It was a bold move for Hell on Wheels Season 5 to take Cullen Bohannon away from the Union Pacific Railroad.
To leave behind many of the characters we’ve gotten to know could have derailed the series in its last season in a change that was too drastic and too different.
But the sort of reboot worked to fantastic effect, truly putting the core focus on Cullen and allowing actor Anson Mount to shine even further as the southern hero.
Without Mount as Cullen, there is no Hell on Wheels.
At the same time, Cullen’s greatest adversary has been and always will be The Swede, played to wonderful effect by Christopher Heyerdahl, so to place him also in the same location as Cullen was like watching a powder keg waiting to explode.
On Hell on Wheels Season 5 Episode 7, that bomb finally went off.
Though I had thought that with Cullen’s focus on the railroad, The Swede might have been able to successfully pull off his master plan.
And while one of his goals was to take out the Hatches (who I almost forgot was Naomi’s family), it was initially pushed aside by Brigham Young. Phineas took that as another slight and chose to stab his father to death.
Too bad for Phineas and The Swede that Brigham wasn’t actually killed, collapsing the big plan and sending The Swede for the hills.
Except it wasn’t just The Swede escaping, it was him discovering the location of Cullen’s wife and child and descending upon them. Just watching him stare out on his horse or in that excellent closing shot of The Swede walking as the storm clouds were overhead with that lightning strike amped up the tension before cutting to credits.
Cullen will get there in time, right? The Swede won’t get to do to Naomi like he did to Lily Bell in Hell on Wheels Season 2 Episode 10, right?
While my excitement was centered on the Cullen and The Swede confrontation, the majority of the hour was about the two railroads trying to determine their routes and a final destination.
It was interesting to see the various power plays between the sides and the motivations for hitting certain locations.
Of course, Cullen and Durant reuniting for some well-placed banter and recollection of the past was a nice touch, and it did make me miss seeing them together more often.
And when Cullen was offered up the location of his family for a deal with Brigham, I knew he would take it. He’s been trying to find them ever since he left the Union Pacific Railroad in Hell on Wheels Season 4 Episode 13.
I just didn’t count on him taking the info and then revealing a completely different plan at the meeting with the president. Turning the end location into something of a race was a nice twist, and I was glad that smug Brigham didn’t get what he wanted.
The various political maneuverings were intriguing to see, especially because we got to see both sides, and it was nice that the end result wasn’t what I had expected. It makes that completion of the transcontinental railroad by series’ end seem more and more real.
As for the drama surrounding Eva and the other prostitute, I just didn’t care, and you could have gotten rid of those scenes and not really changed much. There just wasn’t enough buildup between those two to make it feel like a big deal, and instead, Eva killing her just didn’t provide much of a dramatic effect.
Guess she’s in a better place with Mickey now?
Thankfully, the rest of the hour was engaging, while ending with that nail-biting cliffhanger. It’s hard to believe we have to wait until next summer before we get the final seven episodes of Hell on Wheels Season 5.
But knowing how the first seven episodes of the final season have played out, and that the series will get a chance to go out on its on terms with a real ending, I’m looking forward to seeing Hell on Wheels reach its final destination. There may have been some bumps and detours along the way, but ultimately Hell on Wheels has been a trip worth taking.
What did you think of the mid-season finale? Will Cullen get to The Swede in time? Sound off below, and catch it all again when you watch Hell on Wheels online now!
Sean McKenna was a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. He retired in May of 2017. Follow him on Twitter.