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TURN: Washington's Spies is a television drama that premiered on AMC on April 6, 2014. The series is set during The American Revolution and is based on Alexander Rose's Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring.

Abraham Woodhull (Jamie Bell), a cabbage farmer in Setauket, Long Island, is recruited to be a spy by American Capt. Benjamin Tallmadge after being caught smuggling goods in the black market. Woodhull and his former fiancee Anna Strong become involved in a spy ring for the Continental Army, finding important information for the Americans as the British hold New York City. Burn Gorman plays Major Hewlett, commander of the royal garrison in Setauket.

The series ran for four seasons and 40 episodes, with the series finale airing on August 12, 2017.


This original series contains examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: Simcoe is obsessed with Anna, and makes several efforts to gain power over her in the first two seasons. Come season three, though, they never interact at all and, after she leaves Setauket for good, he doesn't even mention her.
  • After-Action Patch-Up: In the pilot episode, Tallmadge is shown being patched up after his ambush with the Queen's Rangers; Simcoe is shown having a bullet being removed by Tallmadge's men in the second episode after being ambushed by the Continental Army.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: Yes, the Patriot forces really did have a crude version of a submarine called a Turtle.
  • Angry Black Man: Jordan/Akinbode. Though, as a former slave, you can't say that he doesn't have his reasons. He gets calmer when he joins the Queen's Ranger and becomes Simcoe's right hand man.
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  • Anti-Villain: Major Hewlett, commander of the British regulars occupying Setauket. A thoroughly decent and honorable fellow, who would have been an astronomer if he could have afforded it but was forced to join the army instead.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: Arnold and Andre meet in a cabin to settle details about the surrender of West Point. Arnold holds out for more money, but Andre delivers a satisfying zinger in response.
    Arnold: I'm a bloody war hero!
    Andre: For them.
  • Artistic License – History: A number of events and characterizations have been changed to spice up the story. In general, the Setauket storylines were heavily fictionalized, while the storylines not directly involving the Culper Ring—most notably Benedict Arnold's treason—were closer to Real Life.
    • Abraham was single throughout the war and only married Mary in 1781, while Anna Strong was ten years older than him - hardly his childhood friend/sweetheart. She'd also had several children with her husband by the time the war started.
    • Nor was Abraham involved in any way with the Yorktown campaign either as a spy or a soldier; he remained a placid New York farmer throughout.
    • John Graves Simcoe is given a massive Historical Villain Upgrade.
    • Nathaniel Sackett is killed by a British spy in the second season, but in real life he lived until 1806.
    • "The Black Hole of Calcutta" has a good gag regarding the colonialists marveling at the cleverness of a spork, but the first sporks weren't invented for a good hundred years after this time frame.
    • In this version of events Selah Strong is a member of the Continental Congress.
    • There are multiple references to Akinbode and/or Abigail seeking freedom from slavery in Canada. Slavery in Canada was legal at the time and would remain legal for several years after. Slavery was semi-banned in Ontario in 1793 under a law passed by the governor of the province—John Graves Simcoe.
    • On the show Washington offers Arnold command of the left wing of the Continental Army just seconds before a messenger comes in with the news of the capture of Andre, causing Arnold to realize that he is screwed. While Washington did make such an offer to Arnold, it was on July 31, 1780, long after Arnold had entered into treasonous communication with the British but nearly two months before the exposure of the plot and Arnold's panicked flight.
  • Artistic License – Military: Somehow, Brigadier General Benedict Arnold finds himself being ordered around and bullied by a junior officer, Col. Cooke.
  • As You Know: Done pretty well in second-season premiere "Thoughts of a Free Man", which establishes that not only has Philadelphia fallen, but that it fell when Washington was defeated at the Brandywine when he left his flank wide open.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Benedict and Peggy Arnold find themselves in a miserable unhappy marriage in Season 4, after Peggy's true love John Andre got hanged and Benedict is stuck as a social outcast held in contempt by the British in New York. It gets so bad that Peggy actually joins in a conspiracy to kill him! (The series finale has Arnold exiting a whorehouse, while Peggy weeps at Andre's tomb in London.)
  • Babies Ever After: The montage that concludes the series reveals that Mary got pregnant again soon after Abe came home, while Anna wound up popping out three babies for Selah.
  • Back for the Finale: After not being seen since the next-to-last episode of Season 3, Robert Rogers pops up in London for the Season 4 and Series finale. He's exactly the dirty drunken bum that he became in Real Life, although he still has one more wacky scheme that he wants Arnold to help him with.
  • Batman Gambit: Major Andre is extremely insulting to Rogers after removing him from command of the Queen's Rangers. He hopes that Rogers temper will get the better of him and he'll try to attack Andre; at that point, the soldiers waiting in the next room will rush in and arrest Rogers. However, Rogers is savvy enough to spot the trap and just walks away.
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty!: In-Universe. Washington reveals to Ben that Nathan Hale's famous last words - "I regret I only have one life to lay down for my country" - are a fiction, circulated by the Continental army in order to provide inspiration to its men. Ben is dismayed by the truth. (In Real Life it is true that no one troubled to record exactly what Hale said.)
