Turn Review: “Who By Fire” (Season 1, Episode 2)

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“Who By Fire” makes a clear allusion to a moment in English history that is still popular today with the ubiquity of the Guy Fawkes mask appearing throughout. In the episode, the British townspeople in Setauket throw effigies of one of the notorious Gunpowder Treason plotters into a Setauket bonfire. “Usually it’s only one man who takes the credit and the infamy,” one character intones to Abe. Interestingly, none of the Culper Ring’s members will have a day of infamy in their honour.

Jamie Bell, currently in the midst of a career comeback with striking turns in Nymphomaniac and Snowpiercer, has finally found an adult role that may get audiences to stop referring to him as “the boy from Billy Eliot.” Bell is terrific here, straining to keep a face of loyalty alit as he deals with an array of tumultuous ordeals, from his relationship with Anna to providing for his family. Moreover, of course, he must remain honourable to the Culper Ring without abandoning principle. Bell is a fine actor playing Woodhull, whose performances are passable but not quite as convincing as a mastermind spy’s should be.

This week’s episode of Turn comes from Ed Bianchi, best known for his work on Deadwood and The Wire. His work on a rusted period piece and a twisty, intricate procedural proves to be perfect preparation for this series as the period details are just as authentic here. Bianchi, like director Rupert Wyatt last week, keeps the mood intimate while paying tribute to the past by lighting the nighttime scenes only through candlelight, fires and moonlight, which add texture to the drab aesthetic. Craig Silverstein’s dialogue cuts quicker this week and the actors are more comfortable in navigating their characters, even if they are still a bit green with getting their double-sided nature just right.

Thankfully, Turn’s second hour is sharper and more intriguing than the pilot, as we learn more about the characters’ allegiances and struggles. Building in momentum and personality, the series is starting to find its footing as a historical drama and an absorbing look at spies whose masks will never be worn.

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