Hell on Wheels: Done – Off Into the Sunset (Review)

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The season finale of Hell on Wheels looks at what happens to the people who shaped history and connected the two sides of a country.  “Done” is the title of the show and the one word telegraph message sent after Durant hammers the gold spike home.  After the task is finished it is time for recrimination, life changing decisions and moving on.

The Railroad:

Thomas Durant (Colm Meaney) and Collis  Huntington (Tim Guinee) argue and bicker over the spike right up until Durant wrests the hammer from Collis’ hand.  The job is finished and Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) has made a name for himself laying 10 miles of track in one day.  

The town of Ogden is full of hungover men and there are still clear sides to be taken. A spirited fight breaks out in Mickey’s temporary bar after he refuses to serve Bohannon.  McGinnes (Phil Burke) also calls Psalms (Dohn Norwood) a traitor. A classic western bar fight ensues. 

Washington:

As soon as the last spike is ceremoniously driven, Durant is served papers. He is to be brought up on charges of bribery and corruption. In the middle of the bar fight, Cullen is also served papers; he must testify in Washington at Durant’s trial.

The two men ironically take the railroad to the capital.  At the celebration party,  hosted by President Grant, Bohannon learns that the president wants him to take a commission in the US Army to protect the railroad.

Cullen accepts and then, at Durant’s trail, he refuses to testify.  When asked, Bohannon responds that:  “The transcontinental railroad could not have been built without Thomas Durant.” This is all he will say despite the threats made by committee chair John Campbell (Jake Weber).

Durant, rather than testify, gives a rousing speech about building  the railroad and finishes by saying that history is written in pencil.

Thomas Durant:

Durant buys back Mikey’s shares after telling him that they  will be worthless in a short while.  The magnate keeps his head held high and he meets with Bohanan over cigars. He tells his former foreman not to trust Grant (Victor Slezak) or Col. Custer (Christopher Backus).  

The last time Thomas Durant is seen, he explains to the committee that “dreams are not pretty.”  He finishes his speech by accusing the government of making him a villain and a scapegoat.

Eva:

Eva (Robin McLeavy) extracts herself from Mickey who does not react well to the split.  She explains that they are not good for each other and that sooner or later, one would devour the other.

Louise (Jennifer Ferrin) introduces Eva to her editor from Chicago. He wants to publish her story about the abduction and escape from the Apache.  The man clearly intends the book to be a potboiler, a “penny dreadful” affair and Eva refuses. Louise is distraught as she intended to save Eva from herself. 

Later, Eva saddles her “wild” horse and after a few tentative bucks, the horse bonds with its rider and they leave the corral.  She rides out towards the setting sun and with tears in her eyes,  spurs the horse and rides into the sunset.

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Cullen Bohannon:

A hungover Cullen wakes with the lining of Mei’s box clutched in his hand. He goes to see Mr. Lee and asks him to translate what is written on the linen. It is an address; Ningpo, China.

Bohannon heads to Washington  where President Grant hires him to be the new  railroad’s protector.  Cullen is a man tortured. (Did the Christ on the cross inside the church, really resemble The Swede? Or was this simply Bohannon’s perception?)

He misses Mei and after spending some time with Custer, a womanizing and narcissistic arse, decides to decline the commission. Turning in his uniform he leaves Washington and heads to  San Francisco.

At the port, he walks to the docks and looks off to the west and at the ships  in the harbor.  The episode ends with Bohannon sailing to Ningpo in search of Mei.

Final Thoughts:

Hell on Wheels ended with at least two characters riding off into the sunset.  In that instance the show was like a classic western. In many ways, however, the series was more than a typical “oater.”  It followed Cullen Bohannon and all those he interacted with on his personal journey of revenge and discovery.

Based on historical fact and peopled by the real folks who helped build a country, Hell on Wheels was practically perfect television.  The fictional Bohannon a principled everyman who rises to the challenges set before him was a brilliant hero.

All the characters in the show were flawed and therefore more real.  There were no “white hats” in the traditional sense, merely men and women trying to succeed and survive.  Some, like Durant, through any means necessary, and others, like Bohannon, through a sense of ethics and morals.

Come Emmy time, there should be gongs for Meaney and Mount. Both these men gave this show more than was necessary to sell the story and their characters.  Hell on Wheels will be missed.  Now that it has finished, and its heroes ridden off into the sunset,  there may not be another western, historical or otherwise,  to take its place.

So long  Hell on Wheels and  Anson Mount and thanks for a brilliant look as the old west as it  began growing into the new west.