  • Becoming the Mask: Anna has to get closer to Major Hewlett in order to facilitate the spy ring's plots, but she genuinely grows to like and even possibly love him, and she deeply regrets having hurt him when the truth finally comes out.
  • Been There, Shaped History: The one bit of Artistic License that the show takes with Season 3's Arnold/Andre plot is making a vengeful Robert Rogers the agent of Andre's downfall, by causing the withdrawal of the British ship and directing the Patriot raiders to Andre. After helping the raiders capture Andre, Rogers tells them "I Was Never Here" and vanishes.
  • Betty and Veronica: Mary as Betty and Anna as Veronica for Abraham.
  • Big Applesauce: "York City", the main British stronghold in the colonies. Abraham has to make perilous journeys in and out of NYC to get information.
  • Big Fancy House: The Strong residence.
  • Bitter Almonds: In "Against Thy Neighbor", the town doctor catches the scent from an apple, leading to the conclusion that Major Hewlett's horse was poisoned.
  • Bitter Sweet Ending:
    • The sweet: The colonies become independent, and most of the Culper Ring go on to live happy, productive lives. Hewlett achieves his dream of being an astronomer and has a loving wife. Simcoe somewhat reforms and, while Governor of Canada, abolishes slavery, making it a safer place for Akinbode, Cicero and Abigail (when she eventually gets there) to live.
    • The bitter: Slavery continues in America despite all of Selah and Hamilton's attempts to stop it, Abigail is enslaved once more and has to make a break for freedom, and Abraham regretfully notes that the bill for such cruelty will have to be paid in time. Peggy is trapped in a horrible, loveless marriage. Anna seems more settled in her role as wife and mother, but also doesn't really seem that content with her life, leaving it up in the air whether she misses Abraham or Hewlett. And Thomas Woodhull, believing that his father was a great soldier during the Revolutionary War rather than a spy, tries to emulate him — and is killed during the War of 1812.
  • Blood-Splattered Warrior: Ben Tallmadge in his first scene. Only natural since it is set during the American Revolution.
  • The Bus Came Back: Many characters. Hewlett takes the bus at the end of Season 3 after being humiliated by Anna but comes back for the last few episodes of the fourth and last season. Selah Strong goes over to the American lines in the Season 1 finale, only to come back in Season 4 and be reunited with Anna. Akinbode misses all of Season 3 but comes back in Season 4, seeking to reunite with Abigail and Cicero. Robert Rogers disappears after episode 3-9 only to come Back for the Finale (see above).
  • California Doubling: The series is set in and around Long Island, New York circa 1770s. It was actually filmed in Virginia around Richmond and colonial Williamsburg; the numerous hills rather give the game away for the Long Island scenes. Virginia does a better job imitating the scenes set in Washington's Morristown camp and other parts of Northern New Jersey; that area is also quite hilly.
  • Call-Forward: Abraham anticipates The American Civil War in the last scene.
    "It may be that the price of our new union was to overlook our greatest divide. Or it may be that the bill will come due with a vengeance."
  • Cannot Keep a Secret: Mary Woodhull, initially. Abe confides in her that his father is planning to let the Brits use the tombstones of their dead as barriers, and asks her not to tell anyone. She almost immediately spills the beans to the town gossips in the very next scene. Later this is averted, after Mary finds out the truth about Abe's activities. She takes a level in badass and winds up being possibly a better spy than he is.
  • Cassandra Truth: Benedict Arnold delivers one. Arnold, an acute judge of military tactics, takes one look at a map of Yorktown and realizes it is a bad place to make a base. Arnold tells Clinton that fortifying Yorktown would leave the army vulnerable to being cut off by land and sea. Clinton blows him off.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Peggy has one in "Reckoning" when she dreams that Benedict Arnold murders her.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Abraham passes on information about Hessian troops spending the winter in Trenton. As anyone familiar with American history knows, just a month later that information leads to the Battle of Trenton.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Mary learning to shoot and being shown to be quite good at it later is what gives her the confidence to take Simcoe out on her own. The only reason he lives is because she shoots his ear off instead.
  • Childhood Friends: Abraham, Benjamin, Caleb, and Anna all were childhood friends.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Abraham and Anna were originally betrothed to each other, but it was vetoed by Abraham's father.
  • City of Spies: New York City, the British military hub in the rebellious colonies. Robert Townsend is sending out info from within the city to Abraham Woodhull; other spies flit in and out.
  • Clueless Boss: Maj. Hewlett is ostensibly the commander of the British forces in Setauket and, realizing that there's a lot of anti-Tory sentiment underfoot, tries to be as fair-minded as possible. In practice, though, he's so clueless that at one point, Capt. Simcoe manages to poison his beloved horse right under his nose.
  • Les Collaborateurs: Tories are thick on the ground in Long Island. They include Abraham Woodhull's father Richard, who is basically the Tory mayor of Setauket.
  • Conversation Cut: The plan to take Arnold is explained this way in "Nightmare". The scene cuts back and forth between Ben explaining it to Washington and Ben explaining it to Abe. At one point Washington says "One stipulation," and there's a cut to Ben telling Abe what the stipulation is.
