Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Why TURN Turned Sour for Me

I'm baaaaaaaaack! And oh, how awesome it is to have The Lost Heiress turned in and be free to catch up on other things. =)

One of which is my opinion on the wrap-up of AMC's first season of Turn. I was a couple weeks behind on watching due to the hockey finals and traveling...and for a few weeks there I really wasn't sure what I could say anyway. I didn't know how to put my finger on why the show was bugging me, other than the rather blatant ignoring of actual history (which I recognize most viewers wouldn't even recognize, having not studied it as I did for Ring of Secrets).

Then they helped me out by making it very clear--adultery ain't cool, man. Especially when it's (a) not accurate to history, (b) unnecessary, and (c) used to try to appeal to the viewers.

In a previous post after the first episode, I'd noted (with no complaints) some of the ways the show was fictionalizing history. And I'm quite obviously FINE with fictionalizing history, LOL. At first, I thought they were doing a grand job of doing so, too. They were putting key players together who really weren't in reality, but that was okay. It was the for the sake of tension, and I really liked how they played off each other.

But here's where they failed. They took the historical figure of Abraham Woodhull, who was in reality a farmer with firm Patriot roots who took great joy in pulling the wool over the British's eyes, and turned him into a character who wasn't sure what he believed, who was constantly changing his mind, and who had to be bullied into his role in the Culper Ring. Worse, they took a man of strong faith and made him a murderer, an adulterer, and absent any moral compass.

The Abraham Woodhull I read about in Washington's Spies was a wee bit skittish, had opinions he shared too freely in his letters to Washington, but was a good man. A likeable man. One I cheered for when reading history.

I don't want to cheer for Turn's Abe anymore. 

Largely because of the adultery. In reality, Abe wasn't married at the time. In reality, Anna Strong was a decade older than him, never a love interest. And while fiction-writer-Roseanna is all for introducing a made-up romance (ahem), why why WHY did they have to make it result in adultery??

Anna, at least, thought her husband dead. But Abe. Why give him a wife, just to have him cheat on her? And why did the show assume that would make viewers like them? I guess their thought was to appeal to our desire for love. Yes, we can feel sorry for a character who married a girl he didn't even know for noble reasons and then was still pulled toward his childhood sweetheart. But appealing to our base instincts--the ones that say Feeling is more important than commitment. What you want is more important than what's right. The pleasurable is more important than the noble.--doesn't work. A good TV show will portray a character's failings in a way that makes us want them to be better. In a way that makes us ask ourselves what we'd do if put in such an impossible situation. In a way that makes us see the noble in the ignoble.

I didn't see that here. Instead, I saw the noble be eclipsed by the ignoble.

And they missed a key ingredient--guilt. People falter, people make mistakes, and I'm all for using that in a fictionalized story (even if it's a mistake the historical figures didn't make). But the story would have been richer if Anna and Abe felt some remorse for what they'd done instead of basically flaunting it for all to see. Can you imagine the outrage in a small New England town if he really dueled for her? If she really jumped out of her husband's boat and ran straight back into his arms?

In my opinion, that plot thread would have served the story much better had they left it at sexual tension. Have the Christmas scene where they almost falter, where Mr. Baker (best character they wrote!) interrupts. Leave that simmering between them, but give Abe a bit of a backbone. Have him care at least a little bit what he does to his family.

And that is, in my humble opinion, the other failure of the show. Abe isn't driven. Abe has no backbone. Oh, he takes a few risks...but they're not rooted in conviction.

What I love about the real historical Culper Ring is that they're all about conviction. They lack skill, they lack professionalism, they lack training--but they definitely, 100% have a deep-down, scared-but-willing belief in what they're doing. That, even before the adultery schtick, was what I was missing from the show. By all means, have them run scared now and then (the real people did). Have them second-guess whether they should pass something along for fear of getting caught (the real people did). Have them drive Washington slightly mad with their caution (the real people did). But give them the right heart.

The heart was what turned the real people into real, ordinary heroes.

The heart was what made me ask myself Would I be strong enough to do the same? 

The heart is what has the potential to make viewers cheer through failures and setbacks and threat and victories.

Don't strip the characters of it.

Will I watch next season? Probably. Because I really, really, really want them to redeem this story. I want to like the characters, and I want them to eventually tell the story of the Culpers I love. But I gotta say, I'm disappointed. I had high hopes, I was ready to love this show and shout about it to the world. And instead, I spent a lot of episodes sighing and shaking my head. 

