Greetings, TURNcoats! It’s finally here – June 17th, 2017 – the premiere of the fourth and final season of TURN: Washington’s Spies! (It also happens to be the anniversary of the 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill, for all you devoted Revolutionary War fans.)
Tonight’s premiere will be a jam-packed two-hour event that deals, first and foremost, with the fallout of Benedict Arnold’s betrayal at West Point (the subject of Season 3’s dramatic finale). Like all the episodes before it, the premiere is sure to generate plenty of dubious historical claims to assess, dates to plot on the historical timeline, and questions to ask your friendly neighborhood historian(s). I’ll be live-tweeting tonight’s premiere, along with a whole bunch of die-hard fans as well as cast members. Follow @spycurious and the hashtag #TURNamc!
Season 4 Premiere Link Roundup:
If you didn’t have ten hours to devote to re-watching Season 3 of TURN, I’d recommend browsing through the library of individual episode reviews at Den of Geek, written by the always-thorough J. L. Bell of Boston 1775 fame.
USA Today also has a short article about the Season 4 premiere, which (unintentionally) underscores TURN’s gravely inaccurate portrayal of John Graves Simcoe by describing him as “a sociopath with a talent for military strategy who has a personal ax to grind with several of those rebel spies.” As we’ve discussed here in great detail over the past three years, Simcoe is, hands-down, one of the most completely inaccurate and misrepresented historical figures in the entire show. The real John Graves Simcoe, while a fearsome officer in battle, was nothing like the unhinged brute viewers see when they tune into TURN. In addition to our backlog of blog entries here, T. Cole Jones, professor of history at Purdue University, goes into even greater detail about TURN’s misrepresentation of Simcoe in this Common-place Journal article from 2015 which is a must-read for any fan interested in the accuracy of both TURN and the book that inspired it.
Ross Nedervelt at FIU is the latest history academic to pen a review of TURN: Washington’s Spies, this time at the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. While he is more charitable than most other historians have been towards the show, he does point out a number of pet peeves that we share here at the blog (e.g. glaring biographical inaccuracies, the depiction of Simcoe as a psychopath, Caleb Brewster’s anachronistic speech patterns, etc.).
What to make of TURN’s dramatically different Saturday evening time slot? In 2016, AMC “burned off” the final season of Hell on Wheels in the Saturday night timeslot and it looks like they’re giving TURN the same treatment this year – assuming in both cases that devoted fans will tune in to watch the show live, while everyone else will record and watch the episodes later. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of TURN’s audience numbers come from streaming services and DVR viewings – the live numbers for the show have taken a precipitous drop with each successive season. (For example, the Season 1 premiere had 2.12 million viewers; Season 2 had 827,000 viewers; Season 3 had 471,000. You can view live viewing numbers for each episode here.)
The upside is that the showrunners had long known that Season 4 would be TURN’s final season, so they were able to craft the entire season without worrying about potential numbers and ratings at all. At the same time, they’ve got quite a lot of ground to cover in a mere ten episodes.
Historically speaking, unlike the Continental Army at large, the Culper Spy Ring was incredibly active during the final years of the Revolutionary War, even after the surrender of British forces at Yorktown in 1781. Benjamin Tallmadge and the 2nd Dragoons were especially vigilant, leading a number of dramatic shoreline raids across Long Island Sound against British and Loyalist-held strongholds. After the West Point fiasco, Benedict Arnold was quite eager to prove his loyalty to the British by, among other things, raiding and burning a number of prominent American towns – including New London, Connecticut, just a few miles south of his boyhood home of Norwich. (Pretty harsh, Benedict. No wonder New Londoners are still burning you in effigy well into the 21st century!)
As a native Connectican with a professional interest in Connecticut history, imagine my excitement when on-set photos leaked of Owain Yeoman appearing to invade and burn a colonial city with a regiment of British regulars! Alas, according to this in-depth interview with showrunner Craig Silverstein at Entertainment Weekly, the photos likely depicted Arnold’s raid on Richmond, Virginia… not the Connecticut coast. (sigh.) Regardless of my parochial disappointment, the EW interview with Silverstein is incredibly thorough and well worth the read for any TURN fan eager to catch a glimpse of what Season 4 might contain.
How about that slick Season 4 artwork, TURNcoats? Have to admit – I’m a huge fan. (MUCH better than the bizarre, anachronistic, politically-driven marketing campaign of Season 3, which awkwardly tried to compare George Washington’s political views to those of Hilary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders, and produced many a cringe-worthy gif. Remember that?) If year-over-year improvement is any indication, this season’s graphic artist should get a raise.