  • Costume Drama
  • Costume Porn: The historically accurate dress is impressive.
  • Cultured Warrior: Major Hewlett, Major Andre, and Major Tallmadge are this to varying degrees.
  • Darkest Hour: For the Patriots, the late fall of 1776 (when the show starts) is this. Washington's army has been smashed and sent fleeing into New Jersey, and the British have taken over in New York City and Long Island.
  • Day Hurts Dark-Adjusted Eyes: They didn't have electricity or anything in 1782 to shine a bright light in Akinbode's eyes as he's getting out of a jail cell in "Washington's Spies", so the sun shining brightly through a window does the job as the guards open the door to Akinbode and Cicero's cell.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Townsend is prone to this.
    Abe: What are you doing here?
    Townsend: I was going to ask myself the same thing. (Having just seen Simcoe terrorize a crowd in Setauket and scream he's going to raze the place down) Lovely town, by the way. Can't imagine why I didn't visit earlier.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Anna being angry that her slaves are freed out from under her is a prime example; she protests that they won't be able to survive on their own.
  • Depraved Homosexual: "Who By Fire" reveals that Captain Joyce was killed by his spurned gay lover.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Simcoe, having failed to kill Hewlett under the guise of 'rescuing' him from the Continentals, assumes he'll die in the harsh winter weather with little protection and lies to Anna that he's dead. He did not expect Hewlett to not only survive and get back to Setauket, but walk through the door right as he's 'comforting' Anna.
  • Dramatic Irony: Simcoe tells Will Robeson that he still believes that Abe was the one who murdered Captain Joyce and wants Will's help in proving it. What Simcoe does not know is that Will is the actual murderer and the last thing he wants is for the case to be reopened. Since Abe and Robert Rogers helped cover up what Will did, he also does not want Simcoe to be going after Abe since Abe might reveal what really happened.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Major Andre gets good and drunk in Season 2 finale "Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot" after his machinations wind up getting his girlfriend Peggy Shippen engaged to Benedict Arnold, while his effort to use Charles Lee to lure the Patriots into a trap at Monmouth fails after quick action by George Washington.
  • Due to the Dead:
    • One of the conflicts in the episode "Eternity How Long" is over the use of Setauket's gravestones to bolster the garrison's fortifications, which the townspeople see as an act of desecrating the dead.
    • In "Nightmare" Ben suggests they put Richard's body in the burial ground (no doubt filled with soldiers who have died in camp). Abe angrily rejects this notion, insisting that he will bring his father's body home to be buried with his family.
  • Enemy Mine:
    • In Season 3, Abe and Hewlett put aside their differences, as a Patriot Spy and a British officer, in order to hatch a plot to get rid of Simcoe once and for all. Sadly, it doesn't work.
    • They do it again in Season 4, although by this time Hewlett is so cynical about the war and his army career that he hardly counts as Abe's enemy.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Several of these in the pilot episode:
    • Benjamin Tallmadge is shown playing dead after an ambush and takes the Queen's Ranger who's about to bayonet him by surprise, and takes on his uniform to flee the scene.
    • Abraham Woodhull is a dutiful farmer and family man, who cares more about the state of crops than espionage.
    • Robert Rogers is a fierce, cynical soldier who is able to lead an effective ambush. He is also Properly Paranoid and very quickly spots Ben's ruse.
    • Both Richard Woodhull and Major Hewlett are first shown discussing the court martial of a British captain and his skirmish. Hewlett gives great attention to the law and is more interested in justice than mercy; Richard, a Tory, is interested in colluding with Hewlett to discover who started the fight.
    • Lieutenant (later Captain) Simcoe is a quietly intense man, who's obsessed with Anna but doesn't understand her at all - when showing up to smugly inform her of his promotion and finding her deeply upset at the fact that her husband's been sent to prison, he bemusedly asks "Are you all right?"
    • Caleb Brewster first appears from behind Abe, putting a knife to his throat and threatening him - which quickly turns into joviality when he recognises his old friend.
    • Washington doesn't show up until the very end of "Epiphany", but when he does it's a hell of an entrance; he's first seen from the back, advancing into a room of cheering and applauding soldiers, before he enters another room with a very nervous Ben, seats himself with full authority, and — as we finally see his face — intensely asks about Abraham Woodhull.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • The British officers are horrified by Rogers' actions when he opens fire during a prisoner exchange. The already unpopular Rogers is stripped of his command of the Queen's Rangers.
    • Both Andre and Hewlett are appalled when they realize how bloodthirsty and brutal Simcoe is. When Hewlett realizes what a loose cannon Simcoe is, he has him arrested and gagged.
  • The Everyman: Abraham Woodhull. He's just an average New York farmer who is more interested in making a profit than any ideological fights, and is only brought into spying due to being caught selling cabbage on the black market.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Completely inverted with Simcoe. His voice sounds quite low in the pilot episode, but after that, he speaks in an eerily high register while committing more despicable deeds than the rest of the main cast combined.
