Previously on John Adams: The colonies banded together and started to produce a real army, under Washington’s charge. John decided it was time to cut the cord with the mother country and declare independence, and with Franklin’s and Jefferson’s help, he managed to convince the other delegates to go along with him. On the homefront, in an attempt to protect the kids from smallpox, Abigail…nearly killed one of them with smallpox.
The Adams farm is buried under snow. John and Abigail stroll through, chatting. She exposits that the British have taken Philadelphia and that they’ve been married 14 years, only half of which they’ve actually spent living together. That sucks. Or maybe it’s the key to a successful marriage, who knows? It definitely led to some great extent letters between these two.
It’s now 1777. That night, John gently breaks the news to Abby that he’s leaving, meeting with the congress in New York. Well, that’s a little closer to Massachusetts than Philadelphia, isn’t it? You know what isn’t closer? France, which is where he’s likely to go next, to help Franklin secure French aid in the American cause. Abigail is not on board with that idea at all. She forcefully tells him he’s needed at home, because his kids need a dad and she needs a husband. Fair enough. But she knows there are bigger issues at stake, so after a tearful interlude, she asks him how long he’ll be gone. He has no idea. Bad sign.
Later, they sit in the kitchen, he at the table, she near the fire, not facing each other. She flatly asks him when he’ll leave and he says he won’t, someone else can go. But she points out that nobody else is ready for this. He needs to do this, and she wants him to take their oldest son, Johnny, with them. John thinks that’s a terrible idea, since the voyage is dangerous enough in peacetime, but if the British attack it’ll be even worse. She’s determined, because she wants her son to be worldly and well educated.
John, dressed to travel, wakes Nabby very early, before dawn, to bid her farewell. He sweetly kisses and hugs her, reminds her to be a good girl, and then moves on to Charles and Thomas. Charles is bitter, reminding his dad that he promised to stay this time, and it’s not fair that Johnny gets to go. John starts to get stern with Charles, which doesn’t seem to work so well with this kid, who buries his head under his pillow and refuses to kiss John goodbye. Little toddler Thomas kisses him readily enough, then curls up next to his brother and puts an arm over him. Awww.
Downstairs, Abigail’s bundling Johnny up and reminding him of his duties as an Adams and as an American. He hugs her tightly and she tries to hold back her tears as she tells him she loves him. She then sternly tells John to come back to her, and John kisses her before collecting Johnny and heading out. He pauses at the bottom of the stairs, at the door, and looks up at her for a long moment before finally going out.
On board ship, a terrible storm is raging. Down below, Johnny is practicing his French while John tries desperately not to vomit all over the place. In that, he’s unsuccessful, but Johnny’s language skills are coming along nicely.
After the storm, John and Johnny go topside, where the crew is trying to repair a broken mast. The lookout spots a ship to starboard and the captain checks it out in his eyeglass. It’s British, and with one mast down, they can’t outrun them. The captain asks John’s permission to engage the ship. John grants it and sends Johnny below. The captain asks John to go below as well, and when John protests, the captain tells him he’s been commanded to take John safely to Europe, and he’ll damn well do it. John joins his son in the cabin.
After sitting down there for a while, he can’t take it anymore, so he arms himself with a musket and goes up to the deck, which is a hive of activity as sailors ready the guns. John opens a gunport and takes aim at the British ship with his musket. The ship replies with a huge volley of gunfire that nearly takes John out. He reloads and prepares to fire as the guns on deck are loaded. One of them misfires and nearly takes a man’s leg off. John abandons his gun and drags the man to the surgery, which is already pretty busy. The surgeon orders John to give the man rum, which John does before stuffing a piece of leather in the man’s mouth before his leg’s hacked off right then and there. Johnny watches this whole horrible scene through a nearby crack in the wall or door. War is hell, kid. The amputee doesn’t make it. As John starts to mourn him, there are sounds of celebration on deck. The captain comes below and tells John the ship is theirs.
