This could be a divisive Hell on Wheels episode for viewers.
To pause the main story of Cullen and the transformation of Cheyenne in order to focus on Elam's fate is a tricky task. Cullen obviously leads the show, and without him, I'd be hard pressed to want to keep watching.
But revealing just how badly wounded Elam was from the bear attack, a moment in Hell on Wheels Season 3 that seemed overly ridiculous, was an intriguing turn. Could there be some decent payoff, especially considering he was presumed dead both on screen and by his disappearance from the credits for five episodes?
(It's also interesting to note that the only people listed in this hour's credits were Common and Robin McLeavy.)
Thankfully, there was some payoff, although I wonder if sprinkling this whole episode throughout the earlier episodes of Hell on Wheels Season 4 might have worked better. That said, Elam underwent a major transformation both physically and emotionally in an hour that sucked me in with the curiosity of where his tale is headed.
Certainly, there's kudos to the writers and make-up department for not pulling back on the graphic repercussions of being mauled by a bear. Elam didn't escape with ease, and his time to heal looked just as painful.
Not only did we see him beardless, but he's only got one good eye now. It's a creepy white eye. I couldn't help but keep looking at it. Even the intense scars added to the image of this new version of Elam.
However, even with the help of the Comanche, its as if the whole experience has given him some post traumatic stress disorder. He's more violent than ever before, while practically leaving his old world behind for his new one.
At the same time, there's also a sense of survival and just trying to fit into a place that is far different than the one being run by John Campbell and his lawmen. I also really appreciated that it felt like we were in the same position as Elam, not speaking the language (glad they didn't put subtitles) or even knowing what was always going on. We could only assume or surmise like he did.
Still, I really only expected him to have a long drawn out recovery then pack up and head for Cheyenne. I was not at all prepared for him to kill a bunch of people from his old furry-hat wearing buddy to his "rival" Comanche to even some of the men searching for the kidnapped woman.
It made sense that the name of Eva would (sort of) snap him back towards some semblance of a reality. But taking three women with him, all bound, on his way presumably back to the railroad?
There's a frightening and uncertain notion that surrounds Elam now, especially since we've seen him for three seasons. It's a bold move for the show, if they stick with it, to carry out this new version of the character, dealing with his traumatic experience while taking his new commanding lease on life.
It will add another new, and worth watching, dynamic to his character and the show. And it will be very interesting to see just how his own return will be met from the people back in Cheyenne.
I think ultimately, this was a good transition for the character's arc. I would have been very disappointed if Elam did die in Hell on Wheels Season 3 Episode 10 or he quickly recovered without any repercussions at all.
And in this case, the one episode break was OK, but I can completely understand viewers upset we weren't focusing on Cullen. If you don't like Elam's character, this one definitely wasn't for you, but I think the hour did some major positives for pushing him forward and in an unsimplified manor.
Hell on Wheels Season 4 Episode 6 was certainly a different type of hour, but actor Common held his own, giving us just what happens to a man lost on his own, mauled by a bear, and in essence, reborn with the help of the Comanche. Time will only tell how he handles being back in the so-called real world.
And I wonder what Eva or even Cullen will think of this new Elam?
Did you enjoy taking an episode off to focus just on Elam?
Sean McKenna was a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. He retired in May of 2017. Follow him on Twitter.