The Railroad Job
This episode of “Hell on Wheels” is full of action and a few surprises. At the beginning of this second season Cullen Bohannon was part of a robbery crew. Tonight his old crew is back with a plan to steal $50,000 from the railroad’s payroll.
For Durant, it’s his chance to create an even greater name for himself. Elam is trying to be considered an equal after the slavery of the past. Lily is attempting to continue her husband’s work, even if it will leave her with an uncertain future once the road is completed. But for Cullen Bohannan, his motivation for joining the railroad was revenge for the murder of his family, and he quickly changed to forget about that, instead deciding to solely do the bidding of Durant, while also sometimes working on the railroad.
As much as the episode is superficially about a bunch of Johnny Rebs looting the railroad’s payroll once again, the question comes up over and over: What would happen to everyone should Durant (Colm Meaney) die? The man who controls everything is, naturally, also the man nearly everyone despises – the disparity of wealth and comfort being only a portion of why Durant is looked upon with such disdain. Of course, since Durant’s ability to draw breath is directly related to the future and wellbeing of so many individuals; namely, the freedmen, Elam Ferguson (Common) and now, Lily Bell (Dominique McElligott) – not to mention the future of the railroad itself – it comes time to put the good Mr. Durant directly in harms’ way.
“The Railroad Job” has a decent premise at its center: Hawkins, the leader of the ex-Confederate bandits from the beginning of the season, decides to rob the camp’s payroll while all the workers are off building the bridge. While casing the camp just before the heist begins, one of the robbers doesn’t take kindly to Elam’s presence in the saloon, and Hawkins’ too-generous attempt to make peace with Elam tips him off that something bad is about to go down. While Durant sends for Bohannon to return to the camp, Elam arms the McGinnes brothers and a sick Psalms, but the heist has already begun.
Watch Hell on Wheels – The Railroad Job Online
Hell on Wheels S02E05: The Railroad Job
Similarly, it was a good call back to the premiere by reintroducing Bohannon’s robbery crew while having them easily snagging the money. Granted, their escape plan didn’t work out too well, but the lengthy exchange of bullets – whether hiding behind windows, up on the roofs or stepping out onto the porch – was a fantastic visual set up of all the commotion.
I have to admit that I was not sure I liked Lily’s (Dominique McElligott) part in the first half of “The Railroad Job.” It seemed to veer too close to the damsel-in-distress stereotype, but then I thought about it and finally came to a resolution that I’ve been thinking of her as a bit like my personal Wonder Woman. Yes, I don’t like that she quavers a “What will become of me?” as she leaves Durant’s bed, but then she catches herself and leaves with a smile and a quip. She is in a precarious personal (and possibly financial) situation, after all. I was also a bit taken aback that she immediately became a quivering wreck when the Bad Guys burst in, waving guns and generally being very dangerous. See, I’m expecting Wonder Woman again. I recognize, finally, that this woman has some serious PTSD after surviving one massacre already. Yeah, I’d be a quivering wreck, too. Besides, she reverts to my Lily with an angry “I can’t think with that!” as she pushes the gun away from her face. And all is right with my world.
The rest of the blacks would have to run or go back to prison. Cullen, on the other hand, would be freed by Durant’s death; his pardon wouldn’t be rescinded. The totality of his quandary is made clear by the ending. He will have no choice but to execute his friend Doc; his indenture to Durant forces him to sacrifice loyalty and mercy. It’s a terrible bargain and it’s etched on his face as the episode closes.
Elam and Cullen take the gang leader to an open grave and Cullen asks if he has any last words. The leader says that Cullen is a coward and he betrayed his country, and is a “Ni–er lover.” That was too much for Elam who kills the leader.
Cullen complains to Elam, “You didn’t let him say his last words.” Elam replied, “He did.”
“The Railroad Job” points out the largest flaws in Hell on Wheels. It can’t seem to remember the past and has no interest in the future. With the exception of Durant’s gunshot wound, it looks like this episode won’t have much influence in the long run of things except as another distraction from the railroad building. There’s such a fascinating war brewing between the Sioux and the workers on the railroad, but Hell on Wheels instead decides to divert to what on the surface looks like a glimpse at Bohannan’s past, but plays more like some random thugs coming into town for a heist. With just a little more structure and care, “The Railroad Job” could have been another well-placed step in the right direction for Hell on Wheels, but rather feels like an episode that doesn’t serve much of a purpose at all.
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