week with good thoughts to Abraham who hopefully won’t get into too much of a mess!
- Did Abe and Anna really split over politics?
- Why did Ben choose to side with the Patriots? It seems like most others from that area chose to stick with the British.
- OMG why is Simcoe so creepy?!?!
- Will Abe factor his family into his decision?
- Why didn’t they kill Simcoe like Abe asked?
- What are they going to do with Simcoe?
- Simcoe is going to escape isn’t he? Drat.
- So what’s the deal with Richard? What is his role? Why did he have the secret message?
- Is that an Irish accent? Oh boy…. Prepare for the fangirling!
- Now that the characters and obstacles are established, will the series pick up speed?
- What will Abe’s next mission or role as a spy be?
Photo Credit: Antony Platt/AMC