The season finale episode of Hell on Wheels aired last night on AMC.
This was the best episode yet. This show started off amazing and got better from there.
Cullen rides across a field, towards a homestead that has been burning. Smoke swirls in the wind as he comes up to the house and gets off his horse. He enters the house that is in complete disarray and calls out a name, but we can’t hear it. This is the back story about coming home to find his wife and son dead. Cullen buries them and rides away. There is a huge sense if finality in the slow-motion shot of him riding away from the house and the graves. The way the scenes have been shot in quick sequence leave us knowing that, no matter if we have watched the show all along or not, he is leaving that life behind for good.
Back at Hell on Wheels, Durant is speaking to the group of prostitutes, with Nell front and centre. He is telling them all that because they are short on ‘women of repute’, he is allowing them all to come to the dance that is being held that night for potential investors. “Now go clean up, and act like the proper ladies I know you….” he pauses as he looks at them; “can pretend to be.”
Cullen goes to see Sean and Mickey to find out how they are making out with the Swede. He learns from them that The Swede rode out of town last night with two bottles of whiskey. Cullen asks Sean if he knows where he went, but he doesn’t. Cullen is instantly suspicious – The Swede is not a drinker. Indeed, he is sitting in a saloon in Council Bluffs, Iowa, pouring drinks for one Frank Harper – who insists he wasn’t there the night Cullen’s family was murdered, and he has the discharge papers to prove it. The Swede convinces him to come to Hell on Wheels to testify that he knows Cullen killed the other soldiers, and he reluctantly agrees.
The noose around Cullen’s neck is getting tighter, and The Swede is pulling hard. Since Cullen laid that belt-beating on him in front of the whole town he has been gunning even harder to bring Cullen down. As The Swede gets closer to the truth, it’s getting harder and harder to imagine Cullen getting out of it. And now that Durant is trying to run him out of town, and subsequently away from Lily, it seems the two might actually be coming to the same ends – get rid of Cullen.
Lily and Cullen get closer as he helps her with her floorboards. He admits that his wife and son were killed, and she begs him to not let that kill the man they loved. He tells her it’s too late as he walks away.
After addressing Durant’s questions as to why he has not yet left, he passes Reverend Cole’s tent and stops to contemplate the cross on top of the door. Reverend Cole, who is inside the tent stuffing Riggs’ headless body into a box, is startled when Cullen enters. He shoves Riggs’ head under a chair, and turns to him when Cullen says he has been wanting to preach to him this whole time, now’s his chance.
When Cullen tells him that he is on a dark path, and someone has asked him to turn away from it, Cole insists that he choose hate – it’s so much easier. Cullen, of course, looks at him like he is insane, gets up and leaves. I mentioned a few episodes ago that Cole appears to be descending into complete madness, and the last two episodes are confirming that. Using a rebel sword to cut off a Union soldier’s head and stuffing it all in a box are not the actions of a sane man. I am looking forward to see where this goes; I do love a good madman.
Sean sees Cullen heading into the saloon, and he rushes over to tell him The Swede has returned to town with a man wearing a Union jacket with sergeant’s stripes on. Cullen is visibly shaken, and he throws Sean up against the bar asking where they went. When he learns they’re in The Swede’s caboose, he goes back to his tent and begins cleaning and loading his gun.
Elam sits with him, and says that Cullen is not even sure that Frank was there. Cullen won’t listen – he is so bent on avenging his family’s murder that he wants it to be Frank no matter what. Elam tells him has to let go of the past – Cullen said that to him before, and it is the one thing that set him free.
Durant tells The Swede that Cullen knows the marshals are coming for him. The Swede is disappointed that he told Cullen, and Durant insists he needs The Swede’s plan to get rid of Cullen to succeed, to get him away from Lily. The Swede rushes back into his train car to tell Harper he has to leave. He tells him to meet the train coming in, and the marshals will protect him. Cullen comes in and searches the car, and levels his pistol at The Swede’s head when he won’t tell him where Harper is. Cullen won’t shoot – the second Cullen kills The Swede, it’s all over for him, and he knows it. It seems to always be the way with these two, there is no way to be rid of either one of them. I like watching the power shift back and forth between the two characters – one of them always has the upper hand over the other at any given time.
Elam sees Eva watching a bunch of men erecting a building, and as he calls out to her she comments on his nice clothes. She tells him the men are building a real town, and that when they get married she wants to live there and put down roots. Elam backs away from her saying that he never said anything about getting married. She is confused by what Elam has said about wanting her to be his, and Elam insists he wants a future with her. She is insulted, assuming he just wants her to be his personal whore. She walks away from him in tears, leaving him staring after her. I had tears in my eyes watching Eva’s pain as she (wrongfully) assumes that Elam has a future now, as a free man, and he wants a better future than her.
Lily is wooing the potential investors with her poetic depiction of the railroad (much to Durant’s delight), and Eva is dancing with a cleaned-up and extremely shy Toole. After rejecting his request to dance, she takes pity on him and accepts. Elam sees them, and demands that Toole get away from his woman. Eva drags him to the side, telling him she is not his woman, but that she is not Toole’s either. She loves Elam, but she’s tired of being a tramp. Elam watches her walk away yet again, back into Toole’s arms to finish their dance.
Cullen is combing the camp, hunting for Harper. The Swede is also looking for Harper, but is waylaid by Sean, Mickey, and all the other merchants he is extorting, who tie him up, tar him, cover him in feathers and chase him out of town.
Cullen hunts for Harper into the night. A train can be heard whistling in the near distance, and Harper makes a run towards it. Cullen sees him and gives chase.
10 episodes later, Cullen finally gets his man. Frank Harper lies dead across the tracks in front of the newly arrived train that carried the marshals who were coming to protect him. After strangling him to death with his bare hands, Cullen finds the discharge papers in his pocket. He knows he killed the wrong man.
The Swede comes stumbling back to town, burnt from the hot tar and with feathers still sticking to his clothes. He pulls a ‘wanted’ poster as he passes a poll – Cullen is wanted for murder by the federal marshals, and there is a $250 reward for his capture.
With nowhere left to turn, Cullen leaves town.
It was an obvious trail to lead us down, that Cullen would kill Harper. What I wasn’t expecting was to be left with loose ends, to not have it wrapped up with a nice bow at the end. I was expecting a cliffhanger, but not that one.
How is Cullen going to be able to come back to Hell on Wheels? He has to, and he will, that we know for sure. What’s Hell on Wheels with no Cullen Bohannon?
There are a few story lines I hope get more lead time:
- What was the deal with Mickey going to stop The Swede from beating Nell? Chivalry aside, there is something there. He has said as much, telling Sean he likes her.
- Eva and Elam: do they or don’t they? Will she leave him for Toole, who clearly has a thing for her too?
- Will Lily give in to Durant’s advances now that Cullen is gone?
- Joseph and Ruth – loves!!!!
- Reverend Cole’s insanity.
I hope the time between seasons is short. And I hope the second season is longer. That’s the trouble with finding a niche show to love – they never give us enough.
Season 2 Premiere of Hell on Wheels airs on August 12, 2012 at 10:00pm on AMC.