Someone Tell Me Why I Should Like Turn: Washington’s Spies

38

PEOPLE. Y’ALL HAVE BEEN REQUESTING THIS ONE FOR YEARS, NOW. And Trystan is a big meanie and made me. So I did it. I paid for season 1 of Turn: Washington’s Spies (2014). And I made it through four slow, painful episodes during which I kept thinking “WHYYYYYYYY? What could possibly interest people about this show?” I even reached out to our Frock Flicks patrons on Patreon, asking if there were specific episodes I should be watching so as not to miss some hidden genius. But no dice there either.

I mean, the costumes don’t suck, but they’re not genius either (do things get massively more exciting in later seasons??). There are cute boys (J.J. Field! Samuel Roukin!). I assume they don’t mess up the history or y’all wouldn’t be praising it so much. But do I really care about the struggle between Abraham and his dad, which is so much of what the first 4 episodes are about? Do I care whether Abe is going to stick with his forced-upon-him nicey-nice wife Mary or his previous love Anna? Will the townspeople revolt if the Brits use their gravestones as cannon fodder? I DON’T CARE.

Turn: Washington's Spies (2014- )

Okay, so Burn Gorman as Major Hewlett is appropriately evil.

Turn: Washington's Spies (2014- )

But Abraham is just nothing to get excited about, principles notwithstanding.

Turn: Washington's Spies (2014- )

The addition of a knit cap does nothing for me.

Turn: Washington's Spies (2014- )

I’m not fascinated by father/son issues.

J.J. Field. YES. But I’d rather watch him be charming in Northanger Abbey.

Turn: Washington's Spies (2014- )

Samuel Roukin is both hot AND evil, a deadly combination! And hey, the wigs don’t suck!

Turn: Washington's Spies (2014- )

The costumes on the main women are fine! No back lacing, yay!

Turn: Washington's Spies (2014- )

And their hair is up!

Turn: Washington's Spies (2014- )

But I am unimpressed by the fit of these gowns in the so-far showiest scene.

Turn: Washington's Spies (2014- )

Especially Mrs. Biddy of Biddyton in the center back.

Alright kids. I’ve paid for all of season 1, so if you’ve got a SPECIFIC episode I can watch that will blow me away, tell me so in the comments. Otherwise, I did my duty — I tried, I swear I did!

 

What is the secret hidden genius of Turn: Washington’s Spies?

Tags

About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

38 Responses

  1. ladylavinia1932

    I simply like it, despite the historical inaccuracies. I must admit that I like how it’s a rather ambiguous take on the American Revolution. Although, I don’t like how it villainized the John Simcoe character, who was a lot better than that.

    But If you don’t like it, I guess you don’t. You should stick to your own feelings and not let others try to convince you otherwise.

    Reply
  2. Gail

    Stick with the Major Andre storyline. “Turn” took a bit to get on its feet, so to say; the storyline does get tighter and more interesting.

    Reply
  3. Janeheiress

    I’m with you, Kendra. I watched 2 or 3 episodes with a friend once and it just fell flat. Which is a shame, because Jamie Bell is usually so good! I blame the writers. The characters just aren’t interesting.

    Reply
  4. Stephani

    I give it a big ol’ “meh” too. But I do want to continue the series because I’ve heard it gets better. Thankfully it’s on Netflix.
    I’ll watch JJ Feild in anything.

    Reply
  5. atmarquise

    I’ve struggled so much with the first half of season 1.
    Really, I forced myself to watch it, because my friends said that it’s an awesome show. And then I suddenly realised that I can’t stop watching it.
    (And yes, Abe stroyline is boring)))

    There was a ball scene in S3, but I don’t remember in which episode.

    Reply
  6. Maureen

    Are you kidding??!! I love this show– it’s one of those shows that I run around saying everyone should watch but no one ever does! I feel like all the characters have a bit of nuance to them. And watch Episode 8– Jaime Bell’s monologue talking about how his brother died had me in tears.

    Reply
  7. Kathleen Norvell

    The show is filmed in Virginia and has consultants from Colonial Williamsburg working with it. Yes, the story does take time to develop, but then, so did the spy ring.

    Reply
  8. Jamie LaMoreaux

    why pay for it? it’s on netflix, all the seasons so far (I think) and I couldn’t get into it either. I suppose I have to give it another shot.

    Reply
  9. elizacameron

    I have struggled with this show because of the huge historical inaccuracies (why is Abraham’s father the only person using an American accent?) but it does get better during the Major Andre/Peggy Shippen/Benedict Arnold story line in Season 3. And then it sucks again at the beginning of Season 4.

