Show Review: "TURN: Washington’s Spies" Season 3 Has Excellent & Complex Female Characters
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After Season 3's finale, fans and cast unite to campaign on Twitter for the show's return!
Warning: This contains spoilers from the third and previous seasons of TURN: Washington’s Spies
Hangmen, turncoats, and spies.
AMC’s revolutionary spy drama concluded its third season the way it began – with a double hanging. A hazard of being caught as a spy in the late eighteenth century, this season was consumed with threat and disloyalty as the story of Benedict Arnold (Owain Yeoman) took spotlight, and how exactly his fall from grace took place. Most Americans are taught to react negatively when hearing that name, but in truth, Arnold was a celebrated, effective officer in the Continental Army for years. His need for honor (mostly in the form of overdue payment), and a chance exchange between head of British Intelligence Major John Andre (J.J. Field) was what led to his eventual downward turn, which I thought was portrayed in excellence throughout the season.
Another highlight was the role of women in this season. Mary Woodhull (Meegan Warner), wife to “Culper Sr.” Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell), steps up where her husband cannot, taking chances (even taking a life) in order to protect her family by taking a shot at the “out for blood” Captain Simcoe (Samuel Roukin). I found her refreshingly engaging, especially considering she begins the series as a Loyalist, abhorred by her husband’s spying for the Rebels. Culper Ring member Anna Strong (Heather Lind) not only tries to manipulate the feeling of British Officer Major Hewlett (Burn Gorman) in order to protect him and the Ring, but also doesn’t allow her male counterparts to belittle her importance to the cause. Her scenes with fellow Ring members Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall) and Major Benjamin Tallmadge (Seth Numrich) are a mix of an adorable reunion and heated arguments (“Don’t treat me like I’m just a woman”).
Yet, coincidently, while excelling in writing complex (though few) female characters, one of the biggest blunders of this season is the handling of new character Sarah Livingston (Elizabeth Blackmore), who saves the life of Tallmadge (not once, but twice) as he is shot trying to escape capture. Their mutual mistrust turns to intimacy in a way Tallmadge has yet to experience with a woman, only to find out Livingston is a Tory. Despite her horror that he is a Rebel, Livingston doesn’t give Tallmadge up when his captures come to her door. What I really love about this character, despite her politics, is her conviction. She is a woman who’s been maimed by the Rebel cause (her husband being killed by them), yet willing to save the life of a man she doesn’t know she can trust. When given the option to betray her side, she, very much like Tallmadge, refuses to save her own life. While I could feel her demise coming, it unfortunately came about in a most infuriating way. Livingston winds up being killed when a random Continental Officer we’ve never seen before (and I’m sure we’ll never see again) attempts to rape her, and then shoots her in the struggle. To end this storyline in such an abrupt way is not only unimaginative, but completely disruptive of the created narrative. Livingston should have died for her beliefs as most of the men we’ve seen die this season. Instead, she is reduced to a mere sexual object and becomes a casualty of a drunken jerk, who has no further purpose. She becomes a victim. Not even a victim of war, just…a victim. In allowing this, the producers also took away an important choice for Tallmadge to either let Livingston go, or follow the rules and keep her a prisoner of war, a choice that would’ve shown character development instead of simply a silent, inferred pain on his part.
Despite that fault, the third season of TURN continued the show’s reputation of being a rare delight on television. I have seen no show that could match its story, not only that of familiar names in history, but also an untold story of lives so important that most of us should be able to recite, yet haven’t even had the chance to learn their names. I think the show producers wanted it that way. With the season ending with Benedict Arnold dolled-up in his new red coat, the lives of the Culper Ring are in greater danger than ever before, and we may not have a chance to see how that all plays out. It all depends on whether or not AMC gets picked up for another season.
So, tonight on Twitter during the show’s normal time slot (7 pm PST), fans and cast alike are campaigning to have the show renewed. In a fandom online event, Tweeters are encouraged to use the hashtag: #RenewTurn and to tag @AMC_TV in their posts, hoping to get the hashtag trending and catch the attention of the network’s decision makers. I’m onboard with this campaign myself. From a fellow fan of Turn, here’s a plea to AMC they don’t leave the audience hanging from the noose.
TURN: Washington’s Spies airs on AMC. It is available to watch on amc.com and Netflix.