June 9, 2014

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “Turn”


TURN seemed to have its finger on a fascinating footnote to American history, telling the story of colonial undercover spies during the Revolutionary War under the direction of George Washington, but it’s never succeeded in coming to life.  Craig Silverstein’s series offered oddly little spycraft in the course of its season, and the plotting that instead took up most of the show’s 10 hours was uninvolving, unlikely or worse.  Tonight’s season finale had a bit more scope and focus than previous episodes, but it continued to show the flaws that have bedeviled the series from its start.

For one thing, the episode, written by Silverstein and directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (he directed the recent big-screen Princess Diana biography with Naomi Watts that came and went), pivoted on Turn‘s most idiotic character:  the British Captain Simcoe (Samuel Roukin), a villain so flagrantly psychotic that Hannibal Lecter would cross the street to avoid him.  Simcoe had been scheming for several episodes to force his commanding officer, upper-class twit Major Hewlett (Burn Gorman), head of British forces in the series’ home village of Setauket on Long Island, to take action against the local rebels.  His nasty strategems had included not just a shooting pseudo-attempt on Hewlett’s life, but poisoning Hewlett’s beloved horse.  After Turn‘s hero, farmer (and secret American spy) Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell), convinced Hewlett to imprison the accused rebels rather than execute them, Simcoe discovered that the colonial Army, under Benjamin Tallmadge (Seth Numrich), was coming to rescue the prisoners, and he took them to the gallows against Hewlett’s orders, and succeeded in hanging one of them.  Later, when Hewlett, Simcoe and the remaining prisoners were holed up in the Setauket church against Tallmadge’s forces, Simcoe decided to prevent Hewlett from reaching a settlement by blowing the head off one of the prisoners.  That led to Hewlett freeing the remaining prisoners and the American soldiers peacefully leaving the area, making the episode’s title “The Battle of Setauket” seem fairly anticlimactic.

The personal stories were equally thin.  Abe’s fellow spy, former fiance and recent lover Anna Strong (Heather Lind) finally learned that her husband, whom she believed had died in British captivity, was actually alive, which seemed to be the end of her adulterous relationship with Abe, but not so much once she jumped out of the boat carrying her husband away and decided to stay in town.  Meanwhile, after 9 episodes of treating her as nothing more than a droning annoyance, Turn (was it ever clear why AMC insisted on printing the title in all caps, as though it was an acronym?) suddenly decided to make Abe’s wife Mary (Meegan Warner) into an important character, as she discovered Abe’s secret and, at the end of the episode, helped him cover up his shooting of the British soldier lodged in their house who had also learned what Abe was up to.

None of the pieces of Turn proved satisfying.  The segments about being a spy in the 18th century were sometimes fascinating, but they were brief and far between.  There was never enough history about the Revolution itself for that story to become engrossing (Washington and other bold-face names were mere cameos), and the characters were weakly drawn.  As good as actor as Jamie Bell is, he wasn’t able to invent a character who wasn’t on the page, and the other rebels were even flatter.  One kept waiting for the romance between Abe and Anna to engage, or the strained relationship between Abe and his loyalist father (Kevin R. McNally), the local magistrate–for someone, anyone, to do anything at all surprising–but it didn’t happen.  The show only came to life in the moments when guest stars Angus Macfadyen (as the shrewd head of the redcoats’ mercenary unit) or Stephen Root (as Washington’s expert in the techniques of spying) were on hand.  For the most part, the series wasted the potential of its striking subject matter and setting.

Turn‘s ratings weren’t very notable this spring, but AMC finds itself in an odd position:  with Breaking Bad gone and Mad Men down to its last 7 episodes (in 2015), the network has the single most successful series on television with The Walking Dead, and hardly anything else that’s viable.  AMC has hung onto Hell On Wheels, and it’s not far-fetched to imagine Turn being renewed to supplement that show.  If Turn does come back, one hopes it’ll undergo a creative overhaul in Season 2.  For now, revolutionary is exactly what it’s not.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."