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.


I cried after Lily Bell's death, and could not get that song "Anabell" out f my head for months. This season's finale was a confusing to say the least. I do feel like I'm watching a soap opera at this point. And I don't believe that's Cullen's baby,, I think it's her father's or even the Swede's!!


The season finale sucked. I could have written a better one. Elam should have went after Bohannon right after he inspired the workers to finish on time. The boy follows him, Elam gets caught trying to free Bohannon in the night. They're both about to be hanged, when the boy shows up sees the Swede and goes after him, with his knife stabbing the Swede but only wounding him, when asked his name, the Swede is exposed. Bohannon gets free, the Swede grabs the girl and uses her as a shield, her father tries to grab her but he's mortally shot. There's a shootout but the swede escapes. Before he dies the girls father confesses he's the father of her baby, and it's his fault his son was hanged. She was deflowered long before Bohannon 18 is an old maid back then. They arrive back in town just as durant asks for someone to second his motion, everyone starts cheering, he thinks it's for him at first until he sees Bohannon, Elam and the boy. The expression on Durants face is priceless. At least that's how it ended in my mind if it doesn't return. It was canceled and resurrected last season and this season the ratings are slightly lower. Here's hopping it comes back.


I was extremely angry at the end of Season 2 and am equally angry with tonight's season finale. Killing off Lily Belle after spending the time all season to slowly develop their relationship was completely absurd and illogical, all to advance the plot line with the evil Mr. Swede. Despite my better judgment, I continued to watch this season, but tonight's finale was the worst writing I've ever seen, and Hell on Wheels has totally DERAILED! Without fail the writers continue to sacrifice the integrity of their characters (and WASTE the exceptional talents of a superb cast) by giving them unrealistic lines and behaviors to perform, only to advance some dumb and often momentary sensational twist in the plot. (Can we say Soap Opera?) Well, tonight's episode took the cake. Of course I expected the Swede would show up in the Mormon camp and try to hang Bohannon, but when Cullen finally spoke up to defend himself and expose the Swede to the Mormon's, after a brief attempt, he suddenly fell mute!? WTF? Does anyone think for one second he wouldn't have insisted they ask any member of Hell on Wheels or the railroad to corroborate his story? If not to save his own skin, but for the sake of the lives of their families? MAJOR flaw right out of the gate. But for these writers, EVIL must prevail at all costs. Then we find Elam heading out alone through Indian territory to try and find Bohannon, when he could have taken any number of the railroad workers with him. Don't forget, these men were promised money from Bohannon's stock, which they all stand to lose if he dies! Not to mention the mutual respect developed over this season. There would have been a posse assembled to find him in any realistic telling of this story. And the best exit they could give Elam was to have him mauled to death by a bear?! Eva's character has been thrown to the wind as well. Watching her grow and develop into a strong, nurturing, loving woman has been one of the show's high points this season, only to have her thrown out of her home and back on the streets by an angry and hurt Elam. (who couldn't figure out the white baby wasn't his?) So she immediately resorts to prostitution? In a camp like Hell on Wheels why couldn't she run a small business doing laundry, or providing meals as many of the women of the west did, very successfully? She evidently has knowledge of medicine, so why not weave that into her future? Cut to the cartoonish Mr. Durant, spewing BS while toasting and insulting everyone, mostly Bohannon, to the chimes of Hear, Hear!! And did he really have to tell Mickey that in his town, his was the ONLY vote that counts? (to spoon feed us he is a R-E-A-L-L-Y bad guy, I suppose) I still haven't gotten over how easily he was written out of jail, and how quickly his embezzling from the railroad was so easily forgotten/forgiven. Not to mention murdering his 'friend' in the Senate. All very unlikely and unbelievable 'twists' in the story which the people of Hell on Wheels accept without question, when they know better. Next season, the Mormon boy Ezra will likely be the one to expose the Swede, who will undoubtedly escape yet again to return as another new evil character in Season 5. Indian's will storm the compound in retaliation for Elam shooting their warriors, killing everyone in sight, including the new Mrs. Bohannon. (really, how else will Cullen escape that ridiculous story line!?) Seriously, the writers are in a terrible rut. Maybe they only know soap operas. Every character is either UP or DOWN, with no in-between. Sadly there is a whole host of wonderful storytelling that is entirely missed in this true western saga of the railroad and settling of the West. I love the cast and the characters in this show, but the writing is horrid, dragging the cast (and ratings) down with them. Very sad, as the potential for this series - based on history, not fiction, has entirely been missed (sacrificed).


I found it tedious to stick with the story line during this season. I'm still trying to believe Lily is gone! I kept hoping she had a twin sister or a distant cousin...I truly missed her. The story has been stop and go the entire time and I am hoping the next season will bring a more cohesive story line. Don't give up!


I wasn't too wild about it, but this is just the way Hell on Wheels is. It's a sometimes excellent, sometimes lazy, intriguing yet exasperating show. It's better than most things on TV, yet it never really seems to have found a solid rhythmn that maximizes its strengths. It just kind of turns in circles like a very nice-looking ship with a broken rudder. As a finale if the show gets cancelled, it's clearly lacking. The resolution with the Swede is lame and leaves begging the question of what happens when the Swede is inevitably exposed. The people in the fort know more about the Book of Mormon than he does, Ezra is nearby, and in a smaller, tight-knit community like the Mormons of that era, there simply has to be someone who knew the actual Bishop sooner or later. The ping-pong with Durant now in charge again is clearly forced as well because of the weakness of the "marry a Mormon" lunge. It's still a pretty decent show. But it will never be great, even if it is renewed.


This show has the unique distinction of being the worst written on television. Yes there are other shows that are bad by virtue of being trashy or whatever else. But typically those shows at least succeed at being what they are. This show is written by people who don't understand the first, solitary thing about storytelling or character development, and the finale for season three is just the latest example of this. It is an absolute disaster. The writing fails on every single level, and I feel sorry for the cast, director of photography and art director who are all doing good work. Every one of them should just quit on the spot after tonights finale.


#1 This is one of the best shows on TV. I'm okay with the finale because it is setting you up for Season 4 (if there is one). Cullen has always had unfinished business with the Swede and Durant. Now there are potential storylines for both of those "villains" for the upcoming season. If that truly is the end of Elam, I'm disappointed in the way he went out and the fact that he's dead at all. He's too important to the show to cut loose. I hope that when Season 4 starts, he's still alive. But Eva saying she felt his spirit pass make this possibility not too likely. I just can't see how they would write him out of the show in such a sudden and anticlimactic death. I get that the Bear symbolized the connection with the Native Americans and the fact that he just killed 3 of them on the way to save Bohannan...Karma and all that. But we'll see.... Overall it was a great season and I hope we'll see more...


The writers suck!!! A grade of "F" for creativity & depth.


Oh pleeeaaasssee..... you critics are meaningless...you can't break or launch anything. Those days are long gone. This finale was perfect.


yep it's what they did to finish off farscape bring in a bad guy (scorpious) and never get rid of him. Completely pathetic.
This went from a truly great series to truly pathetic in short order.

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