The American West: The Big Killing – Then There Were Three (Review)

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As The American West speeds through its recounting of the “heroes” and badmen who became legends, it appears that the list has narrowed down to three. Jesse James, Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid are the last of the myths and icons of the old west to be portrayed. Although, Pat Garrett gets a look in as the guy who brought Billy to justice the first time.

The series has thus far been rather frugal with the truth and neglected to mention major players in the Lincoln County Range War.  It also appears to cater to myth versus irrefutable truth.

At one point in “The Big Killing”  episode we have Billy the Kid Meeting Jesse James who attempts to recruit the “Kid” to join his gang. The “meeting” was included in a frontier doctor’s memoirs but the medico gets no mention and he was the man who introduced the pair.

Arguably most historian’s refute this as apocryphal tale, as Dr. Hoyt’s book was written many years after the fact but Robert Redford, who executive produced the show, has opted to put this doubtful tale in as fact.

The Billy the Kid section is the weakest segment in the last of these three  “legends.’  In another glaring omission of the real participants in the range war and its aftermath,  the infamous escape of Billy  leaves out  more names and facts. The house that Billy, and others (who were not mentioned in the episode) escaped from was that of Andrew McSween who was shot and killed, in the attempt.

There are names and  incidents missing from several vignettes of the legends on offer. Possibly  because the series is restricted to eight episodes.  Or the researchers have opted to use just the internet for information or even relied upon “historians” whose bona fides may be lacking,. There is much about the men they have chosen to focus on that has been ignored or left by the way side.

Certainly the format is meant to give the audience a taste of the west as the new American’s marched resolutely across the land and changed Native American’s lives forever.  In the show’s retelling, only a few men are chosen and it seems that the railroad is the main link.

The history of this huge country is fascinating. None more so that the time period shown in AMCs offering The American West.  Some things have been done correctly. The dichotomy of the East Coast’s industrial revolution for instance. Machinery and  cities that already boasted multistory buildings were in direct contrast to muddy streets and the newly established railroad.

In this episode Wyatt Earp is only just going to Tombstone, invited there by his brother Virgil, and it will be interesting to see if any mention is made of John Henry “Doc” Holliday. The two men were thick as thieves and Doc helped out at the O.K. Corral shootout.

This series was eagerly awaited by many who enjoy American “western” history. However AMC have really let the side down with its tunnel vision version of events. Of course some of the issues here may lie with a limited budget.  For example the preview of next week’s episode shows Billy in a small, single story jail cell.  In reality the building that housed Billy was  the two-story Lincoln county jail that doubled as the court house.

As nice as it is to have reenactments of history presented right after Hell on Wheels, if the show’s producers are going to rely upon such specious information they may as well do a scripted bit of western fiction.

The American West airs Saturdays on AMC.  There are two episodes left.  Worth a look only if the viewer has no idea of western history and wants a good starting point.

CAST:

Narrated by Bert Thomas Morris 

Preacher: El Valero – Back From Hell (Review)

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The last episode of Preacher saw Jesse Custer alienating everyone one he knows.  In “El Valero” Custer holes up in the church and Eugene comes back from Hell. Quincannon (Jackie Earle Haleyleads a prolonged attack on the building he claims Jesse owes him and we learn why Odin hates God.

Fiore and DeBlanc remove Genesis but the spirit destroy’s its coffee can home and jumps back into Jesse.  The two angels offer to help get Eugene out of  Hell but renege after Genesis is retrieved. Could this be why it went back into Jesse?

The onscreen violence was nonexistent in  El Valero. The episode begins in a sky lift and Quincannon’s wife and child, and his mother presumably, die as it plunges to the ground.  The loss has driven Quincannon insane. He kills a cow and pulls the intestines out of its body. He holds up his daughter’s intestine in one hand and the bovine’s in the other.

Odin claims that there is no difference. In this flashback he screams at John Custer, Jesse’s father, to denounce God. It is this memory that Jesse has before his father was shot. It is clear that Quincannon had John Custer killed in front of his son.

In the present, Jesse overpowers a group of Q, M & P men who storm the church. This is all “audio” and nothing is seen. After the attack, the leader of the men tells Donnie that the preacher “kicked their arses.”

Jesse prays for Eugene to come back from Hell and the boy claws his way out of the sand under the church.  The Root boy looks like he has been in purgatory, eyes blasted and spacey, and his face is dirty and  grim.

Eugene and Jesse talk and Custer asks the boy what Hell was like. “Crowded,” says Root.   The boy then asks for water. Jesse calls Sheriff Root (W. Earl Brown) and tells him that he has found Eugene. 

