Hell on Wheels Review: Who Didn't Survive?

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With Tony Gayton and Tom Brady (no, not the football superstar) writing "Purged Away With Blood" and Joe Gayton directing, this Hell on Wheels episode was clearly meant to be a pivotal turning point on Season 2.

With the show's creators at the helm, everything had to be great, right? Sort of. In plenty of respects, the sixth episode did do a lot well.

Cullen Looks On

Tom Noonan gave an outstanding performance as the Reverend. Noonan has always done a solid job portraying the man through his drunk tirades, his crazy beheadings and general outlandish actions, despite the character teetering around in the background.

The episode put him front and center, eliminating his alcohol abuse, cranking up the crazy and revealing a menacingly determined character that was supremely underestimated. Whether he's glaring at Bohannon or breaking down in front of his daughter, Noonan is top notch.

Sadly, his death (was it the only way to stop him?) means that we won't be seeing his stock of manifesto madness anymore, but his swan song was a commanding one.

And I enjoyed that for a show steeped within history, we got references to abolitionist John Brown and John Wilkes Booth. It not only reminds us of the era we're watching, but the significance of men willing to spill blood for the cause.

Of course, with a man like Bohannon, whose skill with the gun has given him many a death count, he had to add one more: the death of his friend, Doc.

That final moment between him and Doc was also a powerful portion of the hour, illuminating the uncomfortable situation for the gunslinger and the somber choice to pull the trigger. Fantastic acting from Anson Mount, yet again, to add another layer to the developed character.

Even the general stand off between Bohannon and Elam versus the Reverend and his Sioux soldiers was tense laden with some great low lighting to add to the grim outlook. Of course, the setting is always picturesque on this show, from the sprawling landscape to the filthy town itself.

So why did the episode also leave me with some head scratchers? For some great moments, some aspects just didn't make sense to me.

Why was Eva chosen to go with Durant? Was she the only one in the entire town to give him comfort or just one of the main characters placed in the situation so she could be in harms way to affect Common's decision? And what was she saying when she was stabbing that one Sioux warrior?

Also, Since when has Lily overly cared for Durant? I know she's been sleeping with him (gross) and maybe she's found a way to become emotionally attached, but I thought it was about manipulation not compassion? You'd think there was a true love story between him with the way she sat by his bedside.

And how has Durant not died? He seemed wounded, but not on his deathbed. Surely that much time should have been crucial?

In addition, why was the Reverend dilemma started and wrapped up in one episode? Sometimes I wish that significant storylines like that span a few episodes, not necessarily dragged out mind you, but explored further.

Similarly, I know the episode was a set up for a future showdown with the Swede, an inevitable confrontation with the Sioux and characters heading down different paths, but I feel like we've been setting things up for a while now. It's time to start taking it all and moving forward. I know things happen each episode, obviously, but I keep waiting for it to be continued and expounded upon.

All the ingredients are there, now it's time to mix them together and turn them into something larger.

The episode may have been a mixed bag with first rate performances and story decisions that left me puzzled, but I'm hoping that for the final stretch of episodes, Hell on Wheels finds one track and rides it brilliantly to the end. The outcome should be an explosive one.

What did you think of the episode? Love it? Hate it? Shocked by the deaths? Excited for what's to come? Sound off below!


Editor Rating: 4.0 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.6 / 5.0 (50 Votes)

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


I happened across Hell on Wheels earlier this year and was hooked on it. Any documentary could be done by the History Channel or National Geographic, but this series had something extra, a strong but vulnerable beautiful lady that survived terrible events and became the MAIN CHARACTER in the series. The love story that was evolving was the glowing golden thread in the broad pattern of the series. It is a shame that some “smart� writer decided to destroy the series by eliminating this love story and returning it to just another documentary. I will watch the first episode in the new season just to see if Dominique McElligott returns (a twin sister searching for her, possibly revived from a coma (no doctors there to really assure she died) of by some other methodology. I was going to buy both DVDs but will now wait to see what happens to Mrs. Lilly Bell and, if she is no longer a part of the series I, along with I read in the comment blogs, will also stop watching Hell on Wheels: just another docu-western focused on revenge.


In my opinion, it's highly unlikely that Swede killed Lily.  He's badly burned when he arrives back in town, draped over a horse. He wears only a loincloth and screams and writhes in pain when anyone tries to touch him. He rambles on incoherently and drifts in and out of consciousness.  Hanna doubts that he'll live through the night.  It's too unbelievable that he's suddenly up, dressed and waltzing through the fire to Lily's car where he wrestles her to the ground and strangles her.  More likely, this is part of his delirium as he hovers near death.  It would also explain his weird “fire waltz� and the dreamlike sequence at the end where he skips along the tracks and jumps off the bridge to escape his hanging. Besides that, Lily was the only person who was kind to him. She stopped the terrible beating Cullen was giving him in season one; she brought him back from the dump where he lived like an outcast; she gave him his job back as accountant, and she demanded that Cullen let him out of the pig car. Swede was also Lily's co-conspirator in exposing Durant's fraud, so they shared a bond. He had no reason to kill her. Personally, I think both the Swede and Lily will be back in fine form for season 3 and the writers will have some new surprises up their sleeves. I'd like to see Hell on Wheels go on for at least a few more seasons and end as it should, when they finally reach California, hopefully with most of the cast intact.


I was very disappointed in the death of Lilly, I thought for sure she would be rescued at the last minute. I felt it was a very poor choice to drop her character, she's such an integral part of the story. She and Collin were just starting what would have been an interesting, heated, enjoyable story line. Why was she killed?


I thoroughly enjoyed watching Cullen/Lilli's relationship grow. How she was able to break through to him. I am v-e-r-y disappointed in her shocking (apparent) death but bring her back! Just spin it that she was unconscious or you lost 2 viewers.


Why was the Doc shot.?


Great episode! I, too, had no idea that Lily had feelings for Durant (or does she?). Maybe it's a matter of survival on her part. There's a lot of sexual tension between Cullen and Lily, which looks like, according to the next episode, to come to fruition. Durant actually should already have been dead; he had a mortal wound to start out with, before the doc went probing around and he lost so much blood. I have no idea either what Eva was saying while stabbing the Indian. Something in their native language and her anger with having the tatoo on her face? Good show with great actors.


The preacher was a broken man and easily subject to manipulation by someone like the Swede. However, I was also confused by what the Swede's primary motivation was to arm the Indians with rifles and take over the train caring Durant so the preacher could get his maifesto in the newspaper - revenge? That whole sub-plot was rather vague. I also am puzzled by the continuing erratic way Durant's and Lily's personal realtionship is being depicted. She seems genuinely hurt that Durant wants to try to make amends with his wife and (apparently) end his romantic relationship with her. And Lilly has been fawning over him for the last two episodes like she is really in love with him. Is she trying to convince herself that her sleeping with Durant wasn't just part of a business arrangement and that it was based on real affection? She was furious with Bohannon for referring to having to share a bed with Durant because it was payback of some kind. Why, it was like he was talking to her like she was some common whore. And she needed to Durant to validate that accusation was not accurate by choosing her over his wife, which he did not. So now Lilly is left with the fact that Bohannon's words, though cold (and probably driven partly by jealousy)really did describe what she had become. She and Eva are really not that much different and that's probably one of the reasons why she is so kind to her. In a broad sense, they are both in the same business.


Eva has shown healing abilities before (learned from Native Americans), and she is a known character to us and to Durant. No issues with her going to Chicago. The bigger question is what in the world was the Reverend and the Swede trying to accomplish, and how does whatever it was tie into their past behavior? The Reverend started out as an alcoholic who preached peace. And he bacame what ... an anti-American expansion supporter of Native Americans who believes in violence? Why? And the Swede is doing what, exactly? I know he is angry at Durant but he is acting like an arachist? Or some kind of fanatic for something?


Wow, I can't believe you don't think Hell on Wheels has been moving forward; compared with other shows that use filler for the season and only focus on the last few episodes, I'd say they're doing a fantastic job at moving forward. I also think it's wrong to suggest that the reverend had another way out. With Durant requesting Eva: if the next episodes don't reveal something we don't know, I'd agree it's messed up. And for a while it's been indicated that Lily started developing feelings for Durant, so I didn't really have that many head scratchers. I definitely thought the episode was phenomenal, Hell on Wheels has been doing it right all season.

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