  • Failed a Spot Check: The British troops defending the church are so focused on the Patriot raiding force taking the town that they fail to notice a group of rebels sneaking into a patch of woods on the British left flank. They pay dearly for it.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Discussed Trope in Season 3 finale "Trial and Execution". Andre is obviously scared but still mounts the wagon and puts on the noose by himself. He asks everyone in the audience to bear witness that he met his fate bravely.
  • False Flag Operation:
    • Abe suspects that it was Simcoe who poisoned Major Hewlett's horse and had Abe's father shot so the British would go after the suspected Patriots in the town.
    • In an episode appropriately entitled "False Flag", Tallmadge forges a seditious letter from Gates to Lee to prove to Washington that Lee is plotting against him.
    • Abraham sends Caleb to attack Samuel Townsend's farm, posing as a Queen's Ranger, in order to give Robert Townsend the last push he needs to become Abraham's contact in New York.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: Simcoe poisons Hewlett's prized horse and has someone shoot Abe's father to have an excuse to round up supposed Rebel sympathizers. Backfires when Abe "accidentally" demonstrates the holes in Simcoe's charges
  • Femme Fatale: New York actress Philomena becomes one of these for the British.
  • Good-Looking Privates
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Mary and Anna don't usually wear anything too elaborate, but you can count on Peggy Shippen (and the other Philadelphia society ladies) to have the most fashionable gowns.
  • Greeting Gesture Confusion: Washington is taken aback when Lafayette kisses him on both cheeks, to say the least.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality:
    • Each side has both heroes and less than admirable men serving in their ranks. The British side has more evident villains, but the Patriot army still gets up to some pretty shady stuff that modern viewers won't approve of.
    • Rivington the Tory newspaper publisher spells this out, telling Townsend about how the Sons of Liberty wrecked his paper and drove him out of New York in 1775, and saying that the Patriots are just as "zealous and intolerant" as the British.
    • Woodhull talks about this in the last scene of the series.
    Abraham: The revolution never ends. It was hallowed as a triumph of the righteous over the wicked, but the battle lines were not clearly drawn. The real war, the one between good and evil, was fought within ourselves.
  • Heel–Face Turn: The excesses of Capt. Simcoe lead to Richard, formerly a staunch Tory, changing his allegiance. By the beginning of Season 4 he's fully invested in the Culper Ring.
  • Hellhole Prison:
    • Selah Strong and Samuel Tallmage are both imprisoned on the notorious prison ship HMS Jersey. After a few months Selah is a wreck and barely alive. Samuel died from dysentery.
    • About midway through season two Abraham ends up captured and thrown in prison. His attempts to negotiate his release get him beaten by both his captors and his fellow inmates.
    • Major Hewlett, after his capture for a murder he did not commit, is stripped naked and left in a small wooden pen. He is then mentally tortured to the point of almost committing suicide, tries to convince himself he is guilty, has to sever his own gangrenous toe, and to top everything off his supposed rescuers intend to murder him.
  • Hidden Depths: Who would've thought that in Season 3, Mary Woodhull would turn into the most quick-thinking, resourceful and ruthless member of the Culper Ring?
  • Historical Domain Character: The entire cast of the show.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade:
    • The real Abraham Woodhull was very hesitant to get into the spy business, and his skittishness (as well as his frequent pleas for more money, much to the annoyance of George Washington and his war cabinet) was a source of much frustration for the Patriot army. Here, he goes from that to a fiercely determined patriot sympathizer.
    • There's no concrete evidence that Anna Strong ever did anything to help the Ring other than accompanying Woodhull into New York as a disguise, supposedly-married men being less suspicious than single travellers — which admittedly was fairly dangerous on its own. Her hanging a black petticoat as a signal is more family folklore.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade:
    • John Graves Simcoe in the show is the opposite of the real Simcoe. The show's Simcoe is a bloodthirsty psychopath. Although the real Simcoe did piss off the townsfolk of Setauket, he was for the most part an honorable man who served after the war as an extremely efficient administrator in Canada, and is still remembered and celebrated to this day.
    • Charles Lee is considered to be an incompetent and/or unlucky general who might have divulged information to the British to save his life. On the show he is an outright traitor.
    • In real life John Andre didn't assume intelligence duties until several years after the 1776 setting of Season 1, and he wasn't very good at it, as evidence by how he bungled the Arnold affair and got himself hanged. Here, he is a cool, effective spymaster.
    • By this time Robert Rogers was a drunken has-been trading on his past reputation. The show depicts more of the canny wilderness warrior from the French and Indian War and the campaign against Pontiac. (Although by the end of the series Rogers is a drunken has-been.)
  • Hitler Cam: Used for the terrifying Capt. Simcoe in "Mercy Moment Murder Measure" when he approaches Anna while she is scrubbing the floor of the tavern.
  • Hoist by Their Own Petard: Andre's dismissive attitude towards Hewlett means that Hewlett withholds the true identity of 'Samuel Culper' until the very morning Andre has to set off and meet with Arnold. Andre's left scrambling to get the news to Clinton, and in the end it was all for nothing as Abigail burns his letter before it was posted.
