After the massive and disappointing failure of “Black Sails,” I was incredibly hesitant to try another show in which history was used as a backdrop for multiple storylines filled with intrigue, but after hearing the premise of “Turn,” it sounded like an idea that could have a lot of fascinating avenues to explore, and therefore it sounded too good to pass up. Based on the novel “Washington’s Spies: The Story of America’s First Spy Ring” by Alexander Rose, the show takes place in the American colonies starting in 1776. Abraham Woodhall (Jamie Bell) is a New York farmer just trying to provide for his wife, Mary (Meegan Warner), and son, but the crop doesn’t turn out very well, leaving him with little choice but to try and smuggle what he can to a friend of his, Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall). However, on the way home, he is captured by members of the Continental Army, one of which happens to be another acquaintance of his, Ben Talmadge (Seth Numrich).
It takes some convincing, but eventually Ben talks Abraham into becoming a spy for them, an idea that soon becomes officially sanctioned by General Washington himself. With the help of the local bar owner, Anna Strong (Heather Lind), meetings are arranged between Abraham and Caleb to turn over sensitive information. They have to be extremely careful not only because their little town of Setauket is controlled by British forces, but also because Abraham’s father, Judge Richard Woodhull (Kevin R. McNally), is a Loyalist who is friends with the Red Coat in charge of the town, Major Hewlett (Burn Gorman). Putting everything on the line, Abraham and his colleagues fight the war in their own way in hopes of obtaining their ultimate goal of freedom from tyranny.
“Turn” is a great example of a show where the intrigue is truly what it’s supposed to be by the very definition of the word: intriguing. Not only do we have the fascinating story of how the first spy ring in American history came to be, but we’re also treated to a plethora of side plots that end up being just as compelling as the main storyline. However, let’s start with the main premise first. In the beginning, the spying starts out as a very small, contained effort to get information about the enemy to the Continental forces, but as it’s found to be very useful, we get to watch it grow into a larger system that takes advantage of aliases, numeric cyphers, and multiple agents. Watching as Abraham must deal with these difficult duties under incredibly strenuous circumstances makes for some of the show’s most thrilling and tense moments, but here’s where those side plots also help add to the already enthralling situation.
From the show’s very first episode, we have a British officer, Captain Simcoe (Samuel Roukin), who gets captured, only to return to Setauket to cause innumerable problems for Abraham. Tensions are already strained between the townspeople and the British troops due to Major Hewlett’s orders to use headstones from their churchyard to defend their cannons, but Simcoe’s desire for blood only adds to it, especially in the climax. Meanwhile, we also have a ranger by the name of Robert Rogers (Angus Mcfadyen) out and about causing trouble as he goes about his business for the British, hunting down fugitives and murderers. Even the family drama here is surprisingly compelling. Abraham seems to grow colder and more distant from Mary and their son as he becomes more deeply involved with spying, even going so far as to start an affair with Anna, whose husband has been sentenced to a term on a prison ship.
In short, there’s so much going on here that there isn’t even a chance to be bored, especially given the high quality of the storytelling and how gripping each and every thread is. It’s the rare kind of show that makes you want to jump right into the next episode to see what new tension-filled development could possibly happen next. Whereas the characters in “Black Sails” had sat around and talked about doing interesting things without actually doing them, the characters in “Turn” discuss AND carry them out, taking you along on an exciting ride that just goes to show how exciting spying was even over 200 years ago. Like many others, I simply cannot wait to see what’s in store for season two.
“Turn: Season One” comes to Blu-ray in a 1.78:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of mostly excellent quality. There are times where the picture is noticeably fuzzier than normal, particularly during scenes set outdoors, but otherwise it is perfectly clear and sharp, giving you the chance to admire all of the exquisite period details. The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio is outstanding, presenting all dialogue and other soundtrack elements in flawless quality. Overall, the treatment here is great, doing justice to a fantastic show.
The History of Turn: Washington’s Spies: A very brief (less than five minutes) look at how Alexander Rose came up with the idea for his book and how he went about telling the story. Worth watching for the background info.
From Art to Image: Another very brief featurette, this time dealing with all of the attention that went into the sets, costumes, and props. It’s not particularly worth watching as it doesn’t really tell you much of anything.
Deleted Scenes: 25 minutes of cut scenes that are interesting to watch, but not really vital viewing.
“Turn: Season One” is a great start for a show filled with exciting intrigue and compelling, character-driven drama. It just goes to show that a history-based show can work very well when enough thought goes into the characters and storylines, which brings the whole project to vibrant life, and gives us a show that makes you want to jump right into the next episode to see what will happen. What more could you ask for, especially from a show that dares to teach you a little about American history?