Finally, if you’re new to the TURN to a Historian blog: Welcome! Our Topic Index page is a great place to get started in regards to browsing all the historical topics we’ve covered on this blog thus far. If you have a specific question, fire away on the Ask a Question page. In the meantime, pull up a chair and enjoy the two-hour premiere. See you on the flip side!
Still reeling from this week’s Season 3 finale? How about a healthy dose of TURN-related history? We’ve updated the Historical Timeline with events mentioned and/or depicted in TURN Season 3. In a slight change from previous timeline updates, all the Season 3 events are labeled with dark green text, to more easily distinguish this seasons’ additions from the events mentioned in Seasons 1 and 2. While the timeline itself is embedded below, don’t forget to visit the full Historical Timeline page for a chronological listing of events, including external links to relevant history websites. Enjoy!
There’s no doubt that Season 3 of TURN began slowly, and with very few connections to actual historical events (see our previous post lamenting this fact). Evidently the writers were saving all of the spy action and historical precedent for the last few episodes, which drew heavily upon the well-documented Andre-Arnold affair of late 1780.
Most of the new timeline events deal with Benedict Arnold, since a large part of Season 3 revolved around the dramatic buildup of his infamous defection — and John Andre, who ends up paying the steepest price for Arnold’s actions. You’ll see Arnold’s court-martial, defection, and marriage to Peggy Shippen all plotted on the updated timeline.
Another event that was prominently (if very briefly) mentioned in the Season 3 finale was the execution of Nathan Hale — an event that was first mentioned in TURN Season 1 and has been on the Timeline ever since. For some bizarre reason, the show announces Hale’s execution date as October 22, 1776, instead of September 22 — a bizarre and seemingly unnecessary factual error that provides no benefit for the show’s storyline development. It’s no surprise that a Hollywood history show deviates from a 100% perfect chronological unfolding of historical events, of course — that’s why we made the Timeline in the first place! Some deviations, however, are much easier to explain than others.
Think there’s a historical event missing from the Timeline? Is there some ingenious reasoning I’ve missed behind TURN moving a semi-obscure historical date around by a mere 30 days? Leave a comment below (or tweet me, or email via the Ask page) and let me know!
Greetings, TURNcoats! How about a nice link roundup to compliment the first two episodes of Season 3?
Here we are, technically 1/5 of the way into Season 3, and things have been suspiciously quiet over here at the blog. Sure, we’ve had a blast live-tweeting every episode, but no new articles here at the blog. What gives?
Well, to be honest, there hasn’t been a whole lot of actual historical stuff happening in TURN Season 3 thus far. As a historian watching the show, there’s very little fact-based material to capitalize on, aside from a few name drops (e.g. Joseph Reed, Austin Roe) that don’t yet have enough context in the show to merit a full-length analysis. Nearly all of the first two episodes have revolved around made-up love triangles, fictional family feuds, and other interpersonal relationships that never happened.
Thankfully, we have covered most of those subjects in previous posts – so while we wait for some meatier historical topics to arrive in Season 3, here’s a quick and dirty link roundup for those of you trying to sort fact from fiction regarding all the personal drama in the TURNiverse:
- Abe and Anna: Never happened. (Although thus far in Season 3, their fictional affair seems to have cooled considerably.)
- Abe and Robert Rogers: An amusing (if bizarre) premise – but this also never happened. For more about the real Robert Rogers’ wartime escapades, check out Todd Braisted’s excellent summary here.
- Anna and Hewlett: Never happened. Although if you’re interested in the real Hewlett’s role in occupying the town of Setuaket, we’ve got you covered. We featured an article on the historical Hewlett in the middle of Season 2, right before TURN’s Hewlett dramatically veered away from the (until that time) realistic portrayal of his real-life counterpart.
If you’re a little confused from the “authentic” messaging you’ve been hearing from AMC staff regarding Hewlett – no, you’re not crazy! On Twitter and Reddit, Alexander Rose (who joined the show’s writing staff in Season 2) has repeatedly insisted that TURN’s Edmund Hewlett, the royalist commander of Setuaket during the Revolutionary War, has absolutely no connection whatsoever to the historical Richard Hewlett, the royalist commander of Setauket during the Revolutionary War. It is a total and complete coincidence that both men held the exact same station, at the same time and in the same place, and had the last name “Hewlett.”
Needless to say, viewers of the show are right to be a little skeptical. By that logic, of course Anna Strong could never have had an affair with a fictional Redcoat officer! Not to mention, the real Anna Strong was still (by any reasonable account) contentedly married and the mother to several children by the time the summer of 1778 rolled around, so there’s that, too.
