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Hell on Wheels Review: Changing Lanes

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I knew there was no way the Swede was the reformed good guy on a mission from God. His wild hair alone should have been an indicator that the creepy character was up to no good.

Turning a baptism into a murderous move that violently killed the Mormon husband and wife was a brilliant way to start "One Less Mule." I was glued immediately to the episode, watching the Swede thrash his way through the water like a manipulative predator while calling out to Ezra that he would find him.

I'm curious how he will link back up to Cullen Bohannon and the railroad, but I've got a feeling that he's going to be trying to take the Mormon's position of power and take over his identity as well.

But the rest of the episode centered on the trial of Bohannon with mixed results.

Out of Position

Now, I've definitely gotten more on board with Bohannon leading the railroad building, and it was good to see some consequences for the actions he's made.

Similarly, it was an interesting move to bring Ulysses S. Grant onto the show to not only interact with the Southern outlaw, but slowly build something of a friendship (or at least understanding). The guy really knows how to chew a cigar, right?

And, of course, Durant would scheme and plot like he always does (where is his maniacal laugh?), so I wasn't surprised he basically put Bohannon on trial.

But all because of Louise Ellison's articles? (Okay, there was a little more to it, but the articles really were the things that set everything in motion). Bohannon had been pardoned for his previous actions, so why put him on blast for his more recent ones?

I get that with the "witness" testimony of Bohannon's character referencing the boy being hanged in the Hell on Wheels season three premiere - along with the fact that he would be willing to kill if forced to - were meant to put him in a bad light. But this is Bohannon, and the only person really questioning his ability to run the railroad was Durant, the guy with a personal agenda.

That said, I was glad that they brought up him refusing to move town until they found Elam Ferguson and Eva's baby in "Searchers." There were actual repercussions from that.

And it was good to see the normally resolute Bohannon question whether he was right for the role he had recently taken up. But, like Ruth said, "to put the past behind you, you must move beyond it."

Can he get over the past? Over the revenge he had taken up?

So, I was happy he didn't sign the paper and content to see him have a little alcohol fueled fun. He embraced who he was.

But boy was I shocked when he killed the man seeking revenge on Bohannon. It was such a sudden blast, but to him, it was the only move he had.

My real problem with the episode lies in Louise Ellison and her role on the show. She still feels like an attempt (and unfortunately a poor one) to replace Lily Bell.  It's as if the series isn't quite sure what to do with her and when they reveal a little back story it feels like a forced one.

So she's at Hell on Wheels (apparently the most read journalist in the country) because she had a "unrequited indiscretion" with... wait for it... a woman named Ida Greely. Wait, what?

As much as it was fun to see Durant play a real snake and hold the knowledge and assistance over her, the whole thing just felt thrown in there. I have no idea where her character is headed next and it's hard for me to even care anyway.

Still, I was pleased to see Ferguson propose to his woman and thank Bohannon for giving him the contract to remain sheriff. At the same time, he tried to avoid problems by running the revenge seeking brother out of town. He really stepped it up this episode.

I also enjoyed Bohannon and Grant chatting it up, but it was Bohannon's happiness that Durant's town name was changed ("Can I tell him?") that helped sell it. Bohannon definitely has a renewed vigor in the job, and he finally got rid of Sean McGinnes from that task of anymore "helping."

Looks like everybody has been shifted to new paths. The real question will be, what will they do now that they've been placed in the new positions. And can Bohannon really keep Durant (and possibly the Swede) from getting his job done.

This was definitely a transitional episode that had very solid beginning and endings, even if the middle felt more mixed in its approach. Still, Bohannon with a glare and a beard can command Hell on Wheels like he always does.

Outlaw. Killer. Leader.

Review

Editor Rating: 4.4 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.3 / 5.0 (47 Votes)

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

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After trying to be Django Unchained for a season or two, the quirky depiction of the American west AMC calls, “Hell on Wheels,” must have felt it had dried up that thematic well. It also got bored with the mere unification of the United States via building a coast-to-coast railway system. It’s original premise became a obfuscatory backdrop for focusing very viciously, very deliberately, and very openly upon portraying Mormons as treacherous, racist, murdering traitors, who’s leaders live to exploit their captive flock, debase women, and shoot it out with the railroad, the army, or any other government authorities just for sheer spite. I can only suppose that since Indians were out of vogue, they just pulled Mormons out of their magical hat and wrote them in to fulfill the role of untamed savages as needed, or to play the part of foaming fundamentalist rubes with guns standing in the way of progress, without the slightest amount of historical or any other research. In this silly revisionist melodrama, Actor Anson Mount plays the lead character of Cullen Bohannon, and he says he took the part because it portrayed a southerner in a positive light. No kidding. So did Birth of a Nation. I guess if you don’t know that Bohannon and his brethren are actually the same creatures who founded the KKK it doesn’t seem as bizarre and hypocritical to you to hear a lecture about Mormon racism and disloyalty coming from a slave-plantation-owning Johnny Reb-war criminal and cold blooded killer out on a vengeance spree against former Union soldiers. Joseph Smith in short, was killed by Bohannon’s kinfolks and political allies for lobbying against slavery and inviting free negroes to join his church and live amongst the Mormons as equals. Cullen Bohannon’s people on the other hand, raped, pillaged, hung, tortured, whipped, shot, cut, hacked, tarred and feathered, robbed and burned their way through every local population of Negroes, Mormons, or Native Americans that got in the way of their dreams of slave-powered plantations of lazy wealth. Hell on Wheels’ anti-Mormonism is not just one or two ignorant references. It’s a campaign. If the producers and writers of Hell on Wheels had depicted Jews in the same way it has depicted Mormons, the Anti-Defamation League would have had the show closed overnight and everyone’s guild cards pulled. The Salt Lake Tribune got it exactly right. Hell on Wheels is a “big, lazy slap at Mormonism.” It’s not just a slap. It’s not just that it’s a big slap. It’s that it’s such a big and lazy slap. Lazy. Lazy. Lazy. Shamefully lazy. Embarrassingly Lazy. You couldn’t get any lazier if you just scripted The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and had Bohannon out rescuing captured Christian babies from blood-drinking Jews, and the writers’ only “historical” adjustment was that they put Amish hats on them and called them “Mormons.” http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/e... In the history of real Mormonism, the one single case the United States of America ever proved “legally” against the religion is that it believed in the Biblical soundness of plural marriage. When it came down to proving a legal case against Joe Smith or Brigham Young and the entire Mormon movement, all the US government had was polygamy. I say this because that’s the verdict even by the US government’s own estimation. I’m not making a Mormon case here. I’m talking about what the federal government actually coughed up in the way of “Constitutional” excuses in its attempts to exterminate Mormonism. But the rumor, the innuendo, the fantasy, the specters of Mormon boogie men is just too popular an image for the truly ignorant and clueless of America, of the world, to let go of. Case in point: Hell on Wheels. http://lrwhitney.wordpress.com...

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@ LR Whitney

Yeah, basically. Mormons are worse than savages.

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Episode 5, Season 3 of "Hell on Wheels" leaves me speechless, almost gasping for air. At this moment, I cannot remember witnessing a more riveting work of drama.

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wow! agree with most everyone! i fell into this show accidentally and it is one of the few things my husband and i both like! but this year is def odd. bohannon is a different guy this time around. i only really watched the show for the lily/bohannan relationship and was crushed when she died. now he's mr. drinking/dancing/kissing girls. i can't get where it's going, but i am enjoying the ride. we'll see. (oh and he is pretty cute--even when he's a mess...)

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This season is the polar opposite. Bohannon's relationship with Etham is electric - like Butch and Sundance; that's the highlight, for me of Season 3. But Cullen's become a one dimensional gunslinger. Reading to the Mormon's son before hanging his brother would be totally in character of the Bohannon we knew from Seasons 1&2. Nailing the Mormon's daughter in the barn completely out of character. Dancing happily with the prostitute and kissing the reporter because he's drunk, seems like the writers are trying to change this fascinating man and make him into just another cowboy. Anson Mount, Hell on Wheels, and the audience deserve better. Bring back the multi-layered, conflicted, deeply human, Bohannon.

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In he first two seasons, we witnessed incredible character development and acting with Anson/Bohannon. He was a gunslinger and murderer, yet he was unusually multifaceted for the genre. He gave money to a prostitute asking nothing in return. His kindness to Lily as he treated her wounds. His subtle change of holding his knife to signal his true breeding. Anson Mount is a great actor - he conveyed an inner soul through body language and glance on many occasions, especially when playing against Lily. What woman who has been truly loved hasn't seen the look he gave Lily when he said "I could stay..." before she touched his wet hair? And, their love scene made it seem that he had been with no one else after his wife died. Bohannon was complicated and nuanced during the first two seasons, and I'm not sure this can be only contributed to Lilly Bell. The writers seemed to have a clear picture of a multi-layered hero that stole our imaginations. This season is the polar opposite. Bohannon's relationship with Etham is electric - like Butch and Sundance; that's the highlight, for me of Season 3. But Cullen's become a one dimensional gunslinger. Reading to the Mormon's son before hanging his brother would be totally in character of the Bohannon we knew from Seasons 1&2. Nailing the Mormon's daughter in the barn completely out of character. Dancing happily with the prostitute and kissing the reporter because he's drunk, seems like the writers are trying to change this fascinating man and make him into just another cowboy. Anson Mount, Hell on Wheels, and the audience deserve better. Bring back the multi-layered, conflicted, deeply human, Bohannon.

