Hell on Wheels: Gambit – Mad Dogs and Irishmen (Review)


The week’s episode of Hell on Wheels “Gambit” was all about Colm Meaney’s character Thomas Durant.   The Doc Durant kidnapping was doomed to end badly from the very start.  When Irishman Mickey McGinnes opted to use his mad dog cousin Dandy Johnny Shea, it was fait accompli that this scheme would fail somewhere along the line.

“Gambit” starts with an older Durant selling his “golden spike” ring to raise money for a suit and a meal. He wines and dines a couple and after paying the bill returns to his room. Lighting candles and a fire he starts to write. The door blows open and Thomas “Doc” Durant dies, apparently penniless and definitely alone.

Back in the “present,” Durant’s big gamble, one that he never told Maggie about, fell apart when Shea killed Martin in last week’s episode. This wanton act of needless violence caught the attention of John Campbell (Jake Weber). Campbell called in the cavalry and opted  not to pay the $250K requested by the kidnapper. 

Louise tells Campbell that the masked man, despite attempts to hide it, spoke with an Irish accent. Mickey immediately becomes a suspect and is followed by the Army.  As the tensions amount up, Mickey slips away and reveals that Campbell is refusing to pay the ransom.

Durant (Meaney) explains that they need to leave no other choice. The army, using trackers, find the cabin where Shea and Durant were holed up.  The building has been booby trapped and a bomb explodes when an officer enters. They find a note that mentions the ransom again.

Campbell decides to pay.

Eva approaches Mickey and tells him he needs to sort his out cousin or someone will be killed. She is right but the new railroad shares holder is not pleased. He is insulted that she believes he could kill a family member.

Looking through Durant’s books Louise learns that he is broke. She also finds that he lied to Maggie (Chelah Horsdal) about paying off the ranchers.  Campbell decides once again to withhold payment. The hotelier pleads with him to send the ransom but he refuses believing that Durant set up the kidnapping himself. 

Mickey speaks with Shea (Andrew Howard) again and Dandy makes it clear that he will kill Durant to insure no loose ends. Mickey just wants to take the money and return home to Ireland. He hates America and longs to be where he can breathe.

Maggie gathers money for a ransom if  $50K, versus the $250K asked for,  and heads out to pay it.  Riding up, both Mickey and Shea have handkerchiefs over their faces and she throws the saddlebags over to Shea. Everything falls apart.

Chelah Horsdal as Maggie Palmer

The hotelier  recognizes Mickey’s voice and is distracted.  Shea shoots at her as he knocks  Durant down. The mad dog killer then aims at the fallen man intending to shoot him as well.  Mickey shoots Shea in the back of the neck killing him. Durant goes to Maggie and holds her as she dies.

While Mickey buries his cousin, Durant brings Maggie back to town. There he learns that his lover sold her hotel to pay his ransom. Mickey arrives and sees Eva in the stable and confesses his killed his brother and his cousin. They then have sex in a stall.

This episode of Hell on Wheels was quite downbeat. From Doc’s pawning off his ring to  finance what was clearly a business meal to the death of Maggie, it was one long depressing episode. All the more distressing because Ms. Palmer learned that she should never have trusted “New York.”

(Jake Weber returned as the sanctimonious prig John Campbell.  His character had history with Durant and the actor proved that despite a break he could still make Campbell the most disliked person on the show.)

“Gambit” was always  going to end badly. Durant’s decision to have his kidnapping sorted by a Irish mad dog killer’s cousin was not the best one.  Mickey may have experience but his asking Dandy John to participate while surprising was not completely unexpected.

It was bitterly ironic that Maggie lost all she owned and then lost her life over a man whose business ethics were beyond shady.

Hell on Wheels airs Saturdays on AMC.  Tune in next week to see how Bohannon and Mei make out against Chang.

Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, http://MikesFilmTalk.com Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

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