Turn: Washington's Spies Season 2 Premiere Review: Give This Show Another Shot

Turn: Washington's Spies S02E01 & S02E02: "Thoughts of a Free Man" & "Hard Boiled"

I must confess to high treason, y'all. When the Season 2 premiere of AMC's recently renamed spy drama Turn: Washington's Spies landed on my desk, I wanted to check it out but hadn't watched Season 1. So I planned to wing it by doing as little research as possible; I figured I'd skim through a few early episodes with liberal fast-forwarding, read a few Wikipedia entries to learn just who in the hell characters like Abe Woodhull, Anna Strong, and John Graves Simcoe were, and then pay some high school kids on the website Craigslist.com to teach me about the American Revolution.

However, not only did I end up watching the entire first season, in fact I went from viewer to fan to patriot in the process. I watched 'em all, guys. Look, I know this show probably isn't for everyone. History buffs might get mad because Jamie Bell's coat looks like it was purchased on Melrose Avenue, while casual viewers of television might find the topic of our forefathers' hard-won freedom too... specialized (boring). But in my opinion the show makes history fun, and its double-hitter of a Season 2 premiere, “Thoughts of a Free Man” and “Hard Boiled,” wrangled everything that's good about Turn: Washington's Spies into a solid two-parter.

A bunch of stuff happened in the show's return to Setauke. For example, King George III threw a tantrum, Robert Townsend and Benedict Arnold stepped onto the scene, and Caleb chucked a flaming axe. But the most important takeaway is that Simcoe is still pure nuts. I honestly think he's the best villain on television today; his highfalutin nasally voice, foppish soldier's garb, and ridiculous love for violence creates the perfect storm of insanity for our heroes to battle. Dude always looks like he's about to snap. I bet even when he's fast asleep he looks like he is about to snap. The only thing the man loves more than composing poetry is war itself, as evidenced by the way he rushed right out of his desk job like a kid who'd just been told he could go play with his friends. I cackled at the way he grabbed his weapons, shoved open the gate and joined rank. Simcoe, you crazy monster brat.

His story of reintroduction played out in similar ways with other characters throughout the two episodes, as both focused on catching us up with what the fair citizens of Setauket and beyond. Abe proposed to study law in New York to continue his spy duties, while John Andre's braid grew a good foot longer. Ha, I am just loving that braid. In a lot of ways, Turn is really the braid's story. But I digress. Andre's pretty great because he's all nice to Abigail, he's super cultured, and he thinks Simcoe is detestable. It looks like the major's main goal this season will be to turn Benedict Arnold, and we all know how that “turned” out. (One must be careful when googling the character names on this show because the results contain spoilers for days. History is the ultimate spoiler.)

Anyway, his first step toward gaining access to Arnold (The Mentalist's Owain Yeoman) involved socialite Peggy Shippen (Lost Girl's Ksenia Solo), an effort that played out in the world of rich folk. One thing that's great about this show is the way it juxtaposes salt-of-the earth farmers and militias working the land and camping out with wealthy Loyalists having dances and sipping from increasingly tiny glasses. I'm into it. I'm also into Andre as a character and not just a stock bad guy. Turn: Washington's Spies is the first piece of fiction on the American Revolution that humanizes the enemies (that I've seen, at least; I'm perilously underexposed to this kind of stuff). Yes, you get the cuckoo birds like Simcoe and George III having fits and being vile to the core, but then you also get the polite lobster-back soldiers living respectfully in the homes of colonial citizens, and the major being kind of endearing in his aloofness. Aww, look at the little Oyster General...

Unfortunately we didn't see much of my second favorite character (first being Simcoe), Robert Rogers, in the premiere. But what we did see was still pretty cool. He had gussied himself up enough to request council with the king, and ended up walking away with a spy mission to track down a bust with some secret messages inside it. I'll take it, so long as I get to hear his Scottish drawl and measure those woeful, calculating peepers. I'm also down with how his former militia is now under the command of Simcoe. I like what you do gentlemen, please do it more this season.

I mean at the end of the day, screw the British for the overall jerks they were being to us back then, but I appreciate the care Turn is taking to show how a war is made up of people with varying degrees of heroism and evilness. A big part of Ben Tallmadge's story going into Season 2 is the dissension in the ranks of Washington's army. Hey, not every soldier on every side cares that much about what they're fighting for. Some of them just want some damn responsibility—a personalized reason to donate time and energy. That's why Setauket works as a setting for this story. We get to see tavern maidens like Anna Strong lose taverns due to war politics, or mere farmers like Abe have love triangles with said tavern maidens while ALSO maintaining a marriage with a Loyalist-leaning wife. Sure, the American Revolution was about a freedom and liberty and all those buzzwords, but mainly it was about drama. And boiled spy-eggs.

What did you think of Turn's Season 2 premiere?


Comments (31)
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Apr 25, 2016
I like period dramas but am very picky about them because I am a huge history buff. I like Mad Men and Downton Abbey because they get their periods right. This show...the women are too thin, the people don't look English..they look like modern day Americans a mix of different European ancestries..and the people are also too good looking...their teeth...too nice.

Weird criticisms I know but like Sons of Liberty I just get angry when I see the commercials It's probably like the Patriot I'm guessing.

I'm not denying it might have a fun plot, but don't use it as a history lesson as I've seen some people write in reviews ("I didn't know history could be so fun!") It's probably lacking any nuance
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Apr 20, 2015
I really got into season 1 and am looking forward to season 2. Very glad it's back, because we seem to be in a bit of TV wasteland right now.

P.S. I can't stand Abraham's wife.
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Apr 17, 2015

First of all, I like period dramas, so there's that. I also like interesting characters, so there's also that. And btw, your favourite characters are my favourite characters. Same order too.

Basically I like this show a lot. And really liked the 2nd season premiere. Can't wait for Stephen Root in the next episode! Almost any show that has Stephen Root and Boris McGiver in it turns out to be good. I think we should do like a McGiver test or something.
"Is McGiver in it?
Yes ==& good show
No ==& bad show "
Ok maybe that's too far..
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Apr 17, 2015
Also, Anna Strong &333
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Apr 17, 2015
Found the show last season and fell in love. Really happy they moved it to Mondays. The premiere was perfect in reminding of me of the story line and characters. It deserves more attention.
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Apr 16, 2015
Great show, some how even better than last year. More shows like this are needed.
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Apr 15, 2015
So happy this is getting reviewed now. I hope it's a regular occurrence! Great little article, Ryan!
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Apr 15, 2015

