Hell on Wheels Review: Fight Club

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What's the best way to distract men from not getting paid? Free alcohol and a boxing match, of course.

Thomas Durant was up to his old manipulative tricks again on "Bread and Circuses," drawing away from money problems and focusing on the more enticing fight between Cullen Bohannon and Elam Ferguson. It's a surprise that not many people can see through his methods, but it makes sense that live entertainment manages to divert attention when each day consists of extremely muddy and tiresome work.

Perhaps that's why Lily Bell can go toe-to-toe with Durant. She gets to wear pretty dresses, goes on picnics and spend time forming her own ways to play her smart cards. And boy, did she play them.

Durant and Lily

It may have been a brash move to tell Durant that she had the maps the whole time, but it was worth it just to see his frustrated face. Lily remained perfectly calm because she knew she had the upper hand in the situation. I love how she's holding her own and essentially calling the shots without being abrasive. Her cool demeanor and quick wit with the men make her more likable by the episode.

It's clearly enough to make a bloody and beaten Bohannon attempt to flirt with her, even when he's lying on the ground defeated. I think his charm was working, especially when she walked off with that little smirk.

The fight took center stage for the episode, and while it kept the story from advancing, it did prove to be an entertaining bout of blood, sweat and pepper-laced tears. Instead of producing peak performers and the feeling of a choreographed fight, Bohannon and Ferguson threw a lot of punches that landed but exhausted them to where they could barely stand. It allowed for the grit and rawness to come out, all while using bare (wrapped) knuckles.

And as a viewer, you want Bohannon to win. You expect Bohannon to win. And then... he loses? Mr. Straight shooting, bad ass, take everyone down... loses?

Clearly it was a huge victory for Ferguson because he felt like he was able to back up his beliefs. He stood up not only for the oppression of black people, but for himself as well. It nearly took the life from him, but he did it and to him it was worth it.

I wonder how he would feel if he knew his win was really rigged? Not only would it taint his victory, but it would taint his own feelings because now he has no idea if he would have won fair and square. Knowing Ferguson, it would definitely not sit well with him.

It's funny that Bohannon was able to figure it out and simply laugh about it. To him the fight wasn't about holding a grudge, but the way he held onto the money when Ferguson picked it up almost implied that Bohannon was confident he could have won. Or at the very least is prepared to fight again anytime, anywhere.

There's no way their altercation and disagreements are done.

As for the McGinnes brothers? I wouldn't doubt it, if the two end up separating from each other in the future. Not only was there a lack of trust and communication, but Sean failed to rely on his only other friend in the camp. Money really makes people do crazy things when they are desperate for it.

Reverend Cole and Joseph Black Moon did further delve into their characters and the potential confrontation between the Cheyenne and soldiers. Joseph may have asked his father to come negotiate peace, but can anyone believe that that is actually going to work out?

It's interesting that Cole has a daughter but he treats her more like a stranger than anything. The way he couldn't look at her was a huge departure from his vocal and direct approach when it comes to his scripture. Is he ashamed? Of leaving her? Or is it something more? This man of "good" has a lot of hidden background waiting to be revealed.

I'm growing more and more attached to these characters as Hell on Wheels moves along, with the combination of action and drama keeping the show from turning into a history lesson snooze fest. Now, let's hope that the seeds that have been planted for a majority of the characters begin to bloom and spread to more entertaining drama, betrayals, revelations and dilemmas as the show progresses its story forward.


Editor Rating: 4.1 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.2 / 5.0 (29 Votes)

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


I love this show - The dirt, the grime, once a week bath if your lucky. When I saw hair under armpit of the whore, was blown away with how the show is so real of the time. Or of what I perceive the time was like.
Lily Bell getting upper hand on Durant was priceless moment, I always felt she was holding back and wondered how she was going to bring those maps in to play.
Fight scene was so good, I was cringing in my chair watching. When Bohannon figured out how he lost and grinned about it was great moment.
How Durant kept all those cases of booze from unpaid workers is a little over the top but made for great story.
I look forward to next episode and all the charaters good or bad. Wait, even the good guys are bad. Love it.


edit: Should read Edward Gallatin and Thornton Grimsley.


Your comments about saddles for a man from Mississippi in 1865 are both right, and wrong. Saddles with horns were popular all across The South from the 1830s. They were called "Spanish Saddles" at the time. A Texan named Hope was credited with making them even more popular, and soon the saddles were referred to as "Hope Saddles". Both Union and Confederate versions were issued during the war. Many were private purchase by both Yankee and Confederate. In the mid- to late-1860s, people like Grimsley of St Louis and Thornton of Colorado were producing thier own versions of the "Spanish" or "Hope" saddles. They were very popular. You are correct, though, that the saddle our leading man is riding is 10 to 15 years out of whack, at the minimum... I was underwhelmed by the first episode, but I'm beginnning to like the show better. The biggest dislike I have is that the characters seem to talk too much, say too much, and speak in a modern manner. Otherwise, the show seems to be getting better...


