Why did I watch all four seasons of AMC’s “TURN?” A stubborn mix of pride and because the show’s premise—following American spies during the Revolutionary War—is unique and intriguing enough to keep me hooked on the idea that it could become excellent…or better-than-average…or non-frustrating. And, to be fair, some episodes were very strong. It just suffered from repetitive plot-lines (how many times can Abe Woodhull, Colonel Simcoe, and Major Hewlitt have the same triangulated Wiley-Coyote-and-Road-Runner battles?), surprisingly one-dimensional or uncharismatic spies, occasional over-acting, and sometimes indecipherable dialogue (particularly from Woodhull, Robert Rogers, and Caleb Brewster). Whether you found this or AMC’s other “no respect” historical drama “Hell on Wheels” better is largely a matter of personal taste, but I would take Bohannon and Company if asked to make a choice.
Note: The “TURN: Washington’s Spies” seasons are fairly consistent in quality, and it’s a little difficult to rank them because of this. Ultimately, if you truly hate the first season, it’s unlikely you’ll love the rest even if I do think it’s less strong. And obviously, there are spoilers here…
Worst Season: Season One…Benedict Arnold hasn’t been introduced yet, and J.J. Feild’s spymaster Major Andre (arguably the series best character) isn’t yet given that much to do. It’s mostly a painfully slow establishment of The Culper Ring and some of their methods, although I did like Abraham Woodhull’s affair with Anna Strong, mostly because I never liked the character of his sour wife Mary Woodhull. Grade: C
Season Two…Some of the series best plot-lines—like Major Andre trying to “turn” a vain-glorious Benedict Arnold, ensnaring him in a “honey trap” with the future Mrs. Arnold—are introduced here, but there’s still too many filler moments with the tiresome Robert Rogers, John Simcoe, Major Hewlitt, and Woodhull’s beyond-irritating “loyalist” father. It also becomes obvious that the series is going to repeat the same plotline— the twitchy, beyond-suspicious Woodhull gets into a tight situation where he might be exposed, and escapes through a miracle or a British character’s stupidity—over and over. Grade: B-
Season Three…I would say it’s a coin-toss between this and season four as the “best” but some highlights here include Benedict Arnold finally being ensnared, some of the niftier spy plots coming to fruition, and Woodhull’s father finally opening his eyes to the ways of the British. Still, the Andre-Arnold-Peggy Shippen love triangle gets resolved with Andre’s untimely departure, which practically guarantees season 4 won’t be as interesting. Grade: B
“Best” Season: Season Four…Although Major Andre isn’t in this season, neither is Robert Rogers (mercifully), and even though I’ll never forgive the series for a lackluster finale that refused to properly deal with Colonel Simcoe—yeah, sure, he’s based on a real person, but “Hell on Wheels” had the good sense not to make its pivotal villain (“The Swede”) someone it couldn’t dispose of and be historically accurate—I’ll admit the first 9/10ths of the season were, by far, some of the most exciting episodes “TURN” has ever had. I particularly enjoyed the plot-line of Abe going undercover into turncoat Arnold’s regiment, and Woodhull’s father getting killed early on. Sadly, that’ll be the only major death of the entire season, giving genuinely engaging battle scenes (like in episode 9) a sense of anti-climax. Grade for Season: B…Grade for Series Finale: C [Would you watch a series about a war for 4 years if you knew going into it that the villain doesn’t die and the series finale is mostly about Woodhull getting paid enough to farm cabbage?]