- Austin Roe: Okay, Austin Roe DID happen! He was a real person (definitely not anyone’s pseudonym or alias) and, for a time, an absolutely fascinating member of the historical Culper spy ring who served as the vital link communicating intelligence between New York City and Setauket. I’m seriously hoping the one mention he’s had thus far in Season 3 is some kind of bizarre red herring and/or bad history joke – it would truly be a shame for him to be cut out of this series, regardless of how much the show has already careened off the historical record. We will definitely revisit Mr. Roe here on the blog – after we get a better idea of where the show is going to take him.
- Woodhull family drama (especially concerning Mary and Thomas): Never happened. Thankfully,
we’ve got a post on TURN’s convoluted family trees to help viewers sort things out!
- Peggy Shippen and Benedict Arnold: Oh yes, this happened – although as many of you likely guessed, it wasn’t exactly the bizarre love triangle with ulterior motives depicted in TURN. We’re in the process of reaching out to a few exciting guest authors for this particular topic, so stay tuned!
- Blood-spattered John Graves Simcoe: Well, it looks like TURN’s “Psycho Simcoe” portrayal isn’t going anywhere this season! Only two episodes into the season and we’ve seen plenty of Simcoe-generated ketchup. If you’re only familiar with Simcoe through what you’ve seen in TURN, you may be in for a bit of a shock once you read a little bit about the real Queen’s Ranger commander by that name! Thankfully, Todd Braisted has not one but two excellent articles about the real Simcoe: one about Simcoe’s captivity at the hands of the Continental Army (as loosely portrayed in Season 1) and another about his tenure as leader of the Queen’s Rangers (TURN Season 2 and beyond). At the TURN roundtable on Common-place.org, guest author and Purdue University history professor T. Cole Jones also analyzes the many liberties TURN takes with John Graves Simcoe.
Well, I think that just about does it for tonight’s link roundup. Plenty of reading to re-visit while we wait for bigger and better spy-related history to materialize in TURN Season 3. Enjoy tonight’s new episode, TURNcoats – and if you’re watching live, don’t forget to join in the fun on Twitter and Facebook!
Greetings, TURNcoats new and old! A new season of TURN will soon be upon us, which means it’s time to dust off the blog and get it fired up again.
Now wait just a minute. You didn’t think we were gone for good, did you? With a second season of TURN on the way amidst a sudden proliferation of (often highly-questionable) television programming about the American Revolution?!
The quiet off-season has officially come to an end. Even though we’re a good two months out from the premiere of Season 2, there’s been plenty of activity and recent buzz surrounding the new season of TURN. We’ve got lots of excellent historical analysis lined up, including a few gems inspired by questions sent by spy-curious readers via the “Ask a question” page. But we would be remiss if we didn’t first recap some of the most important TURN-related news. So in case you missed it, here’s a quick roundup of the more noteworthy headlines:
A TURN by any other name
It’s official: The show we all came to know as “TURN” last season is now “TURN: Washington’s Spies.” The switch actually happened just a few months after the Season 1 finale in June – but while this isn’t exactly late-breaking news, it’s worth acknowledging. The online reaction to the name change has been overwhelmingly positive — which isn’t all that surprising. “TURN: Washington’s Spies” is now instantly self-identified as a period espionage drama, whereas the all-too-postmodern “TURN” didn’t convey anything at all about the show itself. Ever since the beginning of our fair Republic, Americans have been name-dropping George Washington on all sorts of things to help drum up more popularity and support – so in one sense, “TURN: Washington’s Spies” is carrying on a fine American marketing tradition. (We’ll post more about that later.) Here on the blog, we’ll continue to refer to the show as “TURN“ in most cases, for brevity. (The average word count of our blog posts is high enough already!)
Playing Catchup: How to (re)watch Season 1
Those of us in the Northeast only have to look out the window at our snow-covered lawns to remind ourselves that it’s been many long months since the sunny days of June — and the season finale of TURN’s inaugural season. If you find yourself snowed in and/or yearning for the melodrama of the last season of TURN, there are many ways you can catch up — although they all require some form of monetary investment. We’ll post a link here if and when free streaming episodes become available on a legitimate website.
- Via cable TV: AMC is in the midst of airing plenty of TURN
Season 1 reruns from now through April. Check your local listings or browse AMC’s online schedule for showtimes.
- Streaming episodes online: If you can’t be bothered to set your DVR, you can also view the entire first season on AMC.com for “free” – well, “free” if you’re a cable subscriber, that is. AMC.com requires viewers to verify their cable subscription before viewing any full episodes.
- Downloadable episodes: Currently, the entire first season is available for purchase on Amazon Instant Video for $24.99 in HD or $15.99 in standard definition. You can also purchase Season 1 in HD for $25.99 from iTunes.
- DVD and Blu-ray: If you can bear to wait until March, you can own a hard copy of TURN Season 1 in a brand new, shiny box of your own! According to a press release published last month, TURN Season 1 will hit stores on DVD and Blu-ray on March 17th.
- Netflix subscribers: Don’t worry, you haven’t been left out! You’ll be able to binge-watch TURN to your heart’s content starting on Wednesday, March 25th.
That’s a wrap!
Filming for season two of TURN wrapped up the first week of February. According to AMC’s website promos, there are lots of new faces, including a pair of rather infamous troublemakers whose names should sound familiar even to viewers who haven’t picked up a history book since grade school. Benedict Arnold and Peggy Shippen, anyone?
A good deal of filming for Season 2 took place on-location at Colonial Williamsburg. CW’s blog has an excellent post (with pictures!) about the complicated logistics of filming a modern production in the midst of a sprawling historic campus that’s open to the public, and throws in some comparisons to the filming of HBO’s John Adams, which was also shot at Williamsburg. While the big, stately, Southern brick mansions found on the Duke of Gloucester Street aren’t exactly representative of 18th century New York architecture, we’ll leave the architectural analysis for a future blog post. At least filming for this particular Revolutionary War show is being done in an 18th century historic site here in the good old US of A, as opposed to, say… Romania. (I’m looking at you, History Channel’s “Sons of Liberty.”)
A meeting of the minds
Speaking of Williamsburg, a marvelous thing happened back on the evening of February 3rd:
Hollywood producers and history professors… in the same room? Talking to each other? If only this kind of thing happened more often! I have a hunch that this mini-symposium had something to do with Colonial Williamsburg requiring visiting film productions “to support the foundation’s educational mission” (a little detail mentioned in the aforementioned CW blog post). At any rate, it’s a very welcome opportunity to engage in a high-profile discussion of a widely-distributed historical drama.
Representing TURN on the stage were both of the show’s executive producers (Craig Silverstein, who has repeatedly claimed that TURN is “a true story,” and Barry Josephson) and Alexander Rose. Representing the hallowed halls of academia are a slew of professors of history, film, and American Studies from the College of William & Mary, including the current editor of the William & Mary Quarterly and the Director of the Omohundro Institute for Early American History. These are big names in the academic world, folks. If you were a graduate student you’d probably be a little weak in the knees after reading the full list.
Yes, gentle readers, I also thought this meeting of the minds was too good to be true — but thankfully, the event was not only real, it was recorded! The edited video should be available for online viewing sometime in the near future. Clearly there were more than just graduate students in attendance: the RSVP list for the event topped out at over 600 people. We’ll share the link in a special post when it becomes available.
In the meantime, enjoy binge-watching Season 1 all over again. It’s good to be back!
Talk about sneaky: If you’re a Connecticut resident who makes a habit of reading the newspaper, you may have had a spy-curious encounter this morning without realizing it!
The Hartford Courant, as part of its 250th anniversary celebration, published a special section on “Connecticut at War” in today’s newspaper, which contains numerous articles about both the people and innovations of “the Provisions State” involved in the past few centuries of American conflict. One of those articles is about everyone’s favorite Dragoon commander-turned-spymaster, Benjamin Tallmadge. The article, written by Jessica Moore, features quotes from an interview with Rachel Smith of the Connecticut State Historian’s office (who is also the webmistress and primary author of TURN to a Historian). She tweeted the following image and link to the article earlier today:
The full article is posted in a rather irregular format on Courant.com’s website, appearing as a ‘caption’ for a slide show despite its nearly 1000-word length. I’ve posted a (somewhat) high-res scan of the physical article below just in case the current link to the article changes in the future. (Fair warning to TURN viewers who are trying not to get ahead of themselves: since this is a biographical article, it contains plenty of “spoilers” about Tallmadge’s later life and military career!)
If you’re a Connecticut resident and history buff, I highly recommend picking up your own physical copy of today’s paper if you can get one, which contains large, gorgeous imagery and a beautiful, full-color timeline of Connecticut’s military innovations (including submarines, Colt revolvers, gatling guns, helicopters, and more) in addition to a slew of articles covering famous war veterans from the past 250 years. I’m delighted to have been able to help with their efforts to commemorate notable Connecticut war veterans (especially since Tallmadge happens to be one of my favorites)!
Enjoy the article, and don’t forget to tune in tonight for an all-new episode of TURN at 9:00pm Eastern! I’ll be live tweeting @spycurious and tumblring (if that’s what the kids are calling it these days) at spycurious.tumblr.com.