Hell on Wheels Review: On The Road Again

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Hell On Wheels has created a cast of entertaining characters and while last week's episode, "Revelations," continued to lay out the groundwork for their developing backgrounds, it seems as if the show isn't entirely sure what to do with them.

There are certainly many different larger stories to follow or discover, from dealing with the difficulties of building the railroad, to the tension against the Native Americans, to the antagonism between the different people that reside in the camp. Even the initial plot focus of Bohannon on the hunt for his family's murderers set the wheels in motion and, for the most part, it has touched on a variety of the mentioned topics to varying degrees. Except it can't seem to simply cue in on one and take it's journey in a cohesive manner.

If anything, it feels as if each episode centers on a roughly closed structured arc that is only linked to the rest of the episodes based on its characters.

Eva and Lily

Take for instance Bohannon and Ferguson escaping the Swede and being forced to deal with the repercussions of becoming fugitives. Where did that plot line go? "Derailed" nixed any chance of delving into that territory by quickly returning them to the railroad and jumping right back into Durant's open arms. He's very forgiving, isn't he?

And what of the menacing Swede who became something of a baby when staring down the barrel of Bohannon's gun. I know I want Bohannon to be the winner on all accounts, but simply beating the ever-living crap out of him without fighting back didn't make any sense. It was as if all scariness up and left to be replaced by something of a muttering mad man. For a guy who's supposed to rule the roost and control the men, The Swede is doing an extremely poor job. Where did that creepy villain go?

And since when did the Reverend become crazy? Did I miss something along the way? I don't understand a man so centered on God and spreading his word that one act of violence from the Cheyenne sends him over the edge and makes him forget to comb his wild hair. It was like he was a completely different person. An interesting change and great acting, but an extreme jump from when we last saw him.

Even Joseph Blackmoon did a bit of changing by wearing his traditional garb and donning an old school Justin Bieber haircut. Why?

I'm not really even sure why Lily Bell wanted to run out into the muck and mud to be on her own. For someone who seemed so calculating and level headed, it wasn't that smart of a move. I know she was going for the independent schtick in the man's world, but couldn't she do it without trying to prove that she can live in crap. And did she really think the buffet line was going to have more than a nice pile of slop?

Then there was the core story of the episode involving hunting down the Cheyenne renegades, cued to guitar riffs and clumping the major characters together only to not really deal with the problem until the final moments.

I am glad that Bohannon was pitted against a Union soldier because that opposition really hasn't been dealt with. There was still a certain resentment in his tone, but an acknowledgment towards the men that he fought during the war. After all, it's rare to have a confederate soldier as the hero of a show especially when the Union side won. It's just unfortunate that the blue coat picked had no redeeming qualities about him. Like I said before, I'm on Bohannon's side and am willing to root for him, but it would be nice to make the bad guys that pop up a bit more three dimensional to their counterpoints.

I've got a feeling that he won't last anyway. He did kill that kid and vengeance (justice) will find him. Or Bohannon's bullet will.

Of course, Bohannon continues to ring true as the best part of the show whether it's the amount of time spent dealing with his character or the way that Anson Mount embodies him on all levels. Bohannon even gets great lines like telling Lily Bell he has been called an "ass" or letting Ferguson know that he doesn't have to "stay too long to impress me."

It's not that Hell On Wheels needs to redefine the western genre to be a good show. Rather, a bit more focus on a consistent story that doesn't place its characters from one western themed plot to the next would do it wonders. The characters are clearly all in place, they just need to further establish those relationships among them and set up less contrived situations to deal with.

Don't get me wrong, the show is still entertaining and I love some gunslinging action. I just hope that the series doesn't shoot itself in the foot because it can't decide where it wants its characters to go.


Editor Rating: 3.0 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.3 / 5.0 (42 Votes)

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


I think the reverend was always nuts; he just kept up a good show and wanted to believe. There was always something off about him and I always got a really weird vibe from him. Loved the review - love the show but it does need more cohesion and character consistency


I was surprised that Cullen and Elam returned so quickly, but not terribly surprised at the Swede cowering the way he did. He was abused horribly in Andersonville. He became a bully to survive, but effects from that kind of experience would easily be brought up again when confronted by someone as strong as Cullen. I think the reverend was likely just barely keeping a surface veneer on things. When his daughter showed up, he was confronted with a past he thought he was done with, and sort of similar to the Swede, he had to confront his own weakness again. I'm enjoying the show quite a lot, although it is uneven at times. The previous episode, written by the show creators, was very strong. Possibly the others on the writing staff are not settled in yet. It's unfortunate the season is so short, partly for that reason.


The writers struggle to bring we viewers cohesion is indeed a test. However, the merit of quick-solve unifying narrative arcs are often overrated. It's early days in this series; and allowances should be made for the completion of back-stories & character development. I enjoy this show immensely, but feel we should not be asking too much of it too soon. Were AMC to see the light, do something radical, and allot 90 minutes per episode to "flesh out" both plot & characters... I, for one, would be very happy.


I love this show. I don't agree about the Swede. He was a bully before, but when confronted. he cowered to a guy everyone fears in that camp. If he gets up, he's a dead man. So I'll give them a pass on that. As for the disjointed story lines, a little focus wouldn't hurt. But I think they did a good job defining Bohannon and Elam and the complicated relationship between them.


When the tattooed chick told Elam/Common to "get out of my crib"...I was officially done with the series! REALLY??? Her "crib"??? The writers of this show are a freaking joke! Show had some promise, but I can see it's going all down from here. The show is all over the place.


Great show. Glad to see that it will have a Season 2. I suspect that one of the reasons for inconsistency and unrealistic changes for some characters may result from the fact that there are too many characters and too many plot lines to cover them all in a 1 hour show minus commercials. They adapt to cram in something involving each character in each show, often spending only a couple minutes in one scene before shifting to other characters in another scene. In fact, I think it jumps around too much and too fast at times. There may simply not be enough time to portray logical reactions to complicated situations for the minor characters. I would prefer that they just left full-development of some characters out and put more into the main 4. Their stories and interactions alone will fill an episode.


I agree with the review. It seems like everyother show is a transition point. A place where the writers can close story lines and start new ones without really digging into them for very long. I was very surprised to see the Swede fall so easily. I agree at somepoint both he and the Reverend should go crazy at some point down the line but this was just way too early and didn't make any sense. I did like the when Bohannon confronted Lily about being a "kept woman". I think for her to run off and live in the mud was a little much. She seems smarter than that. Afterall what is a woman in that time going to do to support herself? I hope they let Bohannon rescue her and that he gives her a good talking to about being so stupid.


I really like this show, but I agree that some of the characters need to be better defined. So far, I think Cullen, Lily and Elam have been written consistently, but The Swede and Reverend Cole have not. I was surprised to see the Reverend lose his faith so suddenly and go back to drinking. I also agree that The Swede should not have been so scared of Cullen's whipping because usually, The Swede is the one who gives out punishment. I liked the introduction of the Union Lt. because it showed how the Union soldiers must have looked down on the former Confederate soldiers after the war, even though they were supposed to be part of the same country now.


I think you and I agree on one thing on this show though you never said it directly. There are FAR to many characters in this thing and none strong enough to hold your interest for long They killed off the best actor in the first show. I would love to see this succeed but it will not unless they whittle it down to a max of 4 main characters working on the same story and give a bit more class to the lead if that is what Bohannon is supposed to be.


There was a line about justice and revenge that i liked, how they are the same thing. i personally never thought of that before and found it an interesting concept.

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