Hell on Wheels Season Finale Review: Wrong Turn

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"All I want is for this hour to pass so I can return to building my railroad." - Thomas Durant.

It's not often I agree with Durant on any of his schemes or attitudes, but no truer words were spoken in respect to "Get Behind the Mule."

And maybe I could be more forgiving if this was just another episode in the middle of the season, but as the Hell on Wheels Season 3 finale?

Not only did it fall flat, but I'm still a bit confused by the drastic change in direction after everything that's happened up until now.

Cullen's Consequences

Sure, for Season 3, Bohannon got off the revenge path and became focused on the railroad. As in overly focused, and that was fine. The episodes simply brought up a variety of random problems to be quickly solved not so long after, but I still had a sense of hope that through it all, there would be a payoff.

And while the penultimate episode "Fathers and Sins," was cinematically epic and beautiful to look at, it simply added to my concerns about where everything was headed.

What viewers got not only felt tedious in execution, but with wild twists that made no sense at all.

Take Elam Ferguson, who decided to pay his debt to Bohannon finding his child in "Searchers" by heading off to save him. It was a great step for his character, and I enjoyed him talking to Eva one last time before he rode off. There was a sense of determination and drive to do what he felt was right.

So why ruin that journey with pointless attacks on his life in an effort to drum up tension? Yes, it was cool to see him gun battle the Native Americans and a snarling bear, but it felt like a contrived way to put him in danger.

Plus, having Eva wander around in a stupor and shouting "Elam's dead" because she felt his spirit pass wasn't shocking or emotionally jaw dropping. It felt ridiculous, as if the only point was to leave his life in the balance for a cliffhanger.

But the real jumping off the track came when the Mormon girl announced that she was pregnant with Bohannon's baby. That look Bohannan gave when she said it? Yeah, that was my face for most of this episode.

On top of the baby (born from an act that I still feel was out of character for Bohannon in the premiere, "Big Bad Wolf; Eminent Domain") was the marriage between the two. Bet you never saw anything like that coming for this episode.

I guess I was fine that Bohannon was willing to step up and do the right thing by the girl, he's always been pretty much a good guy when it comes to his actions even if he's killed people. But it's frustrating that the series chose to go the direction at all.

Bohannon is such an interesting character and well acted by Anson Mount. He's a fierce force to be reckoned with and to simply put him in this situation disappointed me. With everything that's happened and him trying to be a better person to lead the railroad, to end the season ultimately having nothing to do with the railroad?

What's more, while we finally got the Swede and that great first reaction and confrontation between him and Bohannon, it almost felt like too little too late. The Swede added real menace and tension for their personal battles and yet keeping them apart all season was a waste.

Yes, he's fantastically creepy and one of the best parts of the series, so why avoid using him? Was it because the show wanted to wait until next season to put them together?

The scenes with him and Bohannon made you wonder if they were going to stab or kill each other. And when the Swede brought up Lily Bell? I'm surprised Bohannon didn't take that knife and use it. Each eyebrow raise or gleeful smirk felt spot on, not to mention that last shot of the Swede pouring the water out while Bohannon watched.

The Swede may claim he's a changed man, but we all know that's not the case. It's just unfortunate that most of their time was spent dealing with the Mormon wife and baby issue. It still feels so left field after everything we've been watching and following.

As for Durant, he's back in charge and Louise Ellison is editor of the new newspaper, but do we really care about that? I was even hoping we might get a little more development for Margaret Palmer, owner of the hotel, but she didn't add much besides be Durant's cheerleader in front of General Grant.

And while Mickey is fascinating to watch, and the shots of him eying the girl in his new digs were creep y(maybe he was the real Boston killer and not his brother?), we've never really had time to explore his character behind a few scenes here and there. Oh yeah, and he killed his brother.

It still feels like there should be one more episode or something to follow up and put the show back on railroad track, but this was an unsatisfying finale, even with Bohannon and the Swede as stand outs. I've enjoyed for the most part the first two seasons, and I've liked certain aspects of Hell on Wheels Season 3, but after reaching this final destination with the story taking an absurd turn, it makes me wonder if I even got on the right ride in the first place.


