Posts tagged Hell on Wheels stream
Dependency was the name of the game in “The Lord’s Day” an episode short on action but big on changing up Hell’s dynamics. Beneath the surface of any community is a pecking order, and the return of Thomas Durant reminded everyone of the railroad baron’s rightful place at the top of the food chain, just when it seemed the whole symbiotic affair would devolve into selfish cannibalism. Durant’s homecoming did not mean business as usual, though, as he came back from Chicago joined by wife/seasoned ball-buster Hannah (Virginia Madsen—seriously, she defeated Candyman this one time). Having pledged a few episodes ago to beg her forgiveness, Durant’s newfound dependency on his wife (both in recovery and business matters) had a domino effect on everyone in town, examining the fleeting nature of “home” and leaving more than a few in the lurch.
For the previous two episodes, I’ve cut the vulnerable, doe-eyed Lily Bell a lot of slack. I thought perhaps the writers were doing something interesting, even unusual. But did I think that, or merely hope it? This week, I’m afraid I have to draw the line, and I know exactly where my patience ended. When Lily asked Durant to recall what they had meant to each other, my jaw just plain dropped. WHAT? Lily Bell, who sadly accepted a move to Thomas Durant’s bed as the price of her escape from England and from her late husband’s family? Lily Bell, who stabbed an Indian to death with his own arrow? That Lily Bell? Why is she whining and doe-eyed and lost without the tenderness of a good man, or barring that, a rich man?
Episode director Rod Lurie ratchets up the tension in anticipation of Durant’s return, and the ominous musical score suggests nothing less than an invading army is about to storm the camp. Once Durant arrives, his cane-assisted walk from the train to his office is treated as a Herculean struggle, and he stops midway to issue a barely veiled threat to the clearly scheming Sean McGinnes. The scene simultaneously depicts Durant as a weakened, possibly delirious victim and, as he implicitly suggests, a tiger about to devour anyone foolish enough to approach him. The show’s craftsmanship has progressed enough in the last couple weeks that this reads as ambiguous, rather than just muddled. As in previous episodes, Durant is never as fully villainous as he seems to think himself to be. But this time, the villainous side is still clearly on display.
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The White Spirit
In the seventh episode of Hell on Wheels Season 2, Lily and Cullen struggle to maintain order in Hell on Wheels in the aftermath of tragedy while Elam makes plans for the future. You can learn more about what happened by checking out the online extras for Episode 7, “The White Spirit”:
One of the most striking scenes this show has ever had was in the Season 1 finale, when Cullen decided, at last, that redemption might be available to him, and went to see Reverend Cole. Unfortunately for him, Reverend Cole had just beheaded someone and hidden the body, and wasn’t in the mood to preach peace. “Choose hate,” he said, leaving Cullen alone in his longing to be a better man. Within hours, he’d taken the preacher’s advice and killed an innocent man. In exact parallel to that scene, in The White Spirit, Cullen goes to the preacher’s daughter, again hoping for redemption, and hearing that it may not exist for him.
A title like “The White Spirit” promises plenty of hot Swede action, and the opening scene, in which the Swede shaves his head, strips off his clothes, covers himself in war paint, and takes his place among the chanting Sioux delivers with lurid gusto. Admittedly, the next time we see him he’s acting altogether sane, at least by his standards, as Lily summons him to camp to make sense of the absent Durant’s finances. With Durant’s life still very much hanging in the balance, the camp is on the brink of anarchy, and only Lily’s unconvincing declaration that all is well and the gruff orders offered by a disinterested Bohannon are keeping things in order. The McGinnes brothers have resurfaced, this time wanting to buy Carl’s saloon. To help them in their takeover bid, Elam and Psalms engage in some seemingly ill-conceived sabotage of the latest whiskey shipment, but it becomes clear that Elam’s recklessness is really his way of severing ties with Lily, Durant, and the railroad once and for all—not to mention getting a cut of all the bar’s future profits now that the McGinnes brothers are in charge.
“You try to tell yourself that you don’t like the killing but you just can’t stop yourself because death is coming for all of us,” the Swede tells Cullen. As crazy as the Swede is, he does seem to have his finger on what makes Cullen tick. Very rarely does he say something that isn’t hauntingly true. You can see the guilt from last week’s murder of his close friend pushing Cullen towards a shaky future.
This week’s Hell on Wheels, Scabs, is about the usurpation and exercise of power. It’s about who has rights and who doesn’t, and it answers the question by suggesting those who have rights are those who fight for them.
It took a season and a half, but Hell On Wheels has finally gone ahead and told a story that’s actually, properly about building a railroad. Even more promisingly, the episode that does so places Bohannon front and center, dropping the McGinnes brothers and Joseph subplots for the episode in order to place all the focus on the two protagonists, Cullen and Elam.