Far from the open sea, Abigail takes out some aggression on the fields of the farm as Nabby places plants and asks her mother when they’ll find out of John and Johnny are ok. Abigail has no idea and tells the kids to put their faith in God. Nabby says she didn’t think she’d miss her younger brother and wonders why boys get to have all the fun. “Because we let them,” Abigail says shortly. So, so true. Nabby suggests they be stricter with them when they come home, but Abigail says they’ll be so happy to see them, they’ll be way too accommodating. Also very true.
John and Johnny arrive at a magnificent chateau in France. Can you imagine going from a plain New England farm to that? Talk about culture shock. John calls out for Franklin, then wanders inside and eventually finds Franklin out in the back garden, sitting for a bust. He greets Adams and introduces his secretary, Mr. Bancroft, and the sculptor. John introduces Johnny and asks Franklin to recommend schools. Franklin affably says all of Paris is a school and you only need to avail yourself of the lessons. Johnny seems only too eager to do so. Franklin shares some news of General Burgoyne surrendering his 7,000 soldiers at Saratoga, which somehow makes the treaty with France an all but done deal. John’s pissed that he came all this way for nothing, but there’s nothing to be done about it now. He asks for details of the treaty and Franklin tells him France has declared themselves friends of the colonists and will stand in the colonists’ defense. John asks for details about naval support and the like but Franklin brushes him off and tells John that the key to French politics is accomplishing a lot without appearing to do much of anything at all. John blusters that he intends to meet with the king at the earliest possible moment, and Franklin chuckles that one doesn’t do that, they get invited to Versailles, they don’t just go. Bancroft dismisses the Adamses so Franklin can get back to his bust.
Franklin’s getting ready for some fancy get-together, having his wig powdered as he bemoans all he went through to accomplish nothing at all. Franklin rolls in, dressed in a crazy outfit that includes a coonskin cap. He explains that the French like to think of the Americans as rustics, so he’s dressing the part, and it’s been going well so far.
Off they go to a hoity-toity party with a bunch of French aristocrats who’ll mostly probably be dead or in prison in the next 10 years or so. As they head into the party, Franklin tells John he’s a good man, but he’s all wrong for Paris, because Paris requires a certain level of indecency, which John simply doesn’t have. Plus, John barely speaks French. Franklin suggests he improve both these shortcomings by either going to the theater or taking a mistress. Franklin introduces Adams to their hostess, an elderly comtesse with lots of makeup and a little dog on her lap. The comtesse thinks this is Sam Adams and gets all excited, and then she looks disappointed when Franklin corrects her.
As everyone sits down to their meal, John observes the painted aristocrats feeding each other and letting their dogs eat off the table. Lovely. The plates are all decorated with Franklin’s likeness. The comtesse teasingly suggests that Adams, with his name, is directly descended from Adam and Eve. Another guest helpfully translates, and John tries to play along, but he’s new at this game. Franklin explains that the translator is going to be France’s first ambassador to the US. John hopes he’ll use his influence to press the king to promise more concrete support to the American cause. This is a bit of a buzzkill, so Franklin shuts him up and smoothes things over, and the comtesse gets back to the Adam and Eve/Adams connection, asking him, basically, how Adam and Eve first discovered sex. What, does she think this is some family story handed down through generations? This is so weird and awkward. As a hostess, this woman sucks.
John blunders along, totally uncomfortable, and failing utterly to charm anyone, until he brings up Franklin. They love that. The chevalier/translator asks if John’s been to the opera and John says he hasn’t had time. The rich French people are amused by the idea of someone being too busy with their job for pleasure. Adams says he has to apply himself to the study of politics and war so his children can focus on philosophy and math and their children can have the freedom to study painting and music. That seems to get through to them, although one man says that sounds really boring.
After lunch, the comtesse plays the harpsichord and sings and Franklin sends Adams around to hand out American flags to anyone who’ll give him money. John thinks this is totally demeaning, but he does it as the guests start singing some freedom ditty. Why were the French so into the American Revolution? Particularly the French upper classes? Was it just because they hated England so much?
Back home, Abigail lies awake in bed and finally gives up on sleeping, getting up to pace around the house and check on the snoozing kids.
