Hell on Wheels Review: Lessons Learned

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There are certainly things that I wish Hell On Wheels would fix.

For the most part, there's been a relative lack of narrative progression in story, especially with Bohannon's hunt for his wife's murderers. Even any actual railroad work doesn't really seem to take place, beyond watching the men in the dirty grimy cut or discussing that the railroad will go through the Rocky mountains.

And as much as viewers can continually cry out the Deadwood comparisons and western cliches, the show has built its characters well.

I can say that from the outset, I was keenly interested and invested in Cullen Bohannon. All of the others? They didn't capture my attention the same way and I was afraid they would become too one dimensional in falling into stock characters.

Revelations Scene

Sure, the same could be said for Bohannon and his revenge focused mind, but he, and the others, have slowly grown into something more. They've become characters with a certain depth and as viewers we get to see further glimpses into their lives and the little things that make them tick. Of course, we may not like certain characters, things that they say, or things that they do, but the bottom line is that Hell on Wheels is character invested.

One of the best moments of "Revelations" was Bohannon opening up at the campfire. Yes, there was a little bit of liquid courage perhaps making it easier, but there was a quiet yet sincere understanding of what has turned him so cold, so alone, and so vengeful. He's not only seeking to kill for the murder of his wife, but also the death of his son.

Yet, that hint of past home life extended further to reveal that Bohannon was raised by a slave, Bethel, after his mother died. Even so, it still made him pissed off about paying his slaves for their services. It took that tragic and horrible event, seeing Bethel wrapped around his son, protecting him and burned together, to truly open his eyes. It really is funny how the world works sometimes.

Ferguson received a bit of flashback to his youth and his ability to read. It's interesting to see that he holds such a strong hope and desire to rise above the racism and the standards set for black people during that time period. And even as he acknowledges being given that false hope, he still pushes forward for himself. Ferguson is slowly letting his guard down and opening his eyes to the possibility that not all white men and Southerners are evil and racist.

If anything, Ferguson and Bohannon each are learning more about themselves in addition to each other.

Of course, nothing beats a good old fashioned lesson on how to gunfight than one with Cullen Bohannon. His comments about shooting and not getting killed were so plainly true that they were funny and Ferguson's disbelief that he was "ready" added to that. I'm glad that he remained a relatively bad shot even when the fight started instead of making him as good as Bohannon.

But it was quite a shock that Ferguosn got probably the most graphic and surprising kill. I almost expected him to lower his gun and make amends. Yet, shooting Mr. Toole right in the mouth was a shock and great scene. "My name is Elam Ferguson. You be sure to tell the devil that, when he asks who killed you," was right on the money in establishing Ferguson dealing with his enemies and standing up for himself. It's great to see the lawlessness and choice of the quick or the dead when it comes to the people on this show.

The episode also took the time to focus on developing its other characters as well.

Durant explained his youth and the reasons for his drive to succeed. What's interesting is that despite his sob story and transformation into a worried man, when he holds all the power, he is a force to be recokned with. I was even glad that he was pompous and arrogant when telling the Senator about the stock loss and his potential need for him. He truly has turned into something worse than his childhood self, but it drives him in a way that is necessary for him to survive. Durant has defintely become more than long winded monologues and campy dialogue.

Additionally Lily Bell went to visit her husband's family for awkward hugs. I love that she stood up for herself with that slap. She is self assured and independent, not snooty or stuck up despite her upbringing. There's something about her that is rather appealing, and I don't mean just her pretty face.

I did find Durant's proposition a little odd, as well as Lily not outright telling him no. Maybe Durant has a little swagger or maybe he holds another possibility for Lily to attain something. After all, Durant has been duped by her before. Can it happen again? Women. So wiley.

And despite the Swede not taking any real action of his own, he creeps me out in a wonderful way. From his sing song voice that attempts to come across as pleasant, but we know it's not, to the inflection change into a nasty snarl makes him a true character to watch out for. When he quickly stabbed Mr. Toole with that fork, I was ready for him to kill him with it. Yet, what's great is the Swede is calculating and clearly manipulative. I just hope that there's more of an episode devoted to him and a larger confrontation with Bohannon. I'm sure the Swede will want to deal with him after he finds out all of the people who were recently killed.

The episode really captured the core characters in a way that was compelling and entertaining to watch. I continually love that each episode garners a bit of action and gun fire in addition to its character development, and am looking forward for it to combine with a story that is filled with a sense of something at stake or at the very least progressing towards a goal.

While an enjoyable hour of television, it's time for Hell On Wheels to take these fascinating characters and get back on track with it's main story.


Editor Rating: 4.4 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.5 / 5.0 (64 Votes)

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


Great review. I was waiting to hear Cullen's backstory and this episode delivered. I also had a feeling that there was a child involved besides his wife. And we got to hear the other's past. I thought Lily was tough in her dealings with the in-laws. Charlotte deserved it. And it was about time she told what happened. How she fought off the Indians. I hope we get a 2nd season. That AMC will renew. When the Walking Dead ended its season as lead-in for Hell on Wheels the ratings dropped. Hope AMC will let it come back with TWD. Love this show and want to see more...


I'm glad to find someone else besides me that still enjoys this show. It's far from perfect, but I have grown to like some of these characters. I still think Durant is a slimy SOB, but every story needs someone like him. LOL I have been waiting to hear the backstory of Cullen's wife's murder. I had assumed that she was pregnant when they killed her because there had to be something more tragic than just losing his wife. It was surprising to hear that he changed his mind about freed slaves after he found out that one of his former slaves died trying to protect his son. That was such a great scene when Cullen told Elam about his son. If more people actually watched this show, I would say that was an Emmy-worthy moment by Anson Mount.


A salient & succinct review. Character development is key to the series success & this episode did true justice to all mentioned. And, while I agree the arc of the plot may need some tending... I am happy with how they are taking their time revealing its narrative. For my money (err,... "Bang, Bang") this is one of the premier shows currently on the air. I hope & trust its stewards will continue to not only keep us interested... but also surprised.

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Hell on Wheels Season 1 Episode 7 Quotes

Mr. Toole: Any last words?
Elam Ferguson: I'm gonna kill your lily white ass.

The world don't care about our plans.

Cullen Bohannon