Custer and Eugene talk about Genesis and the boy refers to those guys at the hotel. Jesse realizes that Eugene it not really there. Quincannon sends up more men and  and Custer, holds them off with a scoped rifle.

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One over zealous man charges the church (“Food court, food court…”)  and Jesse shoots the attacker’s penis off.  Sheriff Root arrives, after Jesse called him about Eugene.  In an oddly amusing scene the “in-shock” man holds his “dick” and talks to it.

Emily turns up, followed by Miles (Ricky Mabe) and soon it seems the entire population of Annville arrives  to barbecue and watch the violence erupt from folding lawn chairs. 

Jesse asks for the “agents” (Fiore and DeBlanc) and they arrive dragging  a big chest between them.  Sheriff Root speaks with Quincannon and the two disagree about the church.  Inside, Custer learns that only he can see Eugene and that the boy could be brought back from Hell after all.

The angels tell Jesse that they will help if he will return Genesis. Miles tries to convince Emily that what Quincannon’s doing is legal and, more importantly, right.  He tells Emily that Custer is a criminal and that his being a good preacher is a fantasy.

Tulip has gotten a dog and is spending time with the animal while the angels “sing” Genesis out of Jesse.  The serenade works and Genesis leaves only to return to Jesse moments later.

Fiore and DeBlanc refuse to get Eugene out of Hell and leave.  Donnie has an epiphany and shatters his eardrums so he cannot hear Jesse speak and overpowers the preacher.  Tulip “feeds” the dog to a wounded Cassidy and Custer signs over the church.

The preacher then asks Odin for one more Sunday. He has not been able to bring the town to God, he says, so he will bring God to the town.

The episode ends with Jesse being taken away by Sheriff Root whose son is still missing.

There were humorous moments in this episode but only a few.  Quincannon’s orders to his men were the funniest bits, as he tells them that they are , in essence, human shields. Eugene’s reaction to the Genesis removal process was very funny.  Miles’ letting Emily’s son have what was obviously dodgy milk on his cereal was also amusing.

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W. Earl Brown as Hugo Root, Jackie Earle Haley as Odin Quincannon

Quincannon watching the firefight between Jesse and his men, with the muzzle flashes reflected in his glasses so it looked like fireworks was easily the cleverest bit of the episode.

There are two episodes left in this season, already approved for a second apparently, and it seems certain that by the finale, Custer will be leaving Annville and the church behind.

Preacher airs Sundays on AMC.  Do not miss the last two episodes of the season. See if Eugene Root is brought back from Hell and by who.

MAIN CAST:

Rating is for mature audiences only due to content.

Hell on Wheels: Railroad Men – Setting Sun (Review)

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Things are finishing up as the two lines converge on Ogden, Utah for the win.  Hell On Wheels, in this penultimate episode of its final season, sees the railroad men facing a setting sun. The project is over and Cullen  has lost Mei.  He also has deep scars that will never heal, not just the shattered bullet fragments in his leg, but emotional scarring this strong man will carry to the end of his days.

If nothing else. this episode proved once and for all that Durant (Colm Meaneyis a despicable egoist.  His seedy end has been seen already in “Gambit.” The man is, as Collis Huntington  (Tim Guineepoints out, mad.  Durant has reached the point where winning is all,  regardless of whether it is true or not.

The start of the episode sees Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) and Mickey (Phil Burke) losing half their workforce. While the men work for opposing sides, Bohannon for Huntington and McGinnes for Durant, they team up to track down the missing men. 

They  have been poached by a mine owner called “The Pirate.” The poacher  turns out to be Cullen’s old friend James Strobridge (Phil Burke). The man fired by Collis when he refused to use the nitro earlier.  His wife has returned to the east and Strobridge is on his own. 

Mickey talks his workers into returning to work, but the Chinese workers refuse.  Bohannon does not give up and continues to work toward beating Durant to Ogden.

In the morning  Mr. Lee brings the Chinese workforce back to finish what they started. The work starts in earnest as Cullen tries to make 10 miles in one day. As usual, he swings a hammer along with his men.

Durant pushes his men to cheat, only putting in  half the spikes needed in order to beat Bohannon.  As he gives one last final order to his men, urging them to get him there first, half his workers walk off. Lead by Psalms (Dohn Norwood) the men join Bohannon allowing his side to reach the finish line first. 

Somewhat tellingly, Thomas Durant only grabs a hammer to use after he loses half his workers and then only works at the back. Cullen Bohannon leads his men, hammering at the front. These actions point out the difference between the two railroad men.

