". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Turn: Washington's Spies - Season 2

~ ~ ~ ~        This is the AMC series about spies for Washington, and spies for the King, and spies and betrayals of everyone by everyone, from King George to General George Washington.

Season 1 was hard, due to pacing and  the difficulties getting  a handle on characters and their relationships, as well as a sense of location, despite having handy screen scrawls informing us where and when. CGI sets don't help with this kind of thing.

However, Season 2 was much improved (if no more historically accurate in many details and characters). There's less sex, but the sex is more  plausible -- indeed the sex is between John Andre, British officer, spy and prisoner, and  infatuated Peggy Shippen, a Philadelphia Tory, works very well, between the characters and in terms of the plotting -- and betrayals too.

The returning spy ring characters, and the new characters from the other side, such as John Andre, Benedict Arnold and Peggy Shippen, are a lot more interesting in themselves and in their relationships with each other.

         Recurring figure, British Major Hewlett, in particular deepens and broadens, which additionally illustrates how a long occupation in a fairly isolated place can and will blur the lines of 'sides' , at least among certain naturally compatible people, and loyalty, friendship and affection naturally springs up. We the audience begin to share sympathy with him as much as some of Turn's characters on Long Island.

General George Washington

In this season General Washington gets a fair amount of screen time; beyond that, he is shown taking the reins of the war as well as spying in his own hands.

Benedict Arnold
Benedict Arnold is played very much as I've always understood him to be. But where is Hamilton? Perhaps he's left out as an aide-de-camp in order to have room for Major Benjamin Tallmadge, Washington's Intelligence Officer, an historical member of the Culper spy ring -- though Hamilton also had some business in the surveillance of NYC's British military occupants?  Lafayette is in Valley Forge though, and the French fleet has arrived by the end of the season.

Washington is shown to be the most devious of them all -- which, whether or not there's historical evidence for this particular incident, I really like.  For American historians, Washington's a frustratingly illusive figure, in spite of how much is known. Why was he the most successful politician of them all, even Jefferson, for whose devious duplicity there is much documented evidence?  That Washington was as shrewd, cunning and devious as Jefferson does not necessarily change facts that he was -- as far as a slaveowning Virginian could be who was as obsessed with manufacturing his image and place in history as Jefferson-- an honorable, courageous and fair man, who genuinely believed it was his destiny and obligation to bring the states together, and to hold them together.  (Jefferson would have preferred to be separate from New England, except the south = Virginia couldn't afford it, either economically or politically in the larger world.)

Caleb Brewster is more than a spy. He likes gadgets and machines.  In season 2 he gets into British occupied New York harbor in a bathyscope machine. In the New Jersey battle set as a trap for Washington and the Continental Army he employs something like a grenade thrower.

My favorite single, recurring character is the Ring member, rough and ready, always loyal, acutely witted, Caleb Brewster.  However, Abraham Woodhull, as he's portrayed in this television series, is the most inept spy in the history of spying, partly because sex (which was a huge part of the difficulties with season 1's writing -- it just didn't work).  The historical Woodhull, though, was so cautious as to refuse to do anything at all for months, and even years.

Peggy Shippen (Ksenia Solo) and her true love, Major John Andre. Andre takes over Benjamin Franklin's house in British occupied Philadelphia.  When Philadelphia is retaken by the Patriots, Andre takes many of Franklins inventions and possession with him to New York, which Peggy awkwardly explains to Arnold, who takes the house in turn,  was "for safe-keeping," 
Adoration goes to the actress who arrived this season 2 to play Philadelphia Tory, Peggy Shippen. She is written here as really wanting John Andre, but got foisted upon Arnold to persuade him betray the U.S. and Washington (according to some, anyway). Peggy's played by Ksenia Solo, from the Canadian fantasy series, Lost Girl, which I adored, silly as it was, and much of the reason for loving it was Ksenia Solo and her character, Kenzie. (I'm still waiting for the last season to show up on netflix -- where the frack is it?)

Ksenia Solo plays Peggy Shippen so convincingly that it's a lovely watching experience. Once again Solo proves to be a skilled actress and does not need to depend on the mannerisms that made the Kenzie character so liked by so many, including me.

Perhaps the Big Plot in season 3 will be BA's plans to turn over West Point to the British and Peggy play-acting bonkers to save him and herself, while he escapes just by the bare skin of his britches to NYC and the British?  That will be tense! Their lives after this treasonous conspiracy were discovered weren't particularly or happy or prosperous.

I hope the series continues to feature a fair amount of Washington, which hardly any television or film does, because he's such a sacred figure. But I wish they hadn't made him hallucinate and be crazy -- and for no reason. That isn't helping. ​

Rachel spying on Major Andre
It would be terrific if Turn could do more for African American actors and actresses, beyond showing them silent and omnipresently laboring, or having a particularly talented warrior fairly new from

Historical Major Simcoe; more about him here. Don't believe everything about him seen on Turn.
Africa recruited into the British psychopath Major Simcoe's Queen's Rangers. Though the writers are trying to show an African American in Major John Andre's house spying on the behalf of the Patriots, it's awkward. That's because there really wasn't anything in the move to independence from Britain by the colonies for African Americans.  It was no revolution for them, and certainly no independence and freedom. Everything stayed the same for them. Those who joined the British and escaped with them after the war were the ones who found freedom.  It took the War of Southern Rebellion to make the real revolution for African Americans -- and it was when the Union armed black men it really began to win.

Season 3 of Turn: Washington's Spies, premieres next month along with a whole lot of shows, which I shan't see until they're on dvd from netflix.

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