TBT: John Adams, Episode 4


We’re recapping the 2008 miniseries John Adams each week because the 18th-century costumes and American history are just that good! Catch up with previous episodes here.

So! We are doing this thing! Woo!

Please note: I have had all the cocktails because it’s hot, and humanity is fucking shitty and look, I AM NOT SAYING MY COPING MECHANISMS ARE GOOD RIGHT NOW. DON’T JUDGE ME.

Where were we? Oh yeah, Holland.



John Adasm is sick AF.


You know this because his head is shaved, he’s sweating profusely, and he’s pale AF. His cloak, however, has some really nice detailing. Look at that needlewoven edging.


John gets good news: THE AMERICANS HAVE WON THE THING. So he has another audience with the Dutch … guys … who wouldn’t loan the Americans money in the last episode, but suddenly they’re all like “FUCK YES WE WILL GIVE YOU ALL THE MONEY … for 5% interest.”


John is like, “Sweet! But I am going to France now to meet my wife who I have not seen in like a million years…”




John shows Abigail her new digs. And then has awkward sex with her because they haven’t seen each other in years and well, that’s how adults do it.


You do get a nice shot of Abigail’s dress, which is undone to show the underlacing placket, which makes it all worth it from my standpoint.


Oh look, Jefferson is in Paris.


Abigail is wearing a chemise a la reine, which is a bit fashion forward for a mid-1780s American, but I am going to let it slide because I wrote my Masters thesis on this dress.


The chemise dress from the front.


And a good close-up 3/4 view. Also, is Abby kind of into Jefferson? I can’t quite tell.


Next scene, they’re preparing for a visit from Franklin, and Abby is wearing that seafoam green gown from the previous episode when she had dinner with the French Admiral.


Finally you get a good view of the dress.


Franklin, who is approximately 218339827394 years old, is having a conversation with Adams about stuff he should know because he’s a young whippersnapper.


Everyone attends the launch of the first hot air balloon. But the Wikipedia would like you to know that Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson weren’t in Paris when this happened IRL. The more you know.


Next thing you know, the Adamses are in London and about to meet the king.


Yay! It’s Tom Holland! Also, it’s super awkward.


Back on U.S. soil! Abby is greeted by her daughter, Nabby, who is all grown up. There’s awkward reintroduction with all the Adams kids because John hasn’t seen them in approximately 100 years.


Abby is wearing a nice striated silk taffeta gown while Important Things are being discussed.


But don’t worry, she’s right back in the gardens getting shit done in a practical pair of linen stays and a striped apron. Lest you think she was high falutin’.


John, meanwhile, has been elected Vice President of the United States and is giving his acceptance speech in front of people who are like, “WTF are you doing, bro?” Because none of this shit has ever been done before.


Washington shows up and it’s weird. If only everyone knew what a shitshow everything would be in 235 years.


How are you hanging with episode 4 of John Adams?


About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Sarah has an undergraduate degree in Clothing & Textile Design and a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture, with an emphasis on fashion history. When she’s not caught in paralyzing existential dread, she's drinking craft cocktails and writing about historical costume in film and television. She's been pissing people off on the internet since 1995.

27 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    Why does Tom Holland’s George III make me think of HAMILTON? But Abby is dissing TJ on his keeping slaves and letting him know that he needs to free women and the slaves.
    BTW what about Arby’s awesome gown for Versailles?

  2. Jillian

    No judgement here, hope you’re all doing okay.

    Wouldn’t his hair have been shaved anyway because he wears a wig? I’m not entirely familiar with how that works.

    • Maggie May

      In an early episode, we saw John coming home from a hard day and tossing his wig away to reveal a balding head. John Singleton Copley was the great portraitist of Colonial Boston and he showed us men without wigs (Paul Revere, Samuel Adams), men who sometimes perched wigs atop their natural hair to show their station in life (John Hancock) and at least one elegant gentleman relaxing in a sumptuous banyan with a turban on his shaved head.

      Given the earlier scene, it looks as though sickness had caused a shaven head.

  3. rashisama

    Silly question, is/would that be a wig in the last 2 pics (historically I mean) and if it is a wig why have such a receding hairline?

    • Maggie May

      Natural hair was probably the style for government work in the new republic. Of course, the actor may be wearing a wig–but it represents real hair.

      Washington never wore a wig. He had his hair powdered on occasion.I

      Styles were in flux in those days. Jefferson brought short hair back from Paris –Revolutionary chic. Later, he was in a position to decree that army officers should cut their hair.

