Hell on Wheels Review: The Creepy Mr. Swede

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Last week's Hell on Wheels premiere, which garnered AMC's second biggest debut with 4.4 million viewers, set up numerous storylines and characters, from Cullen Bohannon's thirst for revenge... to Durant's greedy entrepreneurial endeavors... to Lily Bell's escape from the Cheyenne... to Ferguson's realization that not much has changed since the Emancipation Proclamation.

It was a lot to take in and at times moved relatively slow.

And as much as you can toss out the Deadwood comparisons and complain of the cliches, Hell On Wheels definitely looks to be taking on the ambitious task of telling a large story that takes on the gritty and grimy melting pot centered around the construction of the transcontinental railroad.

Cullen in Trouble

Thankfully, "Immoral Mathematics" managed to focus itself on one central storyline and scatter a few smaller ones throughout. It chugged along at a much quicker pace and kept me interested for pretty much the entire episode.

Most of that attentiveness was due to the emphasis on Bohannon dealing with the repercussions of Daniel Johnson's death. I'm sold on Anson Mount as the vengeful gunslinger and, frankly, the more time spent on the "cowboy" hero the better. He's relatively soft spoken, doesn't take crap from anyone and carries himself in a way that inspires you to root for his form of justice.

And now Bohannon has the perfect antagonist in The Swede.

Forget Durant as the show's villain. He can keep his cartoonish representation of the rich trying to get richer because The Swede garners a creepiness and dangerous factor wrapped behind his calm demeanor. Sure, he works for Durant, but The Swede is the one who appears willing to get his hands dirty and will probably make life difficult for Bohannon. He just gives me the chills.

Their interactions with each other were perfectly cold and distant. Each had their own agenda and it's obvious that The Swede wasn't happy about Bohannon escaping or running to Durant for protection.

It's great that Bohannon is intelligent and not just a shoot-at-everything kind of guy. From escaping the train car to appealing to Durant's lust for power and money, Bohannon showed that he has a lot of cards up his sleeve. Now that he's the foreman, it'll be interesting to see just what he plans to do, besides kill that mysterious sergeant that Johnson spoke of. I also loved that he didn't leave his hat behind when freeing himself, either. You can't be bad ass without the hat.

While I could have cared less for Lily Bell running through the woods away from the Cheyenne, it did give us more of Joseph Black Moon. His background and journey should be engrossing because of his Native American heritage and conversion to God and Christianity. He only appeared for a few moments, but I look forward to watching him in the future struggle through the world predominantly white man's universe.

Similarly, characters like Ferguson and the McGinnes brothers connected themselves to the plot without overtaking scenes or completely departing from the central focus. Ferguson strayed from his angry, pissed at the world demeanor and calmed down. He also helped Bohannon for a second time, so I'm sure Bohannon will have to repay the favor at some point. The McGinnes siblings were forced to deal with the arm-twisting Swede as he demanded they pay him money for protection and to remain in their spot.

What happened in Boston that they don't want to speak of? There's more to these guy's than happy go lucky entertainers.

It's obvious that the bleak and dirty setting proves that Hell On Wheels refuses to over-glamorize the West. Even the amount of violence and bloody moments, such as sewing up an open wound, means that nothing is going to be held back when telling the diverse stories all connected to the railroad. One thing is for sure, this show is picking up steam - and as long as it doesn't spread itself too thin, it should prove to be another drama-filled hit for AMC.


Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.5 / 5.0 (62 Votes)

Sean McKenna is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter.




I saw Breaking Dawn with my girlfriend and noticed The Swede was one of the vampire overlords. How does such a good character get involved with a drek of a film like that?


I'm loving this show and can't wait to see where they take all these characters, as well as where they've been before. So good to see another western on TV.


I like the pace this show is setting. I love a slow burn story, it leaves lots of time for in-depth character development. Bohannon is definitely going to be complex. He's smart enough to know everyone has a price. I loved the scene between him & the Swede in the train car holding cell. As soon as he kicked his plate I told my hubby he wanted the spoon. Of course he couldn't forget his hat. Classic. My favorite scene was between Bohannon and the reverend. When Bohannon stated he wasn't worthy of forgiveness, it sent chills. As if he had given up on the world...it was the moment you realize his character is not playing around. He's on a mission of revenge and won't let anyone get in his way. This was obvious in the next scenes where he talked Durant into being the new boss. I also disagree regarding Lily. She's a tough chick. Her first scenes, bloody in battle, killing a man with an arrow in hand-to-hand combat was freaking awesome. I have a feeling she's going to be a great character to watch. Overall, this show is amazing so far. It's still a little wait and see where they will take the story but as of now, I'm completely hooked.


"...this show is picking up steam". Intentional or not, I find it hard not to highlight a good pun. I just watched the first two episodes today. Looks good. Aside from Star Trek: TNG and DS9 Colm Meaney always plays a bad guy. Well, maybe not always a bad guy, but a chaotic-neutral sort of character. Either way he's someone I enjoy watching. I like the fact that his character, Durant is aware he is not going to be remembered as some sort of folk hero, yet he recognizes the fact that someone has to fill the role he is playing in order for the nation to grow into a major player on the world's stage.


It was a much better episode than last week's, can't wait to see more. Counting Hell on Wheels, I actually have 6 shows I watch every Sunday. Boardwalk Empire, Dexter, Homeland, The Walking Dead, Hell on Wheels and Desperate Housewives (guilty pleasure)... Thank God Breaking Bad and True Blood ended their seasons! It's going to be hard to keep up with all these shows at once!


I enjoyed this one!! everyone keeps mentioning that he is from the South, believe it or not, when my daughter went for a resdience at U of Chicago the first thing out of their mouth was"Oh, you are from the South"!! I also liked that the Swede character & his body guard are in Sanctuary on the Scfy channel. Having 2 good shows to watch is great!!


I'm definitely looking forward to more episodes. Now I have two shows on Sunday I watch courtesy of AMC, The Walking Dead and Hell on Wheels, fun!! I do however disagree with your take on the Lilly storyline, I am looking forward to seeing where that goes, it doesn't bore me at all.


Now I have a television program that I can comment to watching.


I turned it off last week because it seemed a jumble of stories and characters, (like you said). I gave it another shot this week and am definately hooked now. Love the Bohannon character, and the Swede is perfectly creepy. He reminds me of the FBI agent on Boardwalk Empire. So now I'll be dvr'ing CSI Miami and watching this great show. Cuz that's what a need, another show to watch : )

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