Turn: “Of Cabbages and Kings”
B

Turn: “Of Cabbages and Kings”

A solid outing shows off Turn’s promise, at last

B

Turn

"Of Cabbages and Kings"

Season 1, Episode 3
B

Turn

"Of Cabbages and Kings"

Season 1, Episode 3

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Turn burned through its first two episodes establishing as much as it possibly could, failing to provide much of a hook beyond the premise, despite an able cast. The bad news is that some of the people who tuned in might have already given up. The good news is that “Of Cabbages And Kings” is a change for the better; by paring down to a few smaller dynamics, the precarious tonal balance tips wisely toward the “character study” square, making for an episode that managed to be cohesive despite a sprawling geography. (If you’ve been thinking, “I can’t wait for more of that C-tier AMC green screen,” you’re in luck.)

This episode was largely concerned with the difference between loyalty and responsibility: to military orders, to family pressures, to a cause. (There’s also an undercurrent both period-relevant and roiling with plot consequences, which is the devastating consequences of slow or inaccurate information.) And though we’re still treading a lot of water, there’s at least a sense of burgeoning narrative momentum that was missing last week.

The most martial of these, though not quite compelling, is still a solid B-plot: Tallmadge, General Scott, and Simcoe get an eyewitness report that Washington’s possibly been defeated in New Jersey, causing the handful of ragtag patriots under Scott’s command to mutiny against orders in a last-ditch attempt to be on the winning side. The standoff unfolds in an apolitical household, killing a civilian and, eventually, all four recruits, who were technically against orders but only really thinking about home. Certainly, nobody was excited about delivering Simcoe back to the British; Samuel Roukin is making the most of every thin-lipped grin, and the “Fall under my command!”/clocked-by-a-musket-butt beat was perfect, but largely, he’s limited to snide remarks, teetering near a Joker audition.

Tallmadge is still halfheartedly drawn, but we know by now that he sees the military as a means to an end, not as a true believer; when Scott orders Tallmadge to shoot the young mutineer he’d promised not to harm, there’s barely a hesitation before Tallmadge opts for court martial over breaking his personal word. Overall, this overnight standoff underscores the often-limited scale of this level of warfare, and though we end where we started—Tallmadge in possession of Simcoe and not allowed to authorize a spy ring—this gives a clearer picture of the need for swift, reliable information and marks the first time I’m interested in anything Tallmadge is going to do.

The bulk of this week follows Judge Woodhull and Abe’s pork-selling trip to New York. Though it starts with the ol’ Dead Older Brother Nobody’s Mentioned Before gambit, dear departed Thomas provides a relatively organic jumping-off point for family tensions, and makes the most of Jamie Bell and Kevin McNally’s rapport. (These two have been playing off one another well so far, but now we get a chance to see them alone, which gives you both a better sense of their irreconcilable differences, and why that’s something of a shame.) Turns out Dad’s pork directly supplies Redcoats, which gets an Of Course face from Bell. But Abe has a penchant for putting on the face people need to see, and he drives a harder bargain than his father and suggests cooking the books. “You have a gloomy view of human nature,” says the British brass, over a stuffed pheasant; Abe smarms back, “I’m the son of a judge.”

But any brief paternal pride (“It was just a test to see how well you play the game,” the Judge says, to which Bell gives another priceless reaction) is buried under the reveal that the Judge was also selling the Strongs’ cauliflower—possibly before Strong’s arrest, which suggests collusion that, for Abe, is beyond the pale. It opens a can of family worms, and Abe storms out under the familiar specter of Anna. Bringing this daddy issue full circle, Abe takes on some espionage of his own volition for the first time, approaching a group of awfully-martial Germans and chatting about cabbage until they reveal they’re headed to Trenton. Bell’s slightly stunned expression conveys both the thrill of an easy score and the terror of someone who might have actually committed to a cause at last.

And why? Because Dad demanded loyalty one time too many. As Mary exposits when she finally approaches Anna, she was promised to Thomas, and after he died, Abe was prevailed upon to honor the family engagement—from loyalty, though at the abandonment of responsibility, since Anna reveals she and Abe were already engaged. Mary, steely and heartbreakingly pragmatic, offers to turn a blind eye to their affair if they can be discreet (family loyalty, of course). Though we’ve seen the downsides of Anna’s situation, this scene highlights how much Mary suffers from the double isolation of the farm and a husband who’s doing his duty. (If you squint hard enough, there’s some early-season Mad Men parallels of stifled housewife, tortured husband, and determined woman involved with his work, but it’s loose enough to remain a vague similarity rather than an awkward homage.)

It’s a tight scene despite everything it’s carrying, and it skirts a love triangle by acknowledging more nuanced dynamics; Meegan Warner keeps Mary’s feelings so close to her chest we can’t quite tell whether she’s merely a wife who respects her partner, or a woman in love with someone she’s never really had. And despite Anna denying an affair, I’ll be surprised if she and Abe don’t have to pretend as much at some point, which will be a pretty shitty day for Mary. Still, there’s tension underlaid with a respect that keeps it from feeling like a catfight, and it leaves me hoping Mary gets more to do.

Anna definitely gets more to do, though Caleb’s presence (first looking for Abe, then abandoned by the most hilariously terrible recruit ever) means she has to fight for it in a way she’s never had to with Abe, who’s been concerned for her safety but has never doubted her abilities. There are a few “This is men’s work” anvils to wade through, but Heather Lind gives Anna a dry edge that keeps things from getting too didactic. Naturally, she wins, in a scene director SJ Clarkson frames with Caleb penitently in the bottom right corner, gazing up at Anna silhouetted like a paper cutout (which feels like a reference to the opening credits that will thrill or anger you, depending on how you feel about the credits). It’s a bestowing of responsibility grounded in loyalty, the only time in this episode they’re not operating at odds, and the only subplot in the episode that turns out well.

However, there’s one last betrayal to round things out. When Abe shows up bearing his Trenton tidings, Anna prevents Caleb from admitting what he and Ben let happen, and tells Abe that Simcoe’s dead. It’s not a lie to spare his feelings: It’s because Abe’s come back with information voluntarily, and Anna’s intentional miscommunication is designed to strengthen his loyalty to the cause. Caleb clearly recognizes the calculated tactic at work (Anna’s stuck her neck out for him twice, and told him, “If you can’t keep a promise than I can’t trust you here”), but Simcoe’s too narratively valuable alive. The episode ends with Anna vanishing from sight right from under Abraham’s eyes; Anna’s lie might actually open a rift in the only relationship so far that’s felt unbreakable. And for the first time, I’m engaged enough in where things are going to worry how bad that fallout might be.

Stray observations:

  • If you’ve watched Deep Space 9, episode writer Michael Taylor also penned “The Visitor,” which centered on a father/son relationship, and “Things Past” and “In the Pale Moonlight,” about the moral compromises involved in war.
  • Caleb, mid-rant to Anna about irony, and how he knows the term despite lack of formal education: “I did screw a well-read woman in New Haven.” Anna, in her counter-rant, points out a woman’s proper place “appears to be suffering under your bulk when they’re not improving your English.” Anna Strong left no shots unfired in this week’s rhetoric.
  • Martial checkpoints! Guess the modern-day police state parallels are back.
  • “This is mutiny! This is madness!” “This is New Jersey!” Bold move, show.
  • Just when I worry this show might be getting nuanced, we get the shot of Abe’s Loyalist ribbon dropping meaningfully into a puddle at his feet.
  • “German?” Check for tattoos.
  • The baby finally looked at Jamie Bell! Both the baby and Jamie seemed as startled as I was.

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