And now I'm down to a hope for improvement next season. 

Fingers crossed that Abe gets a backbone, conviction comes to call, and they find a new character to give a bit of morality to now that they killed off the one who had it before.


  1. It seems very popular these days to turn noble heroes into reluctant mostly-good guys (I don't think my husband will ever forgive the director of Lord of the Rings for making Aragorn out to be a wishy-washy leader and reluctant to take his position as King, contrary to the books). Considering the prevalence of super hero films, I find this bizarre (and disappointing) trend.

    Yeah, Turn pretty much lost me after that one episode.

    1. What's up with that? I think a little reluctance or second-guessing is realistic, but wishy-washy is so not cool!

  2. Thanks for your comments,Roseanna. I agree with you. and I was so disappointed with it I stopped watching it. The book was so much better.

    1. I totally get that decision. I felt personally invested in seeing it through, since I really, really, really hoped it would lead to a great interest in the Culpers that I could appeal to with my books, LOL. But otherwise...

  3. By the end of it the series I was watching for two reason. Simcoe and Baker. Baker was by far the best character in the entire show. Simcoe was just fun to watch. I did not like Abe one bit. I knew that the adultery issue was bond to happen, which is disappointing. It was carefully crafted so that you would side with Abe and Anna and not Mary. Adultery is okay because she was made out to be overbearing and he didn’t really love her anyway. I like what you said, “Feeling is more important than commitment. What you want is more important than what's right. The pleasurable is more important than the noble.” This is so true, and the anthem of our society now. Just look at the hot political issues. This could be their war cry.

    I am interested to see how season two turns out.

    1. Baker was by far the best character!! And yes, Simcoe is fun to watch as a bad guy. And what research I've done shows that they're portraying him at least somewhat true to his character, though it was Robert Townsend's sister he actually went after, not Abe's sweetheart.

      But yeah, they definitely tried to sway us to think it was all okay because there was no love between Abe and Mary. So not right. And so not historical!

  4. Stupid Blogger! It ate my WHOLE comment. And it was a good one. Let's see if I can recreate it.

    I've been curious as to your thoughts on the second half of the season. I, too, was disappointed in the adultery turn. But as soon as the tension showed up I had a bad feeling that's where they were going to go. While the costumes are well done, there's a real lack of understanding in the writers about the cultural mindset of the time.

    Why am I still watching and mostly enjoying it, despite the playing loose with history? Burn Gorman as Major Hewlitt. The moment he walked on the screen in the first episode of Torchwood I was dying to see him in a role like this, because I knew he'd be perfect. And he is!

    I will watch the second season to see what all they do, and hope they rectify the adultery situation.took with it is not only historically inaccurate, it's culturally inaccurate for the time.

    With how awesome Walking Dead is I had high hopes for Turn. It didn't hit the mark, but it did manage to keep my interest in a way Hell On Wheels didnt.

    1. Oh yes, I've enjoyed Hewlitt!! He's another of their well-drawn characters. I don't like everything the character does, of course, but it's consistent and he plays the part so well, and you can still see that he has a noble core.

      Costumes are good--though I hate Abe's hat, LOL. And I'm confused by all the different accents of people who have lived in the same town all their lives, and for generations beforehand...

      (Sorry Blogger ate your first comment! Glad you took the time to rewrite it though.) =)

  5. I never got a chance to finish watching the series, and was disappointed. I don't feel disappointed any longer. Thank you, Roseanna. I enjoyed your recap. :)

    1. Yeah, unfortunately you didn't miss much. *Sigh*

  6. When you talked about it, I told my husband about it. We watched it. I didn't relate well to the characters (maybe because they didn't offer much in redeeming qualities?) and often mulit-tasked on the computer. However, my husband wanted to watch to the end of the series. I must confess only paying half-attention had me a bit lost. However, I certainly caught on to the adultery...hard not to. I appreciated your thoughts and have been wondering what you thought of it.

    1. That's definitely a hard part to miss! So disappointed in that. Grrr.

  7. I didn't realize Turn turned out this way in the end. I wasn't able to watch anything but the pilot, but now I don't want to. Even with the pilot episode, I was surprised by how unnecessarily gory they made it. :-( The adultery thing? Yeah. Total turn off. EVERY SINGLE TIME. Why can't these screen writers understand that?