    Reply
  10. Anne-Helen Wickizer

    I started watching because of JJ, plain and simple. Then I recognized Robert the Bruce from Braveheart, still makes my heart skip a beat. And then for psychopathic fun, there’s Simcoe…he doesn’t really come into his own until Season two, but boy howdy if you like nut jobs, he’s your man.

    Reply
  11. Bronwyn Benson

    I really enjoyed it when I watched it. I got behind though when we gave up cable, so now I’m waiting for it to end and I’ll watch it all on Netflix.

    I really liked the spy stuff, but I definitely get why people wouldn’t like it overall. Abe is a bit boring.

    Reply
  12. Amanda

    I’m with you, Kendra. I watched almost the whole first season when it first aired, missed an episode or two for whatever reason, never cared enough to catch up, and haven’t watched it since. Shame, since it’s got all the aspects of a show I ought to really like…but it’s an example of “less than the sum of its parts” for me, I guess. (I keep meaning to read the book it’s inspired by, as I hear that’s good…of course, I also hear the show’s good, too, so. Reserving judgement and all that.)

    Reply
  13. Theresa Chedoen

    I gotta say, that quilt frame is WAY too low, and i don’t believe for a minute those women have the first clue how to quilt. Sorry, it’s a long-standing complaint of mine, the way quilting is depicted in film and television.

    Reply
    • CalmDown

      As a quilter and a knitter-crocheter and a spinner… This. It looks like it is resting on their laps, like the set designers forgot to bring the stands. However! At least a quilting bee was shown, that it accurately portrays that even the well-to-do made quilts, and most importantly, not a knitting needle in sight! (The TP commercial about a quilting bee using knitting needles, remember that one? Yeah, someone better have been fired for that.)

      Reply
      • Saraquill

        And who outside of cartoons knits with the needles pointing down? Needles aimed upwards can’t be that hard to animate.

        Reply
        • Karen K.

          THIS, X1000. As a knitter, this makes me CRAZY. I remember buying a children’s book about a character who knits and in every single illustration, they were holding the needles upside-down! I was so annoyed, I returned the book.

          And I still remember that stupid TP commercial. It was Quilted Northern, you can still see the commercial on YouTube.

          Reply
  14. keighleyb

    If you’ve already paid for season 1, concentrate mainly on eps. 6, 8, 9 & 10. Despite the fact that Abe is definitely the main character, the show becomes a much more well-rounded ensemble as the second season progresses. The character development for several of them, including Mary, Richard, and Hewlett, is surprising and satisfying, and the plot lines and pacing improve, as well. As far as costume desserts, the introduction of Peggy Shippen at the beginning of season 2, has its rewards. The first episodes of the fourth season have been top notch, with the third episode quite possibly the best of the series. But if it’s just not your thing, well, move on to the next binge!

    Reply
  15. S.R.D.

    I too don’t see the appeal. It’s boring, not even remotely accurate, the men’s costume fit like potato sacks (more unforgivable that they were made for the production, not rental stock). It’s so inaccurate that a group of historians got together to snarkly help separate the actually interesting fact from this weird fiction. — https://spycurious.wordpress.com It doesn’t get better as it goes along — it gets bizarre.

    Reply
  16. Charity

    Dreadful show, full of dis-likable characters (except for Major Hewlett, the only honorable man around). The only reason I watch it is for Peggy Shippen (I did like Major Andre while he was there. SNIFF).

    As for it being historically accurate — um, no. Not really. They made up stuff. Changed around stuff. Turned Simcoe (a famous Canadian abolitionist) into a psychopath. Etc. I hate-watch it with a friend who knows the true history like the back of her hand, and she rants almost the entire way through.

    Reply
    • CalmDown

      I have felt very sorry for the real Simcoe and how his memory has been trashed in the show, to the point that I decided that though the names are similar, this Simcoe must be the real Simcoe’s batty cousin, a few times removed, and that’s why they share names. Just family relations, that’s all.

      Reply
      • Charity

        HAH!

        THIS Simcoe isn’t even a real Simcoe; he’s a lunatic escaped from a mental institution who has the real Simcoe tied up in a barn somewhere, knocked out with drugged wine, and is gleefully unleashing hell upon all who cross his path.

        Reply
    • Doe Cruzer

      That sounds…. bizarre. Why waste time hate watching it? And yeah, it messes with actual history, but so do most movies and shows based on real events. You have to dramatize things for the sake of entertainment. Otherwise it’s just a documentary with a higher budget.

      Reply
  17. CalmDown

    Just skip forward to when the action changes to Philadelphia and Peggy Shippen and her friends are introduced. That’s what I want to read about, yes please! Though there is also a dinner party in S1E8 with a group of ladies of the evening that I hoped would garner a few comments.

