Season One (2014)
Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Writing a historical drama is a tricky thing. On the one hand, you must assume that most of your casual audience is ignorant of the facts, but on the other hand... your largest potential base is built up of history buffs who will know darn well if you meddle. And "meddle" is what Turn does, to no great effect and the determent of its own potential and characterization. Rather than write a decent spy story, it concentrates on unimportant things.
Loyalties are divided during the occupation of the British. Everyone has an opinion, and the wisest keep those views to themselves. Judge Woodhull (Kevin McNally) has made no secret of the fact that he supports the British in the Revolution. He has even become quite good friends with Major Hewlette (Burn Gorman), the resident commanding officer of the King's army. But his son, Abe (Jamie Bell), just wants to be left alone ... to farm his land, neglect the emotional needs of his wife, and pine after his first love, Anna Strong (Heather Lind). He inadvertently becomes involved when her husband is arrested and imprisoned, leaving her at the mercy of the resident psychopath, Colonel Simcoe (Samuel Roukin). A man with no obvious loyalties, Abe becomes a reluctant spy for his friend Ben Talmadge (Seth Numrich), who envisions a new art of war -- one that involves culvert operations rather than open conflict.
Little does Tamadge know that the British have their own "spymaster" in the form of Major John Andre (J.J. Fields), a brilliant and patient strategist who has trouble keeping control of his loyalist band of renegades headed up by the passionate Robert Rogers (Angus Macfadyen). The series explores espionage, family dynamics, divided loyalties, and the nuances of the English occupation of New York and surrounding territories, but falters on so many fronts it's hard to truly figure out what it wants to be. The primary problem is that all its main characters are so unlikable, it's hard to root for any of them. Most of them have no morals, approach battle tactics with brutality and cruelty, and treat one another with contempt. When the only "nice" character involved is a womanizing British officer, there's a problem. I think we're supposed to root for Anna and Abe's adulterous romance, but it's hard when all you can see is the total selfishness of their behavior and the effect it has on his innocent wife.
On purely cinematic grounds, the series is well done but the writing is very slow for about five episodes; then it becomes more involved and flows a bit better. It doesn't always transition smoothly between episodes and both establishes plot ideas and abandons them without significant follow-through (one example is the Simcoe-Anna relationship, as if her telling him that she will remain virtuous would stop his earlier-established lecherous intentions). Worse, its villains are over the top caricatures. The costuming is lovely, as is the musical score. The acting is good in spite of the lackluster characterization. But the history is dreadful. The writers know about the period, and the historical figures involve, and ignore it completely; it might have been wiser to use fictionalized characters "based on" real people, so as to avoid slandering various individuals -- most prominently, the real Simcoe, who was an abolitionist and a believer, and not the trigger-happy psychopath presented here. Likewise, Abe never cheated on his wife (nor was he even married at this point in time), nor did he have a romantic relationship with Anna Strong.
I really wanted to enjoy this series, but as it progressed, I
became disappointed with the lackluster writing, which believes
sexual content is a reasonable substitute for plot. It took a
tale with immense potential -- the first spy ring in America --
and chose to focus on story of selfish, unlikable star-crossed
lovers instead, and I find that hard to forgive.
Sexual tension between an officer and a woman (veiled implications he may intend to rape her); two full sex scenes (movement), one of them adulterous; a couple undresses one another (both people are married to someone else); a prostitute has sex with a man in a far-away shot in an encampment (she moves on top of him); a woman challenges her husband's ability to procreate (he removes her clothes and shoves her down on the bed); an officer arouses a woman with his hand during a public party (we see her face, and his hand movements); partial nudity from above and the back as they dress; various scenes of women coming on to men, flirting with them, sitting on their laps, or wearing very little (nudity implied, the camera sees them from the shoulders up); implied / partial nudity as two people (separately) dress in the morning.
Occasional profanities, a few harsh abuses of deity and some slang terms.
Battle scenes. Hangings. Torture. Gunfire. Explosions. Stabbings. Abuse towards women. Blood spurts. Grisly battle wounds.
Enormous historical inaccuracies, often that deface the historical individuals involved by turning them into murderers, adulterers, and psychopaths.