I think Sam is racist for even bringing up that point.... Bohannon was winning in the begining and should have won not because he is white but because he was a soldier and fighter who has seen alot of combat and probably has had to fight and and learn to be ruthless to survive... Yes Elam is strong and well suited to win. and as you saw put up a great fight but overall Bohannon had the greater chance of winning in my opinion because of his past


I really enjoyed your recap, Sean. :) I think this series started out slowly, but this last episode finally told us more about the characters. I'm interested to find out more about the Reverend and his daughter, since she seems like she's going to stay in the camp. I also liked seeing Black Moon's father and the Cheyenne. Lily continues to be my favorite character, and I loved it when Durant realized that she was clever enough to demand what her husband was owed in exchange for the maps. I actually thought that the fight was well done. Cullen and Elam looked like they were really going at it, and they were both bloody messes at the end. I was expecting that the fight would end in a draw, so that both men could save face. I was surprised that the writers decided to make Elam the winner, and that Cullen didn't protest when he found out that Elam had won unfairly. I disagree that the cheating makes the show seem racist. If anything, it makes Elam look innocent, since he didn't know it was happening. It was Sean who decided to cheat, so it made HIM look greedy and ruthless by betraying his friend.


Sam Sampson you must be one of the most politically correct posters ive seen on here its post civil war. Racism was alive and well even after the war so don't whine about it stereotyping when its at least being honest. Great episode at least the series has ball's to go and show the racism as not showing it would in a lot of ways be even worse then showing it. To sum it up if your overly PC like Sam Sampson don't watch the show.


I agree with Sam Sampson... This was the first episode I caught so I don't know the characters well. However, as a casual viewer, Common's character winning by way of cheating (unknowingly) is not a good image to push considering how racial stereotyping in American television often undermines and demonizes POC characters. I don't understand why Common's character couldn't win outright? Was it really necessary to elevate the Bohannon character to that level, that he's the best fighter in the camp besides being the foreman-boss? How are the Native Americans portrayed in the show? I'm afraid I don't want to find out after this episode and will not be following the series.


The fact that the writers of the show had Common's character (Elam) beat the lead character Bohannon only to reveal to the watching audience later that it was because "Elam"'s corner man added pepper to his "gloves" (and thus cheated unwittingly) killed my interest in the show. It reeked of racism, stereotyping and an easy out for the writers. Either the Elam or Bohannon should have won outright or it should have been a draw. Suggesting Commons character couldn't win without "cheating" absolutely reeked. I wont be watching any longer and if i do rest assured i wont give the show television ratings by watching it on TV.


Bread and Circuses, Hell on Wheels’4 December installment,
steps away from construction of the railroad and deals in
conflicts. Bohannon and Ferguson have to get in a fight. When pay is
2 weeks late, you don’t fight, you sit down. But this is TV. Reverend Cole brushes his daughter aside in his single-minded
quest for peace with the Cheyenne. One Cheyenne is pictured
as pulling against a thong. The Sioux were often suspended by
a thong in similar ceremonies. The Swede pushed the Irish brothers of entertainment to desperation. Doc Durant pulls the “biggest borrower/biggest stockholder� card on his banker
to secure more credit, and offers “bread and circuses�, actually
whiskey and a bare knuckles fight, to
his men to encourage them to work until all that back pay
comes down the track. On a job this big and this far out,
the company is already providing “room and board�
or as it was often termed then, so much pay per day and “found.� And in the strangest play of the show Lily Bell; 1) admits to
having the survey maps that can lead the Union Pacific
across the Rocky Mountains, and 2) holds out for her dead
husband’s fair share of the gold and glory before she turns
it over. Well, what would you expect from a cold-hearted
daughter of an Englishman? Of course, the Oregon Trail had
been crossed by wagons on much the same route for about
20 years, and military surveys for railroads followed, but this is TV. Durant’s thugs hang men. How does she expect to survive in
that milieu? Meanwhile we’ve been watching the construction of a railroad
for 4 installments and have not passed a known mile marker yet.
No mention is made of tons of railroad spikes used or 10’s of tons
of iron rail on order, on the way, or on the ground. The most peculiar thing about this show is the saddle horn on
the saddles. Cowboys with saddle horns came up the cattle
trails to Nebraska 15 to 20 years later. A man coming out of Mississippi
in 1865 would probably have had a variant of an English saddle.
But this is TV.


I can see Cole's daughter being Yoko Ono for the McGinnes bothers (money will be an issue too).The father-daughter encounter was touching and funny. Elam's most intersting "relationship" isn't with Cullen but with Eva. Tragic forbidden love anyone? Robin McLeavy is a scene-stealer. Like Sean, I'm liking the characters more and more. Great ep, great recap.

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Hell on Wheels Season 1 Episode 5 Quotes

Mickey McGinnes: What if, God forbid, you were to lose?
Cullen Bohannon: That ain't going to happen.

Get down off that horse and put me in the cut.

Elam Ferguson