Twisting History

(A Facebook Post.)

My wife and I recently began watching a show on Netflix called “Turn: Washington Spies.” The following is AMC’s brief synopsis of the series:

“TURN: Washington’s Spies takes viewers into the stirring and treacherous world of the Revolutionary War and introduces Abraham Woodhull who, after aligning with a group of childhood friends, forms the Culper Ring — America’s first spy ring.”

Now, we just watched an episode in which George Washington is portrayed as more or less at the edge of delirium—imagining his teeth falling out in a pool of blood, hearing the ranks of his soldiers mouthing things they aren’t actually saying, seeing and talking to his dead brother, Lawrence. Near the end of this particular episode, he wanders away from the camp in a frenzy and out into the surrounding woods where he is confronted by his deceased brother. He falls to his knees in a prayerful stance, begging his brother to answer him. Finally, he does. His brother offers an instructive monologue and then disappears. The camera pans out and away to show Washington still on his knees, hands folded reverently, and bearing an enlightened look of resolute peace.

As soon as it flashed on the screen, I knew exactly what I was seeing.
This was a depiction of one of the better known portraits of Washington’s Prayer at Valley Forge. AMC and its writers purposely mishandled what is a solemn American image of a great man, having recast him in the scene as that of a madman talking to his dead brother rather than kneeling devoutly in prayer.

I was truly bothered by this. Not necessarily surprised. But bothered. I say this because, for example, any young person who may be following this series, if they do by some slim chance happen to come across the prominent portrait in a history class—and knowing the situation in our classrooms, I do mean slim—the student may just recall and then apply this cinematic interpretation.

“Oh, yeah. Washington was crazy. Did you know he used to talk to his brother’s ghost? In fact, that’s what this portrait is all about. He’s talking to his dead brother.”

Having said this, I offer two final observations.

The first is that I rarely enjoy watching TV, other than the news, and I’m hard-pressed to say I actually enjoy such viewing. Still, I’ve made the effort to engage with this particular historical drama. And yet, this one episode has now stolen away all flavor of interest for me in continuing through to its end. Likewise, I’ve lost all interest in reading the book upon which the series is based. As is the case for most volumes translated from print to the screen, my guess is that the author most likely consulted and agreed to these overly creative articulations of his work.

Second, there was another scene previous to the one I described above in which the writers worked vicariously through the character of a jail warden, going well out of their way to impose upon the viewer an absolute certainty that there is no God or devil, and that all that truly exists is the base instinct of every man. That primality, from the warden’s perspective, is most truly revealed during times of extreme pressure. Having that explanation in hand, the scene changes and the viewer is ushered more deeply into the crazed struggle of George Washington. The effort is deliberate. We are, indeed, meant to be carried along by an obvious anti-Christian agenda within the script.