    I never really worry about accents, and add them to my suspension of disbelief pile. There are just too many factors about actors and accents to bother with usually. Yes, the show has a slow start, but come Season 2, Robert Rogers and the Rangers come into their own, and their addition changes the show’s dynamic.

    Reply
  18. Elisa B

    Season 1 takes awhile to get going and the back and forth between Abraham and his father gets tiresome, but the changes in the characters, specifically Hewlett, Simcoe, and Mary Woodhull, and the rivalries/schemes/conflicts of the later seasons make it more fun and exciting.

    Reply
  19. Lady Hermina De Pagan

    No, Don’t watch unless you want to watch me rage flip the table. This show is complete dreck. It took the REAL history of the Culpper spy ring and got it ALL WRONG!!!!!!!
    Anna Strong was 10-15 years older than Abe. Abe was the oldest child and did not get married until after the revolution. The event that radicalized him was the death of his cousin at the Battle of Mastic Beach.
    The head stone thing IS important, to those of us who actually LIVE on Long Island. About 25 years ago, they were putting an extension on a local Mall and they found a bunch of bodies and they were eventually traced back to this.
    Sorry, I get really excited about this since I grew up in Smithtown, which is where the Church that Major Hewlett stabled his horse in is located. I also lived on Woodhull Ave, down the road from Woodhull Elementary School, and my Hunny Bunny is a member of the Masonic Lodge in Port Jefferson( drowned meadow/ Setauket in the show) where all the Woodhull’s were members. They have all the documents from that time.

    Reply
  20. Caroline

    I’ve tried twice to get into this show and I just can’t. Which is sad because I’m a Rev War reenactor. All the reenactor s I’ve spoke to just can’t get into it. Actually one of our former members was the historical consultant for the production.

    Reply
  21. Adina

    You have to take some of Turn’s depictions of historical events with a grain of salt, but it does a great job of portraying the personal conflict that people at the time faced. Almost all other shows/movies that I’ve watched have depicted people as either gung-ho noble american good guys, or evil scheming british overlords. Turn actually shows that people had to face family members who were on the other side of the dividing line, and the reasons why people would change sides.

    Reply
  22. Penny H

    1) I’m sorry Kendra had to pay for it.
    2) There’s a copy of season 1 sitting on the shelf of my local library right now, which I’m not going to take advantage of, because
    3) even though I listened to the audiobook of Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring several months ago and have forgotten most of the history, from what y’all and the bloggers you have kindly linked to say about it, the historical inaccuracies in the show would be too much for me.
    4) The story in the book was mostly moderately interesting, and I think a TV series could have been made while retaining historical accuracy (maybe not four seasons?). I do remember there was a great chase scene near the end, but unfortunately I can’t remember which historical characters were involved…

    Reply
  23. ladylavinia1932

    For all of its flaws, “TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES” proved to be a lot better to me than that “SONS OF LIBERTY” crap from the History Channel. To be honest, I regard it as one of the better period dramas on the air right now – on both sides of the Atlantic.

    Reply
  24. Felice Erika

    To be honest, I’m pretty sure, even among people who like it, no-one actually likes Abe. At all. I only vaguely follow it because a few of my mutuals like it on tumblr and every time he appears they’re basically like, “can we get back to anyone who isn’t him and is actually interesting.”

    Reply
  25. ladylavinia1932

    Yeah . . . the Abe Woodhull character is a problem. I feel as if I’m watching a character who believes he is a better spy than he really is. I’m a big Jamie Bell fan, but Abe isn’t exactly a lovable character to me. He’s like another Don Draper.

    Reply
  26. Christine Moeller

    Oh my gosh, I completely agree. I do NOT get what all the fuss is about. I tried, and I couldn’t make it through more than a few episodes. I was SO bored.

    I’m a huge fan of historical dramas (ahem, excluding Reign, of course), so this should have been right up my street. However, I could not get into it for the life of me. Glad to know I’m not the only one!

    Reply
  27. Susanne Vanderhoef

    I’ve just started season 2, hate Abe (and am pleased to know I’m not alone), but am enjoying cross-relating it with Hamilton (I can’t help it, every time I see Charles Lee on screen, i hear “I’m a General! Wheee!” in my head.) Also Revolutionary War spy tech is awesome.

    Chimed in here to ask Kendra though, WTF is up with John Andre (the JJ Fields pic above) and his 80’s rat tail?? I cannot believe this is a period 1770’s thing in men’s hair? he’s gorgeous, but this is so distracting I’m finding it hard to focus on how pretty he is…

    Reply

Feel the love