  4. kristincooperholtz

    these are lovely. hope you are watching ntlive@home Coriolanus today and the showsmustgoon Peter Pan tomorrow. these theatre productions are completely helping me to get through this.

  5. Charity

    The Founding Father sex is kinda ick / weird (feels intrusive and wrong?) but aside from that, this is one of my favorite episodes just for prettily dressed Jefferson flirting up a storm with Abigail and John Adams Not Having It. LOL

    • Nzie

      I have never felt so uncomfortable watching a sex scene with so many clothes still on. And it seemed to last forever. Been over a decade now and still. That’s kind of HBO’s gig though. In light of me too stories about how these scenes could be abusive… I’m glad hbo apparently has invested in intimacy coordinators but I’d rather just go a little more old school and fade to black a lot earlier.

      • Charity

        I read somewhere the actors improved the entire thing and added a sex scene that wasn’t in the script — but I don’t know if it’s true or not. It did feel “out of place” given the rest of the miniseries.

    • Claudia Trent

      I have no problems with Founding Father sex. They’re supposed to be humans, after all.

      • Cathy

        Yup agreed. And felt realistic given their dynamic as a couple and the contest of the scene. I actually though it was pretty great to include it – not pandering at all and a reasonable nod to the real John and Abigail’s very successful partnership.

      • Nzie

        Did it make sense? Sure. I think actually its accuracy is what made it hard–I felt like an intruder on something special to them. I also think the lead-in accomplished a lot of that. So for me, it’s not “ick founding father sex”–it’s just not something I really want to see in detail.

        • Cathy

          Fair enough. I felt that much more strongly about Nabby’s upcoming surgery (uh, spoiler). Very difficult to sit through and far less pleasant than a bit of sex.

  6. Roxana

    I seem to recall that the meeting with George III actually went quite well, Adams and the king conceding that each had done what he thought was right and agreeing to let bygones be bygones.

    • Cathy

      Yeah, the scene in the show is very subtle and I think reflects that dynamic. Also awkward af. It’s a Very, very good show w a lot conveyed through scene set up and subtle body cues.

  7. Roxana

    BTW Adams was ferociously jealous of Washington’s status as the hero of the revolution.

    • M.E. Lawrence

      It’s what one loves about J.A.; he’s so very human. Washington never seems quite human, somehow, especially in this. (At least it wasn’t him and Martha having sex; I would have had to dive behind the sofa.) And Abigail’s green frock and the chemise dress are charming; the latter looks almost comfortable. P.S. How nice it is to be someplace where people aren’t arguing about masks, and whether to wear them outside at all times. Has FrockFlicks ever done a deep dive into masks? They were a big deal in the 17th century, I believe.

      • Van

        I honestly wonder if Washington was ace. Or perhaps had a medical condition, like one of the Russian Peters.
        …wait. that sounded bad.

        • Miriam

          “wait. that sounded bad.”

          So, you KNEW conflating asexuality and medical conditions is a harmful stereotype and yet you still felt the need to hit ‘post’!?

          Thanks for the microaggression! <3

          • Maggie May

            Perhaps she was referring to Washington’s inability to father children. Which has been suggested as a result of smallpox as a young man.

        • Roxana

          There is no reason to believe Washington didn’t have sex with Martha. To his credit he seems to have accepted that their failure to have children was probably his fault. Possibly due to an adolescent case of smallpox.

      • Cathy

        There’s a wonderful series of lectures by the presidential historian Richard Norton Smith about Washintron and JA. He loves JA but he had a lot of very interesting stuff to say about Wahington too. The idea that Washington was “embalmed by history” and very difficult to relate to as a man, even during his own lifetime. Smith does a great job of humanizing W and making him genuinely fascinating.

  8. Elyse

    Is it possible Abby would have ordered a chemise a la reine when she came to France? Before, during, and after the visit to France, she has a fair number of rewears; but I also note that she has new hairstyles and a parasol.

  9. SarahV

    Oh, yes, Abby was totally into Tommy J. Or at least Laura Linney was totally into Stephen Dillane. I mean who wouldn’t be. He is positively swoonworthy in this. Ooh-la-la……..

    • Amanda J Shirk

      I think probably the latter I this case, or Linney was just playing off Dillane’s flirty interpretation. They were actually friends of course, tom and Abby, but Jefferson was great at making friends with Ladies. He could talk easily to them for whatever reason, but I’ve never found anywhere that it was anything more than platonic.


Feel the love

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.