New Historical Timeline and Reviews for TURN Season 2

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Greetings, TURNcoats – and Happy Patriots Day!

Still recovering from the highly-anticipated 2-hour premiere of TURN: Washington’s Spies last week? So are we! The Season 2 premiere – which was technically two separate episodes played back-to-back – covered an awful lot of historical ground. The show’s timeline has leaped ahead several months to the fall of 1777, and viewers quickly learn that several major events of the Revolutionary War have already passed them by, including the Battle (technically, “Battles” plural) of Saratoga and the start of the British occupation of Philadelphia. And most Americans have at least heard of how King George III went “mad” later in life – but was he really starting to lose his marbles in 1777?

NOT NOW BILL

To help clear things up, we’ve updated the Historical Timeline feature with several events that will be especially interesting to TURN fans trying to sort out the events referenced in the Season 2 premiere. You can view the full-size Timeline by clicking on it below, but I recommend visiting the full Timeline page for even more useful information – including informative links!

TURN Historical Timeline version 2.0. Click graphic to enlarge, or click the “Timeline” tab at the top of the page for more information!

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Re-watch the Season 2 Premiere on AMC.com

For a limited time (of course) you can watch the Season 2 premiere of TURN on AMC.com for free with no cable subscriber login required. Better hurry — as of this posting, the free premiere (technically Episodes 1 and 2 of the second season aired together) is only available for 9 more days!

amc free premiere1.

Review Roundup

No doubt about it: TURN: Washington’s Spies has captured quite a lot of people’s attention. The heavily-promoted season premiere garnered its fair share of reviews, which range from excited and positive (IGN) to cautiously optimistic (AV Club and Wall Street Journal, who wins the ‘Best Review Title’ award) to unimpressed (Variety). Most reviewers have noted that AMC dramas have a habit of starting off very slowly, only to conclude with riveting, fast-paced drama at the end of each season – which was certainly true of Season 1 of TURN.

My favorite review, however, was written by a fellow Early American historian (shocking, I know). More specifically, written by J. L. Bell, a prolific historian of Revolutionary Boston who also covered Season 1 of TURN at Den of Geek.

While we here at TURN to a Historian opt out of episode summaries to, among other reasons, save space (our posts are lengthy enough already), Bell aptly summarizes the on-screen drama while simultaneously providing insightful commentary from a historian’s point of view. There are lots of excellent takeaways in his latest review, but the quotes that caught my eye were the ones related to the ongoing issues of historical accuracy in the show:

“…The differences between Turn’s king and the real George III, Turn’s sculptress and the real Patience Wright, are significant. Despite its producers’ claims to remaining true to the past, the series veered away from the historical record immediately and continues to follow its own path.

[In conclusion,] You can’t rely on Turn for accurate history, and you can’t read ahead in history books to know exactly how this season will play out.”

These passages hit upon one of the strangest idiosyncrasies of TURN. The show is supposed to be based on Alexander Rose’s book Washington’s Spies — and yet, because the show plays so fast and loose with historical fact, reading Rose’s own book won’t tell you anything about the direction the show will ultimately take. I’m often asked “What’s going to happen to [X character] in TURN?”

excellent question

In short: when following the historical record is option, there’s no way for a historian to tell. For example, producer Craig Silverstein has said in several interviews that he originally planned on killing off Simcoe in the circa-1776 pilot episode. You’d never find that in any history book, because it never happened.

Bell also suggests an excellent prescription for peace of mind for any Revolutionary War history buffs or historians watching the show:

“As I’ve written before, it’s best to think of the history of the Revolutionary War and Turn as two separate continuities, like the Marvel Comics universe and the Marvel movies universe.”

I couldn’t agree more! I’ve often referred to TURN as “alternate universe” myself on this blog. Frankly, this kind of attitude is standard operating procedure for most period dramas. In most cases even the most nitpicky fact-checkers understand the need to bend the truth in order to tell a compelling narrative – as long as it’s acknowledged to be fiction! It’s a shame that the writers and producers of TURN continue to adamantly promote their show as “a true story” and try to claim the mantle of authenticity and “historical truth” when an abundance of evidence (most of it basic, Google-able facts) handily proves otherwise. If only they’d embrace the fact-bending nature of their historical fiction, they’d get a lot more love from history-loving viewers who are hungry for excellent period dramas but cringe at the misrepresentation of the Revolutionary War on TV.

Why, he's barely recognizable
Robert Rogers’ new look for Season 2

Thankfully, there’s still plenty of time for that, since Season 2 is just getting started. And there have already been some notable improvements in historical accuracy – including, as you can see in the Timeline above, more 1777 events actually happening in the show’s version of 1777. Chief among the material culture improvements are Simcoe’s transition to a green-coated Loyalist uniform and Robert Rogers’ freshly-shaven visage. Let’s hope the momentum continues as Season 2 gathers steam!

Oh, and for you social media-savvy folks: Don’t forget to join us on Twitter during tomorrow night’s new episode! I’m live-tweeting at @spycurious and the hashtag to follow is #TURNamc. It’s always a rollicking good time!

-RS

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4 thoughts on “New Historical Timeline and Reviews for TURN Season 2

    Karen said:
    April 19, 2015 at 8:03 pm

    I have a question about the historical timeline–from the way I’m reading it, it says that Benedict Arnold lost his leg after Saratoga. Arnold still had his leg when he died…he was severely wounded at Saratoga (and was in the hospital in fall 1777), but he still had his leg.

    Anyway, I found the historical inaccuracies in the first two episodes to be laughable. Ranging from the army not being camped at Valley Forge during the British occupation of Philadelphia to Charles Lee (who was a British prisoner during the occupation) in Morristown (!) to Arnold walking in without a limp (yet Andre did admit that Arnold had been wounded at Saratoga, even if he misidentified which army shot him), it was a comical misadventure in Revolutionary War history. Meanwhile, Robert Rogers and the search for the Northwest Passage–perhaps the producers and writers should watch the Spencer Tracy movie by that name to get a better picture of Robert Rogers and the search for the Northwest Passage.

      spycurious responded:
      April 19, 2015 at 8:24 pm

      Good eye, Karen — thanks for that catch! It was actually supposed to read “USE OF his leg,” but that might also be somewhat confusing, so I changed it to “severely injured his leg.” There are a number of good web pages about his leg (and a certain famous tribute to it) that I’m tempted to link to, but I’ll wait until the issue of Arnold’s leg is covered in TURN first. I was also confused by Andre’s mention of it — but previews seem to indicate the next episode will cover the topic more fully (if erroneously).

    J Warner said:
    April 20, 2015 at 9:35 am

    Simcoe’s MMA smackdown of Corporal Sharkbait was kinda out there too. I wonder where in 18th century he found a Dojo to do his Ninja training.

    Jen said:
    April 21, 2015 at 12:25 am

    Timelines associated with maps, rock!

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