The year is 1777, British troops control Philadelphia and the demoralized Continental Army grows distrustful of its commander in chief on “Thoughts of a Free Man” (Episode 201), the Season 2 premiere of “TURN: Washington’s Spies” on AMC.
Ben Tallmadge (Seth Numrich), the faithful liaison between Gen. George Washington (Ian Kahn) and the Culper Ring of colonial spies, frets about an anonymous handbill circulating in the camp.
The flier blames Washington for losing Philadelphia, while rumors surface that the Continental Congress might select another general to spearhead the rebellion. Much to Ben’s dismay, however, Washington seems unconcerned.
“Sir, I see myself as your eyes and your ears against all threats to your leadership,” Ben emphasizes.
“Then what do you see and hear in Philadelphia?” Washington sternly responds. And what about British naval activity in New York Harbor?
Requiring a full report before making his next move, Washington orders Ben to engage with spy leader Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell) or recommend a new head of intelligence.
But Abe hasn’t broken his silence for two months. And forcing contact could have deadly consequences, warns fellow spy Caleb Brewster (Daniel Henshall).
Abe has been incommunicado ever since Ensign Baker (Thomas Keegan), a Redcoat living at the Woodhull farmhouse, overheard talk of espionage. Abe reluctantly shot the kindhearted soldier, set fire to the farm and blamed the murder on marauding rebels.
Now Abe and his family reside in the stately home of his father, Judge Richard Woodhull (Kevin R. McNally), the magistrate of Setauket, N.J.
Abe’s wife, Mary (Meegan Warner), who concocted the story about the rebel raid, loves her husband but strongly disapproves of his covert activities. That’s why she tries to sabotage his latest plans while hosting a dinner for Maj. Richard Hewlett (Burn Gorman), commander of the local British garrison.
Needing an excuse to regularly visit New York and monitor the Redcoats, Abe announces that he will resume his law studies and seek an apprenticeship with a Manhattan barrister.
“And even if it takes me a year of going there and back, I will see it through,” Abe vows. “I have found my calling.”
“No, I’m sorry, Abraham. I can’t let you do that,” Mary says to the surprise of her guests. The roads to New York are far too dangerous, she asserts, because rebels are kidnapping and killing prominent Tories.
“I agree with you, Madam,” the major interjects. “And that is why I will guarantee his safety.” Therefore a Redcoat corporal will accompany Abe throughout his journeys.
“I believe your performance was excellent,” Abe says sarcastically when he’s alone with Mary.
“I don’t wish to be your adversary,” Mary explains. But now that their family is safe, she doesn’t wish to jeopardize this “second chance” for peaceful coexistence with the occupying British forces.
“We do not need their laws, their taxes or their protection,” Abe angrily retorts. “And I will not stop my mission for Washington until the last kingsman has set sail back to England!”
“You may go to New York to study the law, Abraham,” Mary calmly replies. “But I’m afraid that’s all you’ll have time for there.”
Across the Atlantic Ocean, meanwhile, King George III (Paul Rhys) poses for American sculptor/spy Patience Wright (Kate MacCluggage). When the king throws a tantrum and rips apart important documents, Patience manages to grab one of the pages and ship it to her colonial allies.
This act of bravery will cost Patience her life.
When a British soldier demands to know if the stolen document is headed for America, Patience defiantly says: “No, not America. It is bound for the United States!”