The Televangelist: 'Hell on Wheels,' Season 1 Ep. 4

What would "Hell on Wheels" be like as an HBO show?


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When last night's episode began with a horse death, I momentarily thought "isn't killing animals HBO's signature move?" It's a feeling I've been conditioned to have after watching "Game of Thrones," which has a pretty high onscreen animal death rate. Drawing comparisons between "Hell on Wheels" and HBO's "Deadwood" is inevitable and has been mentioned, but there are certain elements that just don't quite match up. Last night I started thinking why, and came upon the notion that maybe my expectations of certain elements are not met simply because of the change in venue. That of course lead to: what would "Hell on Wheels" be like as an HBO show?

As far as the two main censor offenders (sex and violence) go: the levels of violence and gore are pretty much on par with what I would have expected from HBO - Lily sewing up her own wound, the scalping of the surveying troupe, men getting their ears blown off, etc. As to the other one, viewers usually joke about HBO's sometimes gratuitous sex and nudity ("because you're paying for it!"), and I can easily imagine where it might have been inserted into this story. The most obvious would be the "missing" scene between Elam and the tattooed whore Eva. We see them buttoning up and sharing a tender moment, but nothing else. There are a few chest shots in the bath house, but they remain fairly chaste and nothing more revealing that what you might see out and about these days. It was actually a comment that came from one of my viewing partners Martha, who, speaking of Durant, said, "does he not get any whore time?" There is the missing piece! There (again, so far) hasn't been a cutaway scene of Durant pontificating from his bed to a naked woman of the night, or having a quick romp in the tea room, or being orally pleasured as he looks at his maps. These are scenes that I have would naturally expect from the show if it was airing on HBO. And are those the moments that are making me so aware that this is not on a pay channel? The odd mores of censorship are likely to blame: a quick bit of research on my part has determined that sexual content is apparently a worse offense than violence. According (more or less) to the FCC, sex you pay for. Violence you get for free.

Anyway, this tangent may be nullified after next week since Common and Anson Mount both go shirtless for some bare knuckle boxing. Someone fetch me my smelling salts!