  • In Spite of a Nail: In season 2, Patriot agents are able to recover valuable intel regarding Britain's dire finances and aimed to use the information to broker an alliance with France. Robert Rogers manages to recover the intel for the crown, but of course an American diplomatic mission was able to secure the French alliance anyway.
  • Invisible Writing: One of the things Abraham Woodhull does as part of his spy work for George Washington is transmit messages via invisible ink that requires the application of a coat of "reagent" for the message to be visible.
  • I Was Never Here: Robert Rogers says this word-for-word in "Blade on the Feather" after arranging Andre's capture.
  • Jerkass: General Scott, who blows off Tallmadge and refuses to use Woodhull's intelligence, mostly out of spite.
    • Benedict Arnold, who behaves like a petulant child anytime he believes someone isn't giving him whatever he believes he deserves.
  • Joker Immunity: Simcoe is repeatedly in a position to be killed by people who have plenty of reason to do so, and always manages to weasel, finagle, or simply luck out of it actually happening. This partly because the character is a deliciously monstrous villain, and partly because the actual historical figure survived the Revolution and went on to become a successful administrator in Canada.
  • Jumped at the Call: Simcoe, demoted to office clerk thanks to his actions in Season 1 and humiliated by his co-workers, gets a summons from John Andre and is out of there like a bat out of hell - though not before scaring the shit out of the man who'd been mocking him half a minute earlier.
  • Kick the Dog: In order to build up their defences, the Redcoats at Setauket steal headstones from the graveyard. For an added kick, they force Judge Woodhull to determine which stones will be used, with the implicit threat that if he refuses, they'll use the headstones of his wife and son.
  • Kneel Before Frodo: A very understated example in series finale "Washington's Spies". George Washington himself comes to Setauket, and asks to have DeJong's tavern for a dinner party. DeJong barks at Abe, who is scraping for money by being a busboy at the tavern, to set the table. Washington says "Mr. Woodhull is to be the man of honor." Then he gives a bow to Abraham Woodhull, humble cabbage farmer and tavern busboy.
  • Ladykiller in Love: John Andre has a habit of seducing women and recruiting them for his causes. However, he genuinely falls in love with Peggy Shippen and is heartbroken when his plotting accidentally gets her engaged to Benedict Arnold, and out of his reach.
  • Large Ham: Abe while prosecuting the supposed conspiracy to assassinate Major Hewlett. He's intentionally trying to lose the case by acting overzealous to cause the citizens of Setauket to turn against the case.
  • Literal Metaphor: In Season 3 finale "Trial and Execution", General Clinton orders the orderly collecting Major Andre's outgoing mail to "cut through the red tape" and see if there's anything for Clinton. It's actual red tape, tying up a bundle of letters. (The practice of binding up letters and documents in red ribbon is how the phrase originated.)
  • Loose Lips:
    • While in New York, Abraham approaches some Hessian soldiers who are cooking sauerkraut. When he mentions that he is a cabbage farmer they get friendly and the soldiers tell him that their brigade will be spending the winter in the small village of Trenton, New Jersey. This type of information is vital to Washington's army.
    • Richard Woodhull is given the unpleasant task of choosing which gravestones will be dug up and used in fortifications for Setauket. He tries to make his selection ins such a way as to offend the least amount of people and cause the least amount of ill will in the community. He confides his worries in Abe who then confides in Mary. However, Mary Cannot Keep a Secret and quickly tells the women in her sewing circle. The news spreads through the town and soon Richard has an angry mob in front of his home.
    • Averting this is why Ben refuses to divulge Abe's name even when ordered to do so by a superior officer. Abe is then given the codename "Culpeper" so his real name never appears in any correspondence.
      • This gets Abe thrown into the brig of a French warship at the end of 4x08, since Lafayette doesn't believe that Samuel Culper and Abraham Woodhull are the same person (and this is the first time he's ever met Abe face-to-face). Thankfully, Caleb secures his release in the next episode.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Abraham, his wife Mary, and his very good-looking old girlfriend Anna, whose husband is conveniently arrested and taken to a British prison ship in the pilot. Mary, for her part, is getting more and more friendly with the British soldier quartered in the Woodhull home.
    • Series 2 throws Major Hewlett into the mix, when he begins to court Anna. And glowering on the edge is Simcoe, who is obsessed with Anna but is flat out loathed by everyone else in the equation.
  • Love Hurts:
    • Every romantic relationship in this show suffers from this. Every single one.
    • Simcoe at one point gets Akinbode to admit that he's in love with Abigail and, no doubt thinking of his own obsession with Anna, quotes Catullus 85: "I hate and I love. Why I do so, you ask? I know not, but I feel it, and I am in torment."
  • Love Ruins the Realm: A downplayed version; Andre's love for and desire to attain Peggy Shippen leave him thinking more and more with his heart rather than his head, meaning he makes several dangerous decisions that eventually lead to his capture and execution.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Nathaniel Sackett, Tallmadge's mentor in spycraft, is killed by a British agent.
  • The Mountains of Illinois: The hilly country constantly being shown in the series is Virginia. The real Long Island is quite flat.