Editor Rating: 2.4 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 3.0 / 5.0 (465 Votes)

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


Knowing that this series is on the bubble for cancellation and that the Season 3 finale could indeed be the Series Finale, I thought that the episode was atrocious. And this is magnified by the brilliant Series Finale of Breaking Bad a mere six days prior. Now, if this turns out to be merely a prelude to a Season 4, while not rescuing the unconscionably bad storylines developed here, at least the episode would serve as a jumping off point for future resolution. Remembering that this entire series began with the revenge storyline of Bohannon seeking justice and revenge for the murder of his family, it is impossible to believe that any amount of character growth could account for him not exacting the ultimate revenge against the Swede for the death of Lily Belle. That day of reckoning is coming, or, should come, and we as viewers want and expect it. But if it turns out that this series dies on the vine as is, the entire saga will have been for naught, both with the railroad unfinished and with the Swede ruling the roost. No. This series cannot and should not end until the Golden Spike is driven into the rails at Promontory Point, and a spike (or knife, or bullet) is driven into the dark heart of the Swede. If it turns out that this is the final episode of the series, we get no payoff and are left with the visage of Cullen Bohannon, (educated and sophisticated, we suspect, well beyond what have been led to believe) toiling behind a mule in a Mormon commune. This would be funny if it weren’t so ridiculous. I can only hope that the producers of the show have been tipped off that a Season 4 has been greenlighted.


"Bet you never saw anything like that coming for this episode." I don't know. Every episode of this show has whores roaming around, Bohannon never messes around with any of them. The fact that he messes around with a girl who happens to be the daughter of a major character of the season, i thought some consequences would come out of that right away, so I don't think the whole pregnant thing was sort of random curve ball or last minute decision. It also cuts through anymore annoying "will they/won't they" crap that might have been between Bohannon/Ruth or Bohannon/Louise. Hell on Wheels is a different kind of show, and I like how it doesn't fall into the trappings of how other shows lazily handle story lines. I also think it's kinda interesting how typically we would think Swede and Bohannon would have a bloody confrontation when they meet up again, and instead the Swede is marrying Bohannon off to someone. Who would of guessed that? This show seems to have an original direction to it.


Okay, respectfully, I think most folks are missing the point. This is a great show. If you're intellectually curious check out the following. The story of Olive Oatman and the meaning of the chin tattoo. The short story "That Hell Bound Train" by Robert Bloch. The anonymous poem "The Hellbound Train". The song "Hellbound Train" by Savoy Brown. And the song "Hellbound Train" by Delta Moon. Just type in Hellbound Train or Olive Oatman in Google search. It's 5 minutes worth of reading and I guarantee you will see "Hell on Wheels" in a totally different light.


I thought this was an interesting twist. There is no way that Cullen would forsake his child. Not with the loss of his wife and child in the war. He will live another day to fight off the Swede. Also, the boy knows that the Swede killed his parents. He will get his. Also, blood all over Elam doesn't mean he is dead.


+1 on Mike Kunkle's ending. That's the season finale we should have just finished watching.


It was a horrible episode indeed.
This show might not be back folks.


I agree with this review except for one thing. The Swede character has overstayed his time. Drawing this out any longer makes him a caricature. The actor is fantastic, but it's already ridiculous and too contrived. Bohannon "submitting" after his initial attack had me rolling my eyes as much as anything in this finale. The end of Season 2 was a shock but at least it made sense. I'll watch if there's a fourth season - and I hope there is - but this finale made no sense.


WHAT have you done to my program?? so disjointed and what have you done to Elam? This friendship was working.Bring him back. Put Bohannon back with the railroad.Please let there be a next season.


I really hope this isint the end --i love shows about this period --bbc cancelled copper -i really hope AMC doesnt do the same PLZ. Renew and give this an ending we will love & live with . ( after another or two seasons of course )


Wow !! Such bad reviews. I liked it. The scenes between Bohannan and the Mormon girl were done in a beautiful and sensitive way. The whole thong was plausible except for her age. There is no way an attractive Mormon girl out in the middle of nowhere would not be taken much sooner than her 18th birthday. I think 21 century values were added here so Bohanan wouldn't be a rapist. Ahistorical, bad writing but still overall excellent.. Fergusan, the bear te Norwegian ( not Swede) and all the rest were plausible and well done. There were bears in Wyomong at that time. All and all the series is unique in that it shows the cooperation and the tensipns between all the cultures and nationalities that make up America. I give it a definite thumbs up and am sure it will be continued despite all the nay sayers here.

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