Hell On Wheels – Episode 9, Timshel

But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand, and we’ll hold your hand.
Hold your hand.
– Mumford and Sons, Timshel

The episode opens to the battle being fought between Cullen, Joseph, Elam, and the two Union soldiers and the native tribe that massacred Robert and the other workers. They win, and the fight ends with Joseph killing his brother with an arrow through his chest.

Joseph and the Union soldier argue, the soldier accusing Joseph of keeping him from finding the Indian band – Joseph’s band. He asks Cullen if he is going with him to help him finish the fight, and Cullen declines. The soldier asks Elam, who tells him to go, if he’s going. Joseph tells Cullen that he has to bring back proof of their kills or no one will believe them. Cullen looks at the knife in Joseph’s hand and walks away, telling him they will have to take his word for it – he’s not bringing back proof.

Elam states that it is a shame to leave all that money lying around. Bohannon’s refusal to scalp the natives is reflected in Elam’s tear as he scalps the natives to collect Durant’s promised $20 a head.

Lily is carrying on Robert’s work as the railroad surveyor. Durant has no choice but to go along with her decisions when, much to her delight, she tells him if he doesn’t like her ideas he was free to find another surveyor (looking around the camp) – somewhere.

McGinnes Bros. is back in business, showing near-naked pictures of women, much to the delight of the men in camp who buy a ticket to see the new and improved magic lantern show. Mickey calls Cullen over, telling them they had been in Chicago. Cullen looks up at Sean with a smirk, asking him if they ‘won money in a fight or something’. Mickey wordlessly admits his guilt, and asks Cullen in to see the show. Cullen says no, thanks, and as he walks away Mickey tells him Sean would like a word with him.

Nell refuses to make her girls work when no one is getting paid earns her a beating from The Swede, and Mickey McGinnes, who has a thing for Nell, tries to intervene but Sean holds him back. What does this mean for Nell? No writer would leave that story untold.

Elam takes the scalps to Durant, who assumes he is there to collect on Cullen’s behalf. Elam clears that up, and Durant tries to give Elam only $10 a scalp, but Elam insists on the $20.

I have a bad feeling about this burgeoning ‘relationship’ Durant is trying to forge with Elam. ‘A man who is not afraid to get his hands dirty, or do things off the books’? This can only end badly. Watching this unfold, and Elam’s later pride in telling Cullen that Durant has taken a liking to his abilities, I have to trust that his trust in Cullen (and Cullen’s in him) will derail that in a hurry.

Toole’s return is interesting, claiming an angel flicked the bullet from the hole in his neck. When Elam demands he apologize not to him but to Eva, Toole does it without question. Does it form the basis for Elam to gain more ground for the freedmen on the crew, who are trying so hard to feel emancipated?

Cullen’s rejection of Sean’s request of him to kill The Swede on Sean’s and the other merchant’s behalf is puzzling and perfectly sensible all at the same time. If he does kill The Swede, it solves everyone’s problems, including Durant’s – The Swede has been stealing from him all along. It made me realize, if I hadn’t already, that although Cullen is a killer, he kills only for a purpose. That purpose is revenge and justice, but it is a purpose nonetheless. An eye-for-an-eye, if you will. Killing The Swede is not only not in his sights, but since The Swede has only does what he believes is right, and actually IS right in that Cullen did kill the men The Swede believes he has, Cullen has no real reason to get rid of him. That he imparts the stealing information to Sean is interesting, I look forward to seeing what Sean does with that.

Elam and Cullen have a curious relationship. Based on grudging mutual respect, Elam pushes the envelope (at that time, walking into a saloon full of white men was extremely risky) with Cullen at almost every turn. When he walks into the saloon and demands that Cullen ask him to sit down, you can see in Cullen’s set jaw that though he doesn’t want to obey anyone’s orders, he tacitly understands that Elam has much more to prove to the other patrons than he does. He also seems puzzled to be addressed like that, but he goes along with Elam’s demands and pours him a drink. In those simple gestures alone Cullen is showing the rest of the men, his workers, that not only will he sit at a table with a black man but he will pour him a drink too. Lead by example. When Elam cringes at the taste of the liquor Cullen has poured him, it brings some levity back into what could easily have evolved into a very tense situation.

When The Swede interrupts their drinks to demand the patrons of the saloon raise their glasses in toast to the ‘Indian killers, who have made our home a safe place to work and drink’, he sets off a round of cheers from the patrons. He smirks at Cullen, knowing he has just outed him as a killer. Cullen rises to address them, telling them all to get a good night’s sleep, as tomorrow he will be working them like dogs to finish the forty miles. He leads them in a toast to the forty miles, which takes the wind out of any sails The Swede thought he had billowing. The men quickly forget about what The Swede has said as they toast Cullen. The Swede slinks out of the bar.

I think the saloon scene is a gain in ground for Elam and a removal of no small measure of power over the men from The Swede.  Both men have information on the other, some more damning, some more provable. I can see the power shift back and forth, and this incident leaves it in Cullen’s favour.

Joseph’s inevitable sit-down with his father happens as he is preparing his brother, Pawnee Killer’s, funeral ceremony. Curiously, his father said that he had come to do that himself. We can assume from that, then, that his father already knew Joseph had killed Pawnee Killer. It’s a bittersweet conversation, in which his father tells Joseph he mourns his loss of Joseph so much more than the loss of his other son.

Durant watches furtively out his train car door as The Swede receives information about Frank Harper from Senator Crane. His skin must be crawling with desire to know what it is they’re talking about!

I like Durant less and less each episode. Well, I wasn’t really fond of him ever, to be honest – but his taking away the privilege of driving in the last spike on the forty miles from Cullen left a really bad taste in my mouth. Cullen’s private smile as he looks around at the men celebrating shows his pride in his accomplishment.

Joseph returns to Hell on Wheels to find Ruth in his tent. This was the only plotline that was obvious to me from the start, and I like it immensely. Joseph and Ruth are such sweet awkward characters it seems a natural fit for them to find each other. Ruth’s growing strength in the face of her father’s returning alcoholism is formidable, and it only makes sense that her strength, starting to match Joseph’s in intensity, would draw them together – would allow her to LET them becomes closer. When Joseph breaks down in tears at having killed his own brother, it is Ruth’s strength and love that he turns to.

What is behind Durant’s giving Cullen the information that The Swede had reported him to the federal marshals in DC? I don’t think it’s true. Cullen knows The Swede has been stealing, and The Swede knows it – there is no way he would put his own neck in a noose like that. Durant is trying to get rid of Cullen, and it seems it ONLY has to do with Lily Bell.

And finally, Reverend Cole. I don’t even know what to say about that.

Hell On Wheels Season 1 Finale airs on Sunday, January 15, at 10:00 on AMC.

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