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@ Kellianne

I laugh every time someone mentions that dinner scene, and calls the hand switching "subtle". Subtle isn't when the camera focuses on that and only that.

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it seems like this season should be more like 20 episodes, not 10, since nothing really has happened so far, i think if there is a season 4 it should have a good amount of new characters because im tired of the story between elam & the woman & their baby. i wish the woman & her baby had been killed last season or the woman was still pregnant at the time, and then had lily bell stay alive. they coulda still had the reporter come in and be a love interest for both of them conceivably. and then elam is single again & is just more of bohanon's friend & coworker. i think this show has to have a more serious threat(s) to at least accompany durant's political machinations. the indians never do anything and seem cheesy usually when they come around. maybe the swede can do something but the season is already over by the time hes getting into the overall picture.

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I guess the only other thing that I found odd was Grant's line at the end saying that Bohannon's killing days were behind him. Obviously, meant to seem ironic to us, having witnessed Bohannon's killing of the revenge-seeking brother the night before. But... why would Grant believe that? Doesn't he want Bohannon in charge partly because Bohannon *is* still a killer *and* a railroad man, and that's what's needed? There are still ways that Bohannon can kill, in a socially and legally accepted way, in the service of the railroad -- whether it's hunting down cattle rustlers (surprised that wasn't mentioned) or fighting Indians. Maybe Grant only meant, "glad your days of killing to avenge your family are behind you" (since at one point Bohannon includes Grant in the blame), which I suppose could be true. Killing the Prescott brother wasn't revenge; it was self-preservation. Bohannon may realize he's done bad things, but I'm not actually sure that he considers those revenge deaths "bad". I think he still considers them justice; to him, if not legally. Even if he does regret them to any extent, it only makes sense that he isn't so ready to repent that he's willing to die to atone for them. Really interesting, though, that the show decided to insert that killing into the "redemption" narrative for him.

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Yeah, I'll admit -- the fact that there are only 4 episodes left leaves me a little nonplussed. In a lot of ways, this episode feels to me like the seasons's just really found its feet... but it's almost over, too. I really enjoyed the episode a lot. It had some great notes in it. But yeah, I was puzzled by a few things. I haven't actually gone to read the "Railroad run by Murderer" article (it's at the AMC site), so I don't know whether Ellison's expose also noted that he'd been pardoned for those murders... which kinda makes them not legally murders any more. (Yes. They were murders. We all know it. But if you're going to report on it...) If she only uncovered the murders, but not the pardon, what kind of reporter is she? Note: the Ida Greeley she's supposed to have made a pass at (the "unrequited" part suggests it wasn't welcome?) is undoubtedly supposed to be the daughter of Horace Greeley, the real, historical founder of the New York Tribune. So Ellison didn't just make a pass at a woman, she made a pass at the boss's daughter. I agree that was somewhat out of nowhere, though. However, I'm almost interested to look back at the previous scenes with Ellison and see if any hints were dropped. The main thing having me say "what?" was her confessing it to Durant at all. You'd like to think she would be smart enough to see how oily Durant is. I'd hardly want to give him that ammunition. It seemed like the only reason for her to tell him was that the writers could think of no other way for her to say it aloud, and let us, the audience, know. I'd have believed it more if Durant himself had dug it up from "other sources" and confronted her with it. So, the main thing I didn't get about hanging the Mormon boy was... hey, everyone who was there knows that the boy confessed. I'm not saying any of us believed him, nor that Bohannon believed him. But in the circumstances, the father identified him as the killer, the boy basically agreed that he did it, and refused several attempts by Bohannon to allow him to claim innocence. The lack of other witnesses didn't really matter, in terms of the law, if you have the confession. So I didn't get why everybody, including the incredibly annoying Major Phrenology, had suddenly decided that "Bohannon may have hanged an innocent man". It seemed clear in that episode that if the boy had claimed innocence and challenged his father's version of events, Bohannon would have done something different. (We can't be sure what. Possibly a trial.) With the boy's unwillingness to challenge the charge, what else was to be done? Furthermore, the Army major should have been challenged on the point. If he had believed he was witnessing a miscarriage of justice, he had a duty to stop the hanging and take the boy back to the fort for a trial. He had the men and the guns to back up such a move.

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Season almost over and nothing happens yet. Except for the Swede thats seperate. What is the story?