Paris. John and Franklin are going to Versailles as John nervously practices his introduction. They’re shown through the Hall of Mirrors and into the king’s presence. Louis greets Franklin and chats with him in French for a moment. One of Louis’s ministers whispers that Franklin has arrived with a Mr. Adams, and Louis addresses John in French, naturally. Crickets. It’s really, really awkward. After a few moments, Louis asks if John doesn’t speak French, and then laughs because, honestly, in those days, well-educated people spoke French. At least a little. I wish the miniseries had explained a bit better why John was sent to France at all, because I’m a bit stumped. He doesn’t speak the language, and from what we’ve seen of his personality, he seems like he’d make a terrible diplomat. He’s too direct and combative.
The king slaps on his hat and leaves, trailed by everyone else in the room. John and Franklin next meet with Louis’ minister, a comte, whom John tries to butter up by praising France. They next move on to the treaty and John rather delicately says he hopes France will promise more support in the near future. He then ditches the kid gloves and bluntly tells the comte the naval support France has promised is insufficient. The comte reminds John that France is at war with England presently (ah ha!), so their navy’s kind of busy. John doesn’t care, and he resents being made to feel like America is just being used as a pawn in France’s endless dispute with England. The comte excuses himself, and as he goes to leave, Franklin apologizes on John’s behalf.
Afterward, Franklin gives Adams an earful for screwing around with their treaty and tells him he’ll ruin everything if he continues to piss these people off. Adams said he pissed people off in Philadelphia and they got independence. Franklin reminds him that that wasn’t just him at work there, a whole crew of them negotiated for independence. Adams makes it clear he has no intention of backing down, and he makes a scene in the process. Seriously, why is he there? His passion is admirable, but it takes more than passion to be a diplomat.
Abigail is now attending her own fancy party, on board one of the French ships, presumably in Boston. Sam’s there as well and talks strategy with the captain for a little. The captain turns the charm on Abigail, telling her he’s convinced John’s zeal for getting the treaty with France sewn up fast is due to his desire to be with his wife again soon. She smiles, pleased. Her seatmate observes that she seems happy with what she hears, and she agrees that the French seem nice enough, but she’s not prepared to form a lasting impression of them just yet. Her seatmate tells her how much she admires John for everything he’s doing for independence, and she admits that she misses him and is eager for news. Seatmate says he’s heard John’s enjoying France and all its pleasures. And then he falls all over himself apologizing and swearing he didn’t mean to suggest John was enjoying all the pleasures, if you know what I mean. Abigail quickly changes the subject to the army (the seatmate’s Surgeon General). He gratefully talks about the dreadful condition of their soldiers, because the congress sucks at keeping up a steady stream of supplies.
John’s lying prone in bed, a cloth over his eyes, as Johnny reads a letter from Nabby, asking why they don’t write to Abigail more often. John says he has nothing to write, because he can’t accomplish anything there. His little tirade’s interrupted by the arrival of Bancroft with a very short letter from Philadelphia that doesn’t seem to contain good news. John sets his jaw and goes in search of Franklin, despite Bancroft’s protests that Franklin’s not to be disturbed because he’s working on an experiment. Sure he is. He’s in bed with someone.
Oh, wait, no. He’s in a bathtub with someone. That elderly comtesse from the first party. And they’re playing chess. Sexy! John averts his eyes and informs Franklin that the congress has named Franklin the sole minister to the court of King Louis. Franklin doesn’t seem at all surprised. Because he clearly had a hand in this. Defeated, John retreats.
As he makes his way to the carriage with Johnny, John whines a bit that he’s been humiliated and is now in a weird place, because he’s not at liberty to stay in France, nor is he at liberty to go home. He’s not? Why? Bancroft hustles him into the carriage and sends him off, even as Adams bitches about how much Franklin sucks. John, this man works for Franklin. You’re not going to get far here.
