Hell On Wheels has created a cast of entertaining characters and while last week's episode, "Revelations," continued to lay out the groundwork for their developing backgrounds, it seems as if the show isn't entirely sure what to do with them.
There are certainly many different larger stories to follow or discover, from dealing with the difficulties of building the railroad, to the tension against the Native Americans, to the antagonism between the different people that reside in the camp. Even the initial plot focus of Bohannon on the hunt for his family's murderers set the wheels in motion and, for the most part, it has touched on a variety of the mentioned topics to varying degrees. Except it can't seem to simply cue in on one and take it's journey in a cohesive manner.
If anything, it feels as if each episode centers on a roughly closed structured arc that is only linked to the rest of the episodes based on its characters.
Take for instance Bohannon and Ferguson escaping the Swede and being forced to deal with the repercussions of becoming fugitives. Where did that plot line go? "Derailed" nixed any chance of delving into that territory by quickly returning them to the railroad and jumping right back into Durant's open arms. He's very forgiving, isn't he?
And what of the menacing Swede who became something of a baby when staring down the barrel of Bohannon's gun. I know I want Bohannon to be the winner on all accounts, but simply beating the ever-living crap out of him without fighting back didn't make any sense. It was as if all scariness up and left to be replaced by something of a muttering mad man. For a guy who's supposed to rule the roost and control the men, The Swede is doing an extremely poor job. Where did that creepy villain go?
And since when did the Reverend become crazy? Did I miss something along the way? I don't understand a man so centered on God and spreading his word that one act of violence from the Cheyenne sends him over the edge and makes him forget to comb his wild hair. It was like he was a completely different person. An interesting change and great acting, but an extreme jump from when we last saw him.
Even Joseph Blackmoon did a bit of changing by wearing his traditional garb and donning an old school Justin Bieber haircut. Why?
I'm not really even sure why Lily Bell wanted to run out into the muck and mud to be on her own. For someone who seemed so calculating and level headed, it wasn't that smart of a move. I know she was going for the independent schtick in the man's world, but couldn't she do it without trying to prove that she can live in crap. And did she really think the buffet line was going to have more than a nice pile of slop?
Then there was the core story of the episode involving hunting down the Cheyenne renegades, cued to guitar riffs and clumping the major characters together only to not really deal with the problem until the final moments.
I am glad that Bohannon was pitted against a Union soldier because that opposition really hasn't been dealt with. There was still a certain resentment in his tone, but an acknowledgment towards the men that he fought during the war. After all, it's rare to have a confederate soldier as the hero of a show especially when the Union side won. It's just unfortunate that the blue coat picked had no redeeming qualities about him. Like I said before, I'm on Bohannon's side and am willing to root for him, but it would be nice to make the bad guys that pop up a bit more three dimensional to their counterpoints.
I've got a feeling that he won't last anyway. He did kill that kid and vengeance (justice) will find him. Or Bohannon's bullet will.
Of course, Bohannon continues to ring true as the best part of the show whether it's the amount of time spent dealing with his character or the way that Anson Mount embodies him on all levels. Bohannon even gets great lines like telling Lily Bell he has been called an "ass" or letting Ferguson know that he doesn't have to "stay too long to impress me."
It's not that Hell On Wheels needs to redefine the western genre to be a good show. Rather, a bit more focus on a consistent story that doesn't place its characters from one western themed plot to the next would do it wonders. The characters are clearly all in place, they just need to further establish those relationships among them and set up less contrived situations to deal with.
Don't get me wrong, the show is still entertaining and I love some gunslinging action. I just hope that the series doesn't shoot itself in the foot because it can't decide where it wants its characters to go.
Sean McKenna was a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. He retired in May of 2017. Follow him on Twitter.