oh and ps this was very well written
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Apr 15, 2015
YAY so happy you are watching this gem! And Simcoe performance is just freaking brilliant!!!
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Apr 15, 2015
Ryan Sandoval don't feel bad, I was a late convert to this show as well, it is pretty frickin awesome huh? Glad you're covering it. People turned off by the pilot should really try and make it mid-way into s1, the show really found it's footing by that point and I ended up loving it. Great show.
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Apr 14, 2015
Ryan, thanks for reviewing this, I hope that you continue to do so; this is indeed an interesting series and it deserves, in my opinion obviously, another shot. And I' m saying this as a non American.
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Apr 14, 2015
I gave up on the first season due to the appallingly bad CGI. There was a scene when 2 characters were out on a boat in water that looked pathetically fake in a boat that looked like it was made of Lego. I decided then that if the producers couldn't care enough to get simple things like that right, then why should I care. I also feel that Burn Gorman overacts in everything he has ever been in (this and Pacific Rim are prime examples)
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Apr 14, 2015
I'm willing to try it again. I did end up making it through all episodes of s1. And I love me some J.J. Feild. Bell and Gorman are favorites too. It's not perfect but it's decently done, and a good launch pad for educating oneself more about the period. Not that the intro sequence is all that important but I found it really grating last year so hopefully they've changed it. Thanks for giving it a thumbs up.
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Apr 14, 2015
Love this show. As a history buff unburdened by American or British identity, it is pure joy to watch.
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Apr 14, 2015
Unless they mean "give it another shot" as shoot it to it's grave I am even more excited about the season premiere tonight, since i already like the show. But i won't read more than the headline, since i am going to watch it tonight.
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Apr 14, 2015
Don't worry, it's all good things!
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Apr 16, 2015
Agreed.
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Apr 14, 2015
OK, can someone please give me a rundown of the must see episodes from Season 1 please? I'll be honest, after the pilot I deleted this from my list, not even bothering with the 4 Episode Test, it was just too dull and I really didn't believe it would get a second season... I was wrong. Not only has it got a second season, it's also got Ksenia Solo and damn if I haven't vowed to watch everything she ever appears! So can someone please help me burn through the Ksenia-less first Season so that I can start watching her again the new season sooner?
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Apr 15, 2015
I feel like a traitor to a good show for even doing this.. So I will preface the list by saying I TOO was not immediately pulled in by Turn, and in fact watched the pilot when it premiered and then abandoned the show until I recently watched S1 on Netflix... That said, once I got through the first few episodes, I was hooked right in. The pilot will always be kinda blah to me, as were the first few episodes. But the somewhat dull set-up had to happen to set everything else in motion, and this IS the type of show where there are details and character moments in all episodes that IMO are integral to truly enjoying the series. Just binge watch the damn show on Netflix.. Once you drag yourself through the pilot again I think about mid-way into the season you'll find you're quite invested in the show. However if you insist on watching only certain key and/or excellent episodes of S1 and you've already seen the pilot however long ago.. Watch eps 4,5,6 possibly 7 and absolutely 9&10. Enjoy
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Apr 15, 2015
Thank you for giving me a serious answer to my question, I appreciate it. I'm currently trying to keep up to date with about 30 shows, I'm often working 6 days a week (usually unsociable hours), I've got a list of shows I want to catch up with that totals approximately 85 shows and to try and prevent myself from missing anymore good shows I try to give everything the 4 Episode Test. There have been a lot of shows over the last five years that I've given a second chance to because of posts and comments on this site and a vast majority of those shows are still on one of my lists. TURN has been getting some really good buzz lately and I thought that maybe I hadn't given it a fair shake the first time around - which is pretty obvious considering I only watched the pilot - but to catch up to a show, even one that's only 11 episodes old, is quite time consuming.
Having said all that, I recently got a six month free trial with Netflix and so far I'm loving it. I hadn't realised TURN was on there but I'll seek it out and try to give it at least a proper 4 Episode Test!
Thanks again for your response.
More +
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Apr 15, 2015
You're welcome.
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Apr 15, 2015
9 and 10 is must watch episodes!
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Apr 14, 2015
Haha... Nice to see Mrs. Solo so appreciated! Anyway, I have to say that I did enjoy the 1st season so for me Ksenia will be an added plus (though I am curious to see how she fares in such a role) but if you found the first season tedious I would suggest that you stay away rather than resenting Ksenia for her professional choices...
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Apr 14, 2015
TrevPlatt, maybe you should stick to sitcoms if you have a limited attention span.
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Apr 14, 2015
I don't have a limited attention span, just limited time, which is why I won't waste any more of it on you or your pointless comments.
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Apr 15, 2015
Turn might not be a good candidate for the 4 Episode Test as it took the full season to find it's legs.It is still improving with an excellent two part opener.
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Apr 14, 2015
This comment has been removed.
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Apr 14, 2015
It's only 10 episodes so it won't take that long to catch up. But you can always go the 2-4-6-8-10 route. And watch 9 aswell.
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Apr 14, 2015
I'm so glad this show is back! Great opener for the 2nd season. And kudos for a great line in the recap: "History is the ultimate spoiler." Indeed it is! Gotta watch out for Wikipedia.
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Apr 14, 2015
This is an excellent show, and unlike anything else on TV right now. I'm glad to see it return,
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