During the opening minutes, this week’s episode once again reminds us that Hell on Wheels isn’t your grandfather’s western. Cullum Bohannon is overseeing a construction crew out in the field when work suddenly halts while everyone pays heed to nearby screaming. Attention focuses on a nearby hilltop, where one of the Irish laborers is being tortured by Sioux tribesmen obviously intent on making a point. (That point: The same thing could happen to any of you other palefaces.) Cullen asks for someone to bring him a rifle. Suitably armed, Cullen fires – not to kill a Sioux, but to put the Irishman out of his misery. (Actually, that sounds like something Ethan Edwards might have done in The Searchers.) The other railroad workers – Irishmen and “Negroes” alike – don’t question Cullen’s action. But that doesn’t mean they’re willing to keep working on the railroad all the livelong day.
Not only is there a competition with other railway lines on trying to get to the west first, but the Sioux aren’t pleased people are messing on their land, and the workers themselves have got demands and issues to be dealt with before even striking pins or laying tracks.
Not surprisingly, Durant and Lily couldn’t really do anything to fix the problem leaving it all up to Bohannon. It’s a good thing he’s a man of the people, or at least knows how to push people in the right direction even if they don’t realize it. He’s a natural born leader and his skill with a gun adds credence to his barking orders. Truly, Bohannon continues to show how great of a character he is, no matter what the situation. His scenes are always fantastic.
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Well, that certainly lived up to the name “Slaughterhouse”. Returning to the Hell on Wheels camp after being saved from hanging by Durant (Colm Meaney), Cullen (Anson Mount) reluctantly sets out to bring a little more order to the growing community. He even forms an uneasy partnership with Elam (Common), whose murderous actions haven’t affected his pining for Eva (Robin McLeavy). The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl), still trying to regain power in the camp and still strangely obsessed with Cullen and his crimes, has begun investigating the murder of the line boss Elam killed at the end of last week’s episode. He doesn’t waste time pinning the murder on his old enemies the McGinnes brothers (Ben Esler and Phil Burke) and maintains his creep level as he goes even further off the deep end. Lily (Dominique McElligott) deals with her guilt for her role in the murder, struggling with the decision to tell Durant her part in it, and all the while, Durant is still single-minded in his fight to win the race with Central Pacific Railroad to get his railroad across the Rockies first.
Dieter Schmidt in the bloodiest way possible, which culminated in a sledgehammer vs. meat cleaver fight to the death between the accuser and the accused (“Shut up, you had me at ‘sledgehammer vs. meat cleaver fight to the death’”). The grisly result illustrated how in a society with no overt governing body besides those able to manipulate public opinion—either through wealth or subterfuge—the concept of justice is as ephemeral and personal as a gavel that constantly changes hands only to smash out the brains of anyone deemed guilty along the way.
‘Slaughterhouse’ opens with the Swede seducing the German butcher, Mr. Bauer (Timothy V. Murphy) with the chance for revenge against those who murdered his prostitute-killing friend in ‘Durant, Nebraska.’ Though the Swede likely knows the McGinnes brothers had nothing to do with Mr. Schmidt’s stabbing death, his hatred for all things Irish (and the McGinnes brothers, in particular) is at the forefront of his insidious decision-making process.
Now that Bohannan is back, Durant has put him back in a place of power, placing him to watch over the workers on the railroad. Since Bohannan stole the money the workers were owed, they’re clearly not to keen on this idea. But once Bohannan puts them in their place, it’s time for Durant to do the same to Bohannan. Durant needs the railroad to get to the Rockies soon or all his construction will be for nothing. Once Bohannan can lead the men to this construction, he will be free. But let’s be honest, Bohannan will probably just end up back in Hell on Wheels once again. You’re never quite free of Hell on Wheels.
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Hell on Wheels excels as a series of moments, visually arresting, often stunningly original; juxtapositions of people, place, and situation. Durant, suffused in sunlight, holding two documents, while being told he plays God; Lily and Eva across a table, and across the vast expanse that separates their lives, yet each is a woman, and each has survived an Indian attack; the Swede and the Preacher, quoting competing and yet similar mythologies to each other.
“Durant, Nebraska” is written by John Shiban, who also wrote two episodes in season one: “A New Birth of Freedom” and “Timshel.” The reason I point this out is that as I was watching this episode, I made a note that Hell on Wheels is back to doing snapshot scenes.
The episode briefly appears to be the end times for the captured Cullen Bohannon, as the latest band of asshole Union soldiers torture him for the names of his Confederate, uh, confederates. (Bohannon, with a classic mid-waterboarding smirk, tries to name Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson as his fellow robbers.) Bohannon has given up at this point, revealing to his last friend and confidant Doc Whitehead that he feels nothing at all for last season’s murder of the innocent Union sergeant. Indeed, when the soldiers finally blindfold him for his apparent execution, he flies into a rage when he learns the soldiers aren’t about to kill him.
This seems to be the way things are headed, but instead Bohannon is tossed in a horse barn, and not in front of a firing squad. Inside, Durant (Colm Meaney) pops his head out and, after likening himself to God, reveals he literally holds Bohannon’s fate in his hands. Somehow, Durant has used his incredible influence and various friendships to secure a pardon for Mr. Bohannon – with a caveat, of course.
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