Abigail’s dealing with her insomnia by doing some midnight cleaning. Nabby comes downstairs as her mother scrubs down the windows and tells Abigail she should really be in bed. Abigail hollowly says that’s not for Nabby to say. Nabby begs her mother to come upstairs with her, but Abigail insists the windows can’t wait. Nabby knows what’s really bothering her mom and reassures her a letter will come soon. Abigail tries to insist that’s not what’s bothering her at all, and then nearly bites her daughter’s head off. Finally, she backs off and starts wondering aloud if she’s fallen so far out of her husband’s mind that he can’t be bothered to write. Nabby wraps her arms around her mother and tells her John hasn’t forgotten about any of them.
John’s gone to the Netherlands, where he’s meeting with a bunch of black-clad officials and trying to convince them to join America in their revolution. They don’t seem terribly enthusiastic, but they do ask him for a bottom line. He asks for a loan of $10 million, which they think is fairly modest. Really? Good God, do you know what $10 million was worth in the 18th century? They ask if the congress has approved that request and he clearly lies that congress will approve all his missions.
The officials note that America’s getting its ass kicked right now, and wonder if the states are considering settling for an amiable peace with England. John gets all worked up and insists that America will only settle for independence, nothing less. He then moves into a coughing fit and someone asks if he’s sick. He says it’s just that the climate bothers him. An official tells John that American credit isn’t very well established, and John tries to say that this would establish it. Gotta start somewhere, right? Still, these officials, or bankers, or whatever they are, are reluctant to lend money to a country that might not be able to pay it back. Plus, they’re not terribly keen on imperiling their trade with Britain.
At his home, Adams reads a letter Franklin sent to the congress, ripping John to pieces. That was kind of a dick move on Franklin’s part. I mean, yeah, he tried to school John in French politics, and Adams refused to listen, so it’s not like he isn’t at fault, but it still would have been nice if Franklin had given him a head’s up, maybe warned John he was going to write the letter if he didn’t shape up. Coulda, woulda, shoulda.
John’s secretary, hovering nearby, says there are many who think Franklin has terribly wronged John. John doesn’t care about the French, he’s moved on to the Dutch now, but that’s not going so well. He falls into another coughing fit and stumbles to the door for some air. The secretary tries to cheer him up with some good news of the war. Seems the French have finally started pulling a bit of weight, which does not cheer John up, because that means Franklin will get even more credit. So, the secretary moves on to another subject: he’s heading to St. Petersburg to take up some post there, and the language there is French, which he doesn’t speak. He was hoping to take a secretary with him: young Johnny, who I guess became pretty fluent during his time in Paris.
Johnny’s a bit nervous about going all the way to Russia without his dad, but he agrees to go. John says he wishes Johnny could stay with him, but it’s time for him to put his learning to use. He tells Johnny they sometimes need to do things they don’t want to, even things that’ll hurt those they love, so the greater good can be served. Johnny promises to do his duty and leaves his father, who begins to weep.
Leaving day. John sends Johnny off and urges him to mind Mr. Taylor. He wishes them a good journey and waves them off.
John’s health has not improved, and he’s called in a physician to bleed him. Now that his son and secretary are gone, the doctor’s the only person he can bitch to, and he does so, telling the poor man how the congress is pissed at him for going to the Dutch without their permission. Uh, yeah, I would think they would be annoyed at you for running around Europe and trying to run up debts in their name without their knowledge or say so. John gets up, raving about the congress, and then collapses into the doctor’s arms. The doctor somehow manages to heave him into bed and tries to rouse him, but John’s pretty far gone at the moment.
A rider gallops up to the Adams farm and drops a packet of letters in the front yard. Charles runs them right to Abigail, who sits down and starts reading them aloud to the kids like they’re bedtime stories. She falters for a moment when she gets to the news of Cornwallis’s surrender, but then recovers from her shock and excitedly reads the rest of the message. Charles asks if this means their dad will come home, and she tells him it does.
Well, he will if he makes it. In the Netherlands, John’s in a pretty bad way, sweating and feverish and coughing like crazy. At one point, he thinks he sees a little boy standing beside his bed, and then thinks he sees himself sitting there, watching him in bed. The doctor calls in extra help, but we won’t know how well it works out until the next episode. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say he makes it, though.