  • Multinational Team: Robert Rogers' Rangers contain British soldiers, Native Americans, and African freed slaves. Basically, if you can prove you're worth having, they'll have you.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: In "Mr. Culpeper", Capt. Simcoe sniffs out a Patriot posing as a British officer and kills him in the middle of a dinner at Major Andre's house. Major Andre promptly bawls Simcoe out, screaming that he knew about the spy and was planning to turn him into a Double Agent.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: When Simcoe's misdirection leads to Hewlett getting captured by the Patriots, Anna approaches Simcoe and lies that she's fallen in love with the Major, in the hopes that Simcoe will retrieve him and Abraham in turn will be freed from the latest mess he's gotten himself into. Simcoe, naturally, decides to remove Hewlett from the equation altogether, so that he's free to have Anna.
  • The Mutiny: A regiment of Patriot soldiers mutinies over hunger and lack of pay in "Nightmare" and marches off, Philadelphia-bound. They are stopped and most are let off with a discharge, but ten ringleaders are shot by firing squad.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Philomena helps Rogers tighten the net around Andre by finding out where he's going, but when Rogers creepily tells her that he's going to exact 'justice' on Andre, she looks like she rather regrets her part in the plot.
  • My Greatest Failure: While he was a student at King's College, Abe put a Phrygian cap on a liberty pole. To him it was just a drunken prank but it sparked a riot and his brother Thomas was killed in the fighting.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Andre seems to go out of his way to be nice to Abigail, gently correcting her mistakes when setting the silverware and offering to help her send a birthday gift to her son. Of course, this is Andre we're talking about here, so it may all be calculated kindness.
  • No Honor Among Thieves: Caleb uses this exact phrase when talking with his Patriot smuggling partner, before finding out it's true—the smuggler has set up an ambush and Caleb is captured by the British.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: Kevin McNally's Richard Woodhull is the only person who speaks with a modern American accent. Ironically, McNally is English
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Almost all the military characters - although in some cases it's more of a veneer.
  • Official Couple: Two - Selah and Anna Strong, and Abraham and Mary Woodhull.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: While crossing the Delaware, Ben falls into the freezing water and almost dies of hypothermia. Caleb spends the next few days nursing him back to health and the two men miss the Battle of Trenton. They arrive just after the battle and are told of the American victory.
  • Oh, Crap!: John Andre in "Blade on the Feather," when the man behind him says his name is Benjamin Tallmadge.
  • One Degree of Separation: Basically everyone in the main cast knows each other in some fashion. And the show actually tones it down from Real Life! note 
  • Open Secret: By the last season, just about everybody who wasn't in the know about Abe from the beginning—Richard Woodhull, Mary Woodhull, Simcoe, Major Hewlett, Robert Rodgers, Peggy Arnold, Major Andre—finds out that Abe is the spy called "Culper". Andre is caught by the rebels and executed before he can expose Abe, and everyone else keeps the secret for their own reasons. When the show ends, the only character who doesn't know about Abe is Benedict Arnold.
  • "Pan Up to the Sky" Ending: The very last scene ends this way, as Abe muses about meeting Thomas in the hereafter.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Abraham and Anna were previously arranged to be married, but due to conflicting political ideologies Abraham's father vetoed it, leading Abraham to marry Mary and Anna to Selah.
  • Parenthetical Swearing: Hewlett, after calling out Andre on never appreciating his services or loyalty, says that he's still going to do his duty one last time, and tells Andre the real identity of Samuel Culper - Abraham Woodhull, whom Andre actually entertained at dinner once. As Andre stands stunned, Hewlett softly says "God save the King," with more than a little hint of 'You know what? F—k you'.
  • Port Town: Setauket, sitting on Long Island Sound, is well situated for boats coming in and out from Connecticut or New York City on dangerous missions.
  • Produce Pelting: Happens in "Who By Fire" to the unfortunate players staging a Guy Fawkes play.
  • Put on a Bus:
    • Akinbode, come Season 3. Aside from Simcoe mentioning in the first episode of the season that he hasn't returned from dropping Cicero off with his mother, and Abigail claiming she doesn't know where he is, he isn't mentioned again. Until he comes back in Season 4.
    • Both Robert Rogers and Major Hewlett at the end of Season 3, the former after having his revenge on Andre and the latter after the whole business with Anna leads to humiliation and his return to England.note 
  • Reality Ensues:
    • Sackett tries to infiltrate an agent into New York by having the man pretend that he is Lt. Terrence, a British officer who was captured by the Americans and is now being returned in a prisoner swap. The agent lacks basic knowledge about being a British officer and is quickly found out by both Major Andre and Captain Simcoe. Andre planned to turn him into a Double Agent, while Simcoe stabs him in the throat.
    • Major Hewlett's efforts to fortify the British position around the church end up being for nothing when he makes the basic blunder of not securing his flank.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: When Simcoe is trying to get Hewlett to agree to his demands and leave Setauket, Hewlett retorts that he doesn't have to sink to Simcoe's level; he just has to wait for him to destroy himself. "Despite your pretence of control, you can only contain your inner beast for so long; and the next time it lashes out, I will be ready with all the excuse I need to put you down like the mad dog you are."
