Not So Honest Abe

When the ads began airing for the second season of TURИ:  Washington’s Spies, I decided to take some time out for an American History diversion. Since I hadn’t watched the first season (which aired beginning in April 2014), I wanted to view those episodes first and I’m still going through them. I may not catch up until season two goes to Netflix.Turn-AMCThe series has received generally favorable reviews. Critics on the rotten tomatoes website were mixed, offering a 52% favorable though the audience score (82%) was more impressive. Those ratings have gone up now that season two is in progress.

When the series originally aired in 2014, I expected I wouldn’t care for the show. Although I love history, and especially American history, I had my doubts about whether the show would have minimal history and lean towards being only a soap opera with period costumes.

Because I didn’t know about the Culper Spy Ring around which the story revolves, when I learned about that aspect, my interest grew. Maybe I’d actually learn some history while watching this “spy thriller.” According to, the spy ring “would become the most effective of any intelligence-gathering operation on either side during the Revolutionary War.” Why did I not know about this aspect of American History until now?!

SpiesI’m just over halfway through the first season at this point. The story of the spy ring’s formation has been carefully laid out (some might have found it too slow but I didn’t). The relationships between the main characters were unclear from the start but as gradual back-story details have come out with each episode, I’m getting a clearer picture. I actually appreciate having had to wait for certain things to be revealed.

As far as period costumes, they are stunning. If there is something of a soap opera aspect, it hasn’t been terribly annoying. What I’ve enjoyed most of all is gaining an understanding (granted, it’s a limited understanding) of what Revolutionary times might have been like. Each time there’s a mention of the British military men being quartered in private homes, I’m reminded why the Founders considered Amendment III of our US Constitution so important!

redcoatThe fact British forces were the judges of all decision-making as well as their arbitrarily determining when a “crime” was committed gives us a sobering look at how awful living then might have been. Certainly, the squalor of a prison ship in the harbor was likely much worse than portrayed. Likewise, the hanging execution of an American soldier for what we might consider “petty” reasons gives one pause for reflection.

From what I’ve read about the series, the second season improved on the first, reflecting a quicker pace now that the main characters are better known to the audience. In season two, the character of Benedict Arnold appears as part of the story line, and I expect his appearance will up the ante of cloak and dagger intrigue.

The show features the usual interactions and familial conflicts. I think it communicates the understandable reluctance of a New Jersey farmer (Abraham Woodhull) who finds himself becoming involved in what could be a deadly enterprise. He has to be deceptive to accomplish his missions and every unexpected turn could be his last. Also, because there are others in the spy ring, all of them are in danger, even if only one gets caught. It’s a fine line the spy characters walk.

I’ve enjoyed the series thus far. I imagine myself as the characters and I must acknowledge – because I’m a terrible liar – I’d have been caught … probably on my first mission. Good thing the American Revolution didn’t depend on me!

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