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.
Watch Hell on Wheels – Slaughterhouse Online
HoW S02E03: Slaughterhouse
The trouble is that while “Slaughterhouse” has a theme it wants to explore—people are bloodthirsty animals, per the Swede’s opening narration—the creative team still doesn’t quite have the skill to bring it all together. This episode is full of stuff happening, and it’s possible for the audience to see how each sequence links back to the episode’s big idea, but that still means the underlying connective tissue is missing. This is an abstract point to make, admittedly, but what it means is the show still doesn’t pay enough attention to character work.
Hell on Wheels is really playing on the sexual tension/triangle thing: There’s Lily and Cullen triangulated by Durant, there’s Eva and Elam and Mr. Toole, and Sean smolders for Ruth, who is with Eddie. It’s all a bit much, especially since the interesting heft of the show isn’t found in its love triangles. Still, it’s fun to watch and more than a little erotic.
It’s a good thing that Christopher Heyerdahl was made a series regular because he adds such a chilling punch to the show and plays perfectly off the other characters with whom he interacts. If anything he certainly helps the lack of law and order. Sure, Durant is in charge, but only because he pays the money. Bohannon and Ferguson can stop certain arguments, but it doesn’t eliminate the problems of everyone’s grumblings and hatred for certain people.
Reverend Cole remains greatly distressed that his daughter Ruth is fornicating with the young Cheyenne Joseph Black Moon, his favorite convert and kinda-sorta adopted son. So distressed, in fact, that – while, as usual, raging drunk – he interrupts the funeral service for the foreman by accosting Ruth and shouting “Fornicator! Fornicator!” But when some unenlightened fellows show up later to give Joseph a beatdown for daring to cavort with a white woman, Reverend Cole springs to Joseph’s defense, brandishing a sword and dispersing the rowdies. (Any viewer who remembered what Reverend Cole did with that sword late last season likely expected something far worse to occur.) The reverend – appearing atypically sober – suggests it might be a very good idea for Joseph to vamoose. But Joseph disagrees.
This early in the season it’s hard to know which episodes will become series-long favorites, but “Slaughterhouse” certainly leaves an impression, particularly its last scene and the shocking character twist that reveals the episode title’s true meaning. The murder of Smitt is particularly unexpected because of his potential as a formidable foe for Cullen, one that I was looking forward to the writers exploring further. He was brash, angry, and smart, not unlike Cullen, and would have made a great villain.
Bohannon’s efforts are of little use, however, as shortly after the brothers are released, Mickey proves he’s actually adept at something by cornering, and with the help of Sean, brutally killing Bauer in his own slaughterhouse. The apparent regression (or reveal) of the McGinnes’ nature, paints them as yet another malicious pair in an increasingly hostile and unforgiving setting that seems to relish and reward such endeavors.
As we see the level of depth in all of Hell on Wheels’ characters and as we see some interesting character combinations and rivalries sprouting up, the show is becoming much stronger than its first season ever hinted it would be.
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