The Televangelist: 'Hell On Wheels,' Season 1, Ep. 3

He takes no bounty and he takes no thanks - he has places to go, lady!


  • AMC.com
  • Ugh and there's not even a dentist out here to do my whitening treatments!

When the series began I noted that the plethora of character arcs would be helpful in making the show more complete, as it did in "Deadwood." The problem is (much like "Deadwood") the story is at its most engaging when revolving around our de facto protagonist. The heart and soul of "Hell on Wheels" belongs with Cullen Bohannon, and every time we stepped away from him last night, I felt a lag. The myriad storylines have already started coming together - characters who were introduced in solo are crossing paths with one another, sharing scenes and adding depth to the proceedings. I just can't help wondering if a more limited scope that focuses on Cullen, such a familiar Wild West hero - a man of deep integrity, of few words, and with a dark past and dedication to particular cause - would be an even more thrilling show.

Last night Anson Mount (Cullen) was tweeting during and after the show, and in response to a question my watch-partners and I discussed last night, "what happens when Cullen kills Harper?" Anson replied, "spontaneous combustion." Despite the blurred picture of Harper's face that Cullen found in Johnson's tent, he appears to be confronting the man (or a man?) in the previews for next week. Perhaps the point will be, as I hope will be the case, that Cullen will need to begin considering his new life after his quest is over. He's already made some important strides in taking over Johnson's position by elevating Elam to a crew boss. And let us not forget his value to Durant as well as his opposition with the Swede (and his rudimentary conversations with the Reverend). There is no show without Cullen or the Hell on Wheels encampment, so there will always be a reason for him to stay. Might she be blonde?

Elsewhere in the camp, I felt like I was watching a repeat of the "Boardwalk Empire" episode I had just finished. We had an Irish interlude as well as scenes focusing on racial inequality and those brave enough to stand up against it, both themes that "Boardwalk" nearly exactly dealt with the hour before, though several decades after. As Elam said in the series premiere, "ain't nothing changed." Of the two side-stories, I am still much more drawn to Elam than to the McGinnes brothers. Elam's story is tied to, and an extension of, Cullen's struggles to banish (literally or metaphorically) the demons of the past and forge forth towards a new future. I loved the scene where one of Elam's men question him - it's not with blind faith that these men will follow anyone, even someone they should trust to be looking out for them. The same sort of conflict was mirrored with the story of Joseph this week. Even though he wanted to do the right thing (deliver Lily safely to the camp), he is reminded by both Cullen and the Reverend that he is still hindered by the color of his skin. Later, Durant makes a show during the burial of the scalped surveyors that he would be willing to let bygones be bygones for any Pawnee who chose Joseph's path - to assimilate into the white culture. Otherwise, the violence will rain down. But Joseph is, like Elam and the black men in the camp, neither accepted fully nor completely shunned. They are welcomed to work, but are not allowed to mingle with the white folks or even share in the whores (even whores with bizarre tattoos on their chins). The overt racism of the pre-war era has given way to a more subtle but just as sinister kind all over the United States, and not just the South, beginning with Reconstruction.