  • Reassigned to Antarctica:
    • Downplayed. Gen Scott is reassigned back to a combat command after Washington deems him too conservative to be the army's head of intelligence. There is no loss of rank or prestige and Scott is still in the thick of action but he will no longer have anything to do with the spy ring.
    • For his actions in season one, including executing a prisoner in cold blood, Simcoe suffers a court-martial and forced into a desk job. However, when Andre comes a-summoning...
  • Refusal of the Call: Abe eyes up Robert Townsend as a potential member of the Culper Ring in season 2, after he susses what Abe's up to and yet doesn't turn him in to the British — but Townsend continuously refuses to have anything to do with espionage, even when his father's encouraging him to do so. The Ring eventually take matters into their own hands in order to get him involved...
  • Revealing Hug: Or "revealing empty stare while being boned from behind" as Peggy engages in unfulfilling sex with Benedict Arnold after parting from John Andre in "Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot".
  • Revenge Before Reason:
    • Robert Rogers's vendetta against Ben Tallmadge quickly reaches this point. Ben's actions were clearly self defense and committed as a soldier during a war. Roger even admits that fact, but still insists on tracking down and killing Ben. His antics get so bad that Andre authorizes a British officer to shoot Rogers dead if Rogers refuses an order to desist.
    • Simcoe's attempt to get revenge on Ben and Caleb for torturing him by going after their families backfires, but he is unwilling to let go of his revenge even when ordered by Major Hewlett. He executes Caleb's uncle and Hewlett has him arrested and gagged.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: An understated but realistic example drawn directly from Real Life. After Arnold makes his panicked flight from West Point and winds up in the British lines, having failed to deliver either the fort or the 3000 soldiers within it ("He's a rat—who didn't get the cheese") he faces the withering contempt of the British community in New York. Clinton snarls that he would trade Arnold for Major Andre "in a heartbeat" if British policy didn't forbid handing over defectors. Arnold has to settle for brigadier general rank, which is a demotion, and instead of commanding British regulars he'll have to raise a band of Loyalists on his own.
  • Riddle for the Ages: When Arnold and Andre are haggling over how much money Arnold will get, with Arnold holding out for the full £20,000, Andre demands that Arnold surrender Peggy in return for the money. The scene cuts away without revealing whether Arnold was willing to sell his wife for an extra £10,000.
  • Rule of Three: During season 3, Robert Townsend twice sends messages to the Ring by buying an advertisement from Rivington, signalling when the meeting should take place. At the very end of season 3's last episode, after an enlightening conversation with Arnold, Townsend once more approaches Rivington with the magic words, "I'd like to buy an advertisement," showing he's back in the game.
  • Running Gag: A rare dramatic example; Baker has a habit of walking in on conversations and situations in which he's unwanted. The final time ends with his death.
  • Satellite Character: Anna in Season 4. By the last season, with Anna having been kicked out of Setauket and no longer actively involved with the Culper Ring, her character has little to do. Anna's involvement with a Tory mole among the camp followers and her part in putting down the mutiny in camp smack of the writers casting about for some material for Heather Lind.
  • Scary Black Man: Jordan/Akinbode, a physically imposing former slave who was previously owned by Anna Strong. Even more intimidating now that he's a member of the Queen's Rangers and growing in self-confidence.
  • Scenery Porn: There are lots of establishing scene shots of the countryside (which is Virginia, not Long Island).
  • Shell Game: In "Private Woodhull", one of Simcoe's men is getting ripped off in a game of three card monte when Simcoe, who is no fool, reaches out and grabs the con man's hand, which is hiding the queen.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • While great historical liberties are taken with Abraham Woodhull and the rest of the Culper ring, as well subjecting Simcoe to a Historical Villain Upgrade, the Benedict Arnold plot line from Season 3 is quite faithful to history. The show renders small details like Arnold's meeting with Andre in an isolated cabin and Arnold writing a pass for Andre to pass on foot after the ship carrying Andre was forced to withdraw by Patriot cannon fire. They also get Andre's execution almost exactly right, down to his last few words; the only difference the show has from an actual eyewitness account of the event is that in real life Andre apparently died almost instantly upon being hanged, while in the show his neck doesn't break right away and he throttles for a while before Ben and Caleb give him a Mercy Kill.
    • Simcoe writing Anna a romantic poem in season two might seem like it's reaching a bit, but the real Simcoe did in fact write what is considered to be the first recorded Valentine in America. The recipient? The real life Robert Townsend's sister, Sally!
  • Spotting the Thread: When Colonel Cook mentions buying cauliflower from Richard Woodhull, Abraham is surprised because his father only recently gained control of cauliflower fields that used to belong to Selah Strong, and Cook should not have known about this. Abraham quickly realizes that the deal was set up long in advance and his father was just waiting for an excuse to send Selah to prison for sedition and confiscate his land.
  • Spy Fiction: Of the Stale Beer variety, showing 18th century spy-craft, such as concealing hidden messages inside of longer letters and revealing the messages by the use of key papers with holes cut out.
  • Spy's Suspicious Spouse: Mary is this for much of Season 1, being suspicious both of Abe's relations with Anna and suspicious of the sneaking and skulduggery that turn out to be Abe's espionage activities.