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Anson Mount as Cullen Bohannan, Dohn Norwood as Psalms

Bohannon leads by example and with his forthright actions.  Durant manipulates from the rear, orchestrating what he wants rather than sweating for it.  Unsurprisingly  he spares no thought for Mary who died in his arms after the failed kidnapping.

At the days end, after Huntington and Bohannon win, Cullen sees the box that Mei left behind. Opening the lid and seeing it empty, breaks something in the big man and he thrashes on the floor sobbing.  It could be that the combination of his loss and the sun setting on the huge task he has been on have taken a toll.

Next week looks to be a time of reckoning for Durant and Cullen is apparently  called to testify.  It seems that Bohannon is back in uniform, this time a blue one, and it will be interesting to see what the railroad man will do next.

Cullen Bohannon has been on a long journey through the four seasons of Hell on Wheels.  He began by looking for revenge and this turned into a devotion to finishing the railroad. Later this became a concerted effort to beat Durant. Along the way he fought various foes and had a fairly downbeat love life.

Bohannon is wounded and no doubt exhausted now that his epic task is done.  The season finale will, hopefully, lead this character into a life with less strife.

The final episode of Hell on Wheels airs next Sunday (24 July 2016) on AMC. Tune in and see what happens to Cullen next.

The American West: Custer Dies, Earp Arrives – Historical Shorthand

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AMC continues their historical shorthand version of the American west.  In the last two episodes Custer dies and Wyatt Earp arrives on the scene as an effective lawman.

Episode four followed the attack on Little Big Horn and the disastrous consequences for the 7th Calvary.

It also continued  the Jesse James story by recreating the James-Younger  gang’s  failed bank robbery at Northfield, Minnesota.   The robbery netted the gang a “bag of nickels” according to some reports after a Swedish employee refused to open the already unlocked vault door. (Clearly, like most criminals, the robbers were not the sharpest tools in the shed that day. Had they tried the door the gang would have taken over $15K.)

The townspeople reacted to the gang’s attempt to intimidate the populace by shooting back and killing two members.The two he Younger brothers were  also captured and imprisoned as a result of the unsuccessful bank robbery.

Out west, Custer splits his forces and sends Major Reno out to flank a huge Native American encampment.  Although the series mentions only the Sioux Nation and the Cheyenne,  the Arapaho were also involved in the battle.

The episode ends with Custer dying, possibly shooting himself, as the rest of his troops lay dead around him. Jesse and Frank go into hiding after the Northfield bank robbery fiasco and Sherman has initiated his policy to eradicate the buffalo in order to starve out the Sioux.

Episode five finally introduces Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid. The American West stays on the course of picking and choosing the information provided for each “historical legend.” It also covers the surrender and murder of Crazy Horse.

Wyatt Earp is set up as an upcoming legend in his own right and no mention is made of the brothers who were already lawmen in their own right.  Perhaps this will be mentioned later but necessarily.  This “history” show is providing a very narrow version of the events that created legends.

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Jonathan C. Stewart as Wyatt Earp

Take, for example, the Billy the Kid portion which excludes the fact that John Henry  Tunstall was English. The actor playing him sounds very ‘merican and not English at all.  It also never mentions that “The House” was comprised of two ranchers, JJ Dolan and LG Murphy, who were not pleased with the completion from, not only, Tunstall but ranchers Alexander McSween and John Chisum as well.

The trio of cattle barons all helped to heat up the Lincoln County range war.  (Another small point is the depiction of Tunstall’s death. The rancher and his men, including Billy, were approached by Murphy and Dolan men. Being outnumbered the Tunstall faction retreated, except for Tunstall who rode up to the larger group to complain that they were on his land. The English cattle baron was shot dead.

(Not to be picayune but the real life Billy the Kid was a freckle-faced, buck-toothed charmer whose personality could change in an instant to from friendly chappy to deadly killer.)

Thus far this history lesson from Robert Redford and AMC has been very narrow in focus and not overly factual.  It also seems to owe much to popular history. Sure there are a few “historical” writers and experts to weigh in on the proceedings but the lack of certain names spells inaccuracy or censorship.

It will be interesting to see if The American West continues to practice this form of  tunnel vision in the final three  episodes.   Granted the show is attempting to show how certain individuals influenced the American way of life, but in most cases it is a stretch.

One question that arises when watching this series is why this particular group of “legends” were chosen.  There are many more heroes and villains in the history books and none of these get a look in.  Certainly  Jesse James was the US “Robin Hood’ but at the end of the day, this myth was self generated as yet another excuse to rob and kill.

The American West airs Sundays on AMC. Tune in if you want a very narrow history of the wild west.

CAST:

Narrated by Bert Thomas Morris