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Turn: "Epiphany"

Some big moments, a lot of near misses

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Turn

"Epiphany"

Season 1, Episode 5

If I made a note of every ironic or overstated TV episode title ever given, we’d be here all night. But when you title your episode “Epiphany” and put it smack in the middle of a limited season, it had probably better deliver something interesting. (I don’t dare call it a turning point, because this show’s title makes this impossible forever.)

“Epiphany” does not deliver any particular epiphanies for its main characters. It is, however, about the characters we know just missing opportunities, and the show itself shaking off some narrative blinders to introduce some welcome members to the supporting cast: After I gave up hope that Turn would ever touch on any of the thornier aspects of its setting, “Epiphany” provides. The opening montage features Christmas Eve celebrations, from the Strong’s slave quarters right through to Hewlett’s spinet-heavy “Rule Brittania” party, ending in the attainder of Strong’s property—and freeing his slaves in accordance with the Dunmore Proclamation. Though it’s odd the show waited until the halfway point to approach the issue, it’s to the episode’s credit that having turned their attention to it at last, Anna isn’t given a preternaturally-progressive streak when facing this down: She protests losing her slaves and expresses historically accurate, cringe-inducing concerns they’ll be able to survive alone. Not about to be outdone, Major Hewlett expresses his disgust for slavery in the same breath that he informs her he’ll be forcibly conscripting all the men and forcibly employing her maid Abigail with John Andre in New York.

As Abigail, Idara Victor offers an undercurrent of anger that gives simmering tension to a character who feels as though she should have had more to do before this; it serves her particularly well when she’s confronting Anna about the hypocrisy of Anna’s self-pitying helplessness on the eve of Abigail being given away, and makes it seem a natural extension of a long-considered plan when she blackmails Anna to take care of her son in exchange for information Abigail will get from Andre. (I’m already cringing about what we can expect when she gets there, though I’m looking forward to something happening the Andre house that isn’t pitched to the cheap seats.) And it’s always nice to see Aldis Hodge, and though he’s had little to do so far except crowd Abigail’s space and accuse her of thinking she’s better than he is (come on, show), the lingering, stricken glances they exchange at episode’s end mean we’ll be seeing more of them both.

Against all this, the British get to look even more snidely privileged than ever, as JJ Feild’s Andre welcomes Robert to the house just long enough for Angus Macfadyen to literally steal scenery. (He returns to nail Charles Lee for giving up the Connecticut safe house and to get Tallmadge’s name, but the man tried to march a candlestick out from Andre’s townhouse in broad daylight, and nothing he did regarding the actual plot was going to top that.) Andre and Robert’s open antagonism is contrasted against the easier partnership of Tallmadge and Caleb, who end up just missing the Battle of Trenton—smart move for a show with a limited budget—and aid the deception against Cornwallis during the Battle of Princeton instead by making enough noise for a camp full of soldiers. Without Simcoe as a reminder of their different ideas of what’s worth risking, they’re having an oddly good time. I’ll be curious to see what happens when he catches up with them.

Taking things extremely seriously? Abe, who misses a lot of connections this week: his father, his wife, Anna. While I’m not keen on the idea of Abe continuing to waffle about being involved in espionage—we only have 10 episodes, he needs to just commit—I do think his frustrations about whether he’s making any difference are well-founded, and since his father capitulated at the 11th hour last week, their renewed antagonism feels grounded. It’s enough to justify Abe getting self-pity drunk when left in the house alone over the holidays; it also reveals an interesting, if not particularly savory, directness toward Anna that we’ve never seen from him sober—a little antagonistic, a little bare honesty toward someone he thinks of as a partner who got away. It’s not much of a surprise that they both feel isolated enough to finally turn (I’m sorry) to one another.

Unfortunately, their fevered approach to second base feels a bit of an easy out. In-story, it’s fine: A respectively drunken and frustrated outburst is maybe a more legitimate setup for their repressed feelings than any other. But the show’s put in a not-insignificant amount of time suggesting the very human dynamics at work in Abe’s marriage, and his platonic relationship with Anna carried just enough regret and tension to nicely weight their scenes. It was, for lack of a better word, mature, and it’s always been a little nuance in a show that isn’t always. Since Mary’s determinedly pragmatic confrontation with Anna, she’s been sidelined (and last week she was given something to bungle, which is never a great sign for a character’s pull on our sympathies). Though it feels inevitable that Abe and Anna are going to come together at some point, I hope the show takes its emotional groundwork into account when dealing with the fallout; it’ll be more interesting that way.

Stray observations:

  • The drawing-room Christmas party in New York City in which JJ Feild ticks off his contractually-obligated sexual overture for this episode feels like the show desperately trying to get points for being racy. Let the man say “Polo” a few times and go home. (His crowning moment this week was probably the smirk as he surveyed the site of the deception; whatever the Crown is paying him, it’s not enough to take this war seriously.)
  • Judge Woodhull’s house features the narrowest mantle in the Colonies.
  • “The Indians named him White Devil.” Oh, did they.
  • While the Woodhull’s Redcoat lodger wasn’t necessarily wrong in suggesting that Abe might want to sober up and join his family instead of engaging in love triangles on the kitchen table, there’s still a lot happening in the opening volley they exchange: “What are you doing here?” “I live here.”
  • I’ll admit I’m concerned that the episode frames the introduction of George Washington against swelling music like the return of Gandalf the White. It might have just been some flair from director Michael Uppendahl, but so far the show has avoided any glamorous patina of the war. Just last week Tallmadge spent an entire episode trying to get his commanding officer to read a report, which wasn’t a particularly compelling subplot in itself but neatly illustrated the minutiae and elements of chance that were at play amid the mythic air the Revolutionary War has since gathered about itself. Turn has so far tried to give us the Culper Ring as a few people with bones to pick who turned the tide of a bloody operation; nobody wants a dewy-eyed History Channel reenactment.
  • Babywatch: In the cradle shot, that child has a distinct wax-dummy vibe; frankly, I hope it was, because wherever that unblinking thousand-yard-stare was looking, you shouldn’t look.  

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