  • Stealing from the Till: In Season 3 Benedict Arnold gets in trouble for using captured British property for his own personal use. (This happened in Real Life.)
  • Title Drop Chapter: The 40th and last episode of Turn: Washington's Spies is titled "Washington's Spies".
  • Trigger Happy: Good lord, Simcoe. In "Mr. Culpeper," he stabs a man in the throat the second he messes up the Latin motto of his regiment (revealing he was a rebel spy). His nonchalance when Andre calls him out on this makes it all the more disturbing.
  • Tricked into Signing: Capt. Ben Tallmadge needs to get a vital intelligence report sent to Gen. Washington but Gen. Scott refuses to forward it to headquarters because he does not trust the source. Ben creates a fake report that has little actual military value but which Scott will approve of and forward to Gen. Washington. He then places the real report as page three of the fake report, relying on the fact that Scott never reads the reports past the second page. Scott signs off on the fake report and adds the entire stack of papers to the official dispatches.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Good God, Mary. Starts the series as a woman struggling with her husband's infidelity and espionage, then eventually comes to terms with both, does some spying of her own, and stabs one of Simcoe's cronies to death after nearly killing Simcoe himself. Culminates all with her having a stare down with Simcoe minutes after said shooting, while she's in the bath.
  • Toplessness from the Back: Heather Lind amping up the sexy in "Challenge".
    • And Ksenia Solo in "Houses Divided".
  • Turn Coat: Abraham being the key player here, though this is a show about spies so there will undoubtedly be more. Come season three and the most infamous turncoat in American history, Benedict Arnold, really comes into his own.
  • Villain Ball: Simcoe seems to really relish being despicable, for no reason other than he simply can.
  • War for Fun and Profit: Colonel Cook and many of his friends see the war as an opportunity to get rich. Cook buys overpriced supplies for the army and gets kickbacks from the suppliers. They also manufacture evidence against wealthy suspected Patriots so they can be arrested and their property seized.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Anna is horrified when Abe still plots to kill Hewlett even after he's given him an opportunity to escape Setauket with Mary and Thomas, consequence free.
    • Townsend is furious when he learns that the attack on his father's farm by the Queen's Rangers was actually Caleb, authorised by Abe in order to get him to join the Ring. It doesn't help that Caleb's men roughed up Townsend Senior in the process, though it wasn't part of the plan. Ben and Anna are likewise outraged when Caleb admits to the truth of what happened.
  • Where Are They Now: The final scenes of the series finale reveals what happens to most of the surviving major characters:
    • Robert Rogers drinks himself to death, dying alone;
    • Hewlett becomes a renowned astronomer and is happily married;
    • Simcoe, as Governor of Canada, abolishes slavery in his province, and Akinbode and Cicero can live in peace;
    • Thanks to Washington taking possession of all the former or fleeing slaves on the way to Nova Scotia, Abigail is forced back into slavery — but filches a pistol from one of her guards as she's packed off in a cart; since the Culper Ring later receive a letter in code from Nova Scotia, it's heavily implied that she manages to escape and get to Canadanote ;
    • Caleb works to guard America's borders as a member of the Coast Guard;
    • Benjamin becomes a congressman and later denounces the men who captured John Andre, bringing the work of the Ring to light for the only time in their lifetimes;
    • Benedict Arnold dies frustrated and unfulfilled, and Peggy dies a few years after him, with the lock of Andre's hair being found among her possessions;
    • Anna and Selah are reconciled, with Anna helping Selah write his speeches; they start a family, but Anna is never fully content;
    • The Woodhull farm eventually prospers, but Thomas Woodhull perishes in the War of 1812 and the entire end of the finale is an elderly Abraham writing him a letter detailing all of the above, then depositing it in the tree that the Ring used for the dead letter drops.
  • Wicked Cultured:
    • Major John Andre is a pretty good artist, plays the violin and flute, composes his own music, performs lead roles in theatrical performances and geeks out over Benjamin Franklin's inventions.
    • Captain Simcoe at one point writes poetry for Anna (although he gets mocked for it by his fellow soldiers) and has enough of a classical education that he can quote Catullus.
  • Worthy Opponent: Ben and John Andre eventually come to regard each other as this during Andre's last few days and execution. Ben helps Andre to die quickly when he's throttling to death after his neck didn't break while being hanged, and after the execution he even takes pity on Peggy Shippen (who he's realised was involved in her husband's treachery) because she and Andre were in love, and advises her to get to safety. Years later he breaks the Ring's vow of secrecy to stand up in Congress and denounce the men who captured and searched Andre, seeing them as opportunistic thieves rather than patriots.
  • Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: In "Of Cabbages and Kings", after a Mexican standoff, Ben tricks three deserters into thinking he's surrendering and then surprises and shoots two of them. A captive Simcoe, bound to a tree, applauds and snarks "Well done, Captain," although it's possible that he genuinely admires Ben's sneakiness as well. Ben's ashamed either way.
  • Zip Me Up: Abraham helps Anna with the buttons to her dress in "Challenge".

Alternative Title(s): Turn Washingtons Spies


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