‘Meh…’ That was my first thought after watching the Pilot episode of one of the most critically acclaimed TV series of the past two years. It has none of the elements of my favourite historical series: the costumes are not jaw-dropping, the settings are not that impressive and it doesn’t really offer a glimpse into the lives of important historical figures. So why was I constantly coming back for more?
The answer can’t possibly be the plot. The story of the American Independence War has been covered by many before, so it’s not really a novelty subject, despite the spin the creators of the show have put on it. In fact, to want to get into these kind of details of how it all went down, you would have to be a) a history buff, b) American or, more likely, c) all of the above. Now, I do love a good historical story, but learning more about Washington’s spies really didn’t seem something worth spending my time on. I only started watching it because it was on my recommendation list on a rainy, boring Sunday afternoon.
The story starts rather abruptly with a random battlefield and a guy playing dead. It is followed by another random scene about a farmer who’s lost his entire cabbage crop due to bad weather. And that’s how you get introduced to the main players of the spying game. Playing-dead guy turns out to be M (going by the name of Ben Talmadge) and farmer boy is no other than James Bond. Or Woodhull, Abraham Woodhull, as it turns out. Other members of the spying gang include Caleb Brewster (a rather hot-headed rebel) and Anna Strong, 18th century Bond girl, who’s in love with Abraham despite them both being married not to each other. But never mind that, she’s also fierce, intelligent, seductive when she wants to be and the kind of gal who could take out any Bond girl any day.
Like Anna, a lot of the characters are strong. And I don’t necessarily mean that literally. They simply come across as very well-defined, from Mary Woodhull (an 18th century poster wife, adamant to maintain her picture-perfect family despite most likely not actually being in love with her husband) to Major Hewlett (a guy who couldn’t have been more British had he been named Earl Grey; a follower of rules and a believer of good manners even in war).
So what about the villains? History will tell you there is a big collective one: the British. This show though, doesn’t make it so easy. From the four main British characters, only one (maybe two) can actually be considered villains. The obvious one, without a doubt in anyone’s minds, I’m sure, is Captain John Simcoe. You know those bullies who border on the psycho and only get into the army because it gives them an excuse to be violent? He is it! The second villain is Robert Rogers, commander of the Queen’s Rangers, but to be honest, he’s more obsessed with his job than proper evil. The other two Brits, Majors Hewlett and Andre, are quite charming and/or quirky.
I’ve already said the costumes and settings did not impress me, and here’s why. The first season revolves around Setauket, a little town in the middle of nobody cares where. The costumes are accurate, but rather plain, because well, residents of a little American town did not shop at Paris salons for their outfits. The best costumes are the uniforms of the British soldiers, of which we see quite a large variety. The setting is again, quite ordinary, memorable because of tree things: variations of brown, wood houses and a lot of mud.
The script and directing do not disappoint, but are again, not the most extraordinary I’ve ever seen. So let’s go back to my question. Why do I want to see season 2?
I’ve already given you the answer, four paragraphs ago. It’s because of the characters. Although I have to complain about none of them truly developing throughout Season 1, I also have to admit they’re what makes this show interesting. There are a lot of characters played by a long list of great actors (Jamie Bell, Kevin McNally, Burn Gorman, JJ Field, etc.). By the end of Season 1, you’ll want to know what happens to them. Not to mention that you only superficially get to know the other side of the story. In a series about Washington’s spies, I want to also know about the King’s spies, descendants of the most famous secret agent to have ever been written. Plus, there is a New York plot-line that needs to be explored and that promises more glamorous props. So season 2, here I come. I might be two seasons too late (the show’s going into its 4th season next year), but hey, the United States of America were not formed in a day either, were they now?
And now, ladies and gentlemen…the spoilers: