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Hell on Wheels Season Finale Review: This Means War

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I've always had something of a soft spot for Hell on Wheels. There's just something old school cool about gunslingers, western style drama and the lawlessness that combines with a struggling of morality for the people involved, especially when the particular genre is few and far between on television these days.

So I was looking forward to what the finale was going to bring, mostly because the season has felt disjointed in its goals. There had been a lot of ground work placed over the episodes preceding, but I really wasn't sure what was going to take place or what direction the show was headed.

Ultimately, "Blood Moon, Blood Moon Rising" served to finally show off the completed railroad bridge, the inevitable war with the angry Sioux and the deadly consequences involved with love triangles.

Cullen Prepares for Battle

A good portion of the first half was truly just a lot of waiting, as Bohannon began to recount his tale of what happened to the now destroyed town.

Sure, there was a certain amount of tension and suspense enhanced by the soundtrack. The booming drums and the plucking of strings elevated the anticipation. Whether it was Elam Ferguson saying "Hello" to Lily as she was leaving her place or Sean McGinnes telling Ruth he was sorry, I was prepared for something bad to happen. They both had that look in their eyes.

Even Bohannon successfully driving the train over the bridge, which proved a victory, was laced with the dramatic pressure of a downfall.

It's interesting to think that aside from the Sioux preparing for battle, a good majority of the problems revolved around the women.

I don't understand why Sean was obsessed with Ruth. He did everything he could possibly think, even renouncing his religion and getting baptized by her, in order to be with her. And, still, she rejected him. C'mon, man. Is she really the only woman to go after? It's not like he's spent tons of time with her and it was all a surprise.

Eva's still been caught between Mr. Toole and Ferguson, but she's been pretty straight forward that she was going to stick with her husband. Clearly, Ferguson wouldn't take no, building his house and continually trying to win her back.

And it was her going to his place to tell him it wasn't going to happen that proved the first shocking death. Mr. Toole shooting himself took me by surprise. I expected him to take his anger out on Eva and shoot her, but himself? Wow.

Of course, it was Lily and her affair with Durant that was the most problematic for the railroad. Not only was Durant willing to kill her off, but she was prepared to screw him over with the ledger. And then there's Bohannon, whose blossoming love for her was only just beginning which complicated things further.

Everyone seemed to be desperately looking for a solid footing, but it seemed as if despite their success with the railroad work, everything was slipping out from under them.

So it's not surprise that the character drama became quickly aligned with the action drama.

After a very long absence, the Swede finally returned, burned and warning of the future attack. And I was thrilled he came back because his presence provides for gripping scenes. Dancing in the streets as homes burned, people were slaughtered and the town was falling down around him added to his fantastic craziness.

And his ruthless kills were shocking. Just standing behind the guard before slowly cutting his neck was powerful. You knew exactly what type of guy he was and still, no one besides Bohannon had really felt concerned with him.

Which made one of the saddest and most shocking moments for the show that much more dramatic and real.

The Swede killed Lily.

I kept waiting for someone to burst down the door at the last second, or Lily to get lucky and escape, but to no avail. And as much as I'm disappointed we'll never get to see that Bohannon and Lily romance any further, I'm pleased at the boldness in story decision. Killing Mr. Toole was a surprise but, nothing compared to finishing off one of the top tier characters... in the second season no less!

And after fighting off the Sioux, I can only imagine how Bohannon felt. I'm still trying to wrap my head around the evil of the Swede.

The Swede is the perfect nemesis for Bohannon and that final scene between the two men was perfect. Both Anson Mount and Christopher Heyerdahl have shined in their respective roles and, frankly, I wish we got more of them. They embody their characters in such a charismatic way that each moment is riveting.

It is interesting that the Swede managed to escape his hanging though. That guy always manages to wiggle out of Bohannon's grasp.

Truly, the finale wiped the slate clean. The town will have to start over, some of the characters have the potential for not coming back or at the very least switching gears and headed towards something new.

And Bohannon, I know he'll get his revenge and I hope we get the chance to see that.

But even in all it's positives, the episodes still got stuck with some problems.

Did anyone realize the time jump from last episode? Ferguson had only built the base of the house and now the whole thing was finished? Was it necessary to the plot?

Hannah Durant, who I enjoyed in her initial appearance, felt pushed to the back this time around. Sure, she had a few good lines, but ultimately she became unnecessary aside from being a reason Durant wanted to get rid of Lily.

And as much as I enjoyed the Sioux battle, it was pretty much just an entertaining action sequence. The more personal danger was left to the Swede meaning the Sioux were just characters to either slaughter or be slaughtered.

And would Bohannon really be asked to take the place of Durant? They wouldn't bring someone new in? I know he's a competent guy and clearly willing to push forward as shown in that last scene, but I'm surprised he was the first choice.

Overall, the finale stuck true to the general pace and tone that began at the outset of the series. There's always great scenic pieces, interesting plot lines and enjoyable action. But there could and should have been more with Bohannon and the Swede. These guys carry the show to its riveting heights, especially when the other characters seem to do whatever the episode wants them to do.

It's not the tightest story being told on television, but when it strikes, it strikes hard and viscerally is a pleasure to watch. I hope that season three finds a bigger goal than completing the railroad bridge, but after a decent finale, I'm glad that we've still got Westerns on TV.

Let's keep this show rolling.

What did you think of the finale? Were you shocked by the deaths? Sound off below!

Review

Editor Rating: 4.3 / 5.0
  • 4.3 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.3 / 5.0 (637 Votes)

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

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Don;t these producers know what type of handguns they should be using. Most of the habdguns I am seeing on the show are 3 years out of date. And don't get me started on the Union Cavalry officer with a mohawk !. I really don't think he would be in the service very long wearing that.

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What a horrible turn this show has taken. It was clear that Cullen, even though he had no problem killing, had a strong sense of morality when it came to the opposite sex. He turned down whores and adult viewings for both seasons. He did not pursue Lily Bell like a dog with a bone. I think its because he would feel un-loyal or betraying to his late wife. He was not like the other men. Now, in the first episode of season three, hes kissing whores and having one night stands with randoms. Why would this show degrade him to all of the other men on this show. Lily and Cullen were going to live honest together. Now Lily is dead and Cullen is with whores. Who thought to take this path?

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For 17 episodes (Season 1&2)I absolutely loved HoW but the last 3 episodes were utterly stupid. The writing and the plots were atrociously implausible. Cullen Bohannon getting brow-beaten by Mrs Durant and choosing the railroad over Lily was so ludicrous I almost didn't bother with the last episode. The end of the Lily Bell character probably came about as a result of Ms McElligott's decision to leave the series. To kill her off, however, compounded her fans' sadness at her departure with the misery of watching her die...and that's lousy audience relations. I decided to take in the first few episodes of season 3 if only to confirm my suspicions that the series would be dull without Lily Bell whom I adored. I was right.

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So pissed, so pissed. I just watched season 2 on Netflix, and can't understand why a great show like this insists on doing the same thing every over show does. Why is this total ridiculously threating, completely mortal antagonist kept alive just saw he can kill off an essential character to deepen the wounds that the protagonist has to overcome. Just plain stupid, especially when they dangled the death of the swede like a carrot. Hand to hand he was never much of an adversary for Cullen, should've killed him sooner.

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stupid stupid stupid for killing lily bell. i was a huge fan but will not watch again after i watched the first show of the 3 rd season, i wanted to see if she was only almost dead..

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HOW is a good show, but it made a grave mistake in how it removed Lily Bell. I am stunned by the amount of thoughtlessness that went into Lily Bell's last scene. If the show is about one man's redemption, then keep that focus in the writing. Don't introduce a strong, leading female character, with unforgettable, sterling qualities, powerful enough to consume the audience, and then kill her off with a simple stroke of the pen. Your effrontery is inexcusable, Mr. Shiban, as Lily might say. Nevertheless, I have come to believe that killing Lily Bell must have transpired from some sort of disagreement between Dominique and the show’s producers, or whomever. It cannot be about returning the story to redemption, because another strong, leading female character is introduced in the upcoming season. The problem for the writer(s) is getting the audience to forget about the unforgettable Lily Bell. To that, I say, good luck! To the show, I say, good riddance.

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Lily is dead as a door nail. Strangled burnt and dropped on death's door, literally. As much as I'd love to see her come back as well, she will not be miraculously revived. She's dead. Gone. Never coming back. Sorry guys.

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Lily dying basically ruined the show for me, the story had so much potential with her and Cullen, it's a dirty shame.

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I know some people think it was great writing to have Lily killed off, but I get tired of these kind of stories. I agree with the ones who say they will not watch anymore. All the shows seem to this sort of thing these days or they cancel them about the time you get really interested in them. Are all the writers and directors so sadistic these days? Do they not know how to write a good plot without having to kill off the favorite charactors? I would rather see them leave to go somewhere else than kill them off.

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I agree with the comments about lily. If she is gone this season I am done, the show rocked so far. But why invest so much time in a character just to off them in season 2. Just like Sara in prison break, they almost lost all their fans for offing Sara. They had to come up with a way to bring her back early on because so many people were angry. If lily is gone for real I think many people will stop wstching... that ruined the whole episode for me...