Hell on Wheels: Any Sum Within Reason (Review)


Last week Hell on Wheels saw the death of Maggie Palmer and the ultimate fate of Doc Durant.  In “Any Sum Within Reason” there is more death, betrayal and heartbreak.  Chang (Byron Mannhas finally worked out who Fong (Angela Zhou) is.  This sets the ball rolling for the episode.

We also  learn that Collis Huntington (Tim Guinee) might do business with the devil himself but still deny him ad space in the newspaper. 

Mei is betrayed by not one but two people in this episode.  Wei Ling (Jennifer Lim) is the first to sell Fong out. Bohannon works this out when he sees the prostitute wearing Mei’s mother’s dress. The second to betray Mei is  the stagecoach driver (based on a real character) Stagecoach Mary, played by Amber Chardae Robinson.

Before Mary allows Chang’s thugs access to the stage, Cullen first decides to send her to Maggie Palmer for safe keeping. He arranges the stage journey and does not admit to loving Mei before she departs.

Later, after the stage is stopped by Chang’s men, Mei escapes and sends a telegraph to  Cullen telling him that Chang attacked the stage. Bohannon takes off and arrives shortly after Chang starts his search of the mining town.

Angela Zhou as Mei Fong

The climax takes place in the town’s deserted saloon and the first thing Cullen does is shoot Chang. He then goes after five of the dead man’s men. It is cold, brutal and efficient.

Back at Truckee, Mei offers her betrayer a chance to leave the town and Ling refuses. Bohannon and she return to his room.

Mei confesses her feelings for Cullen and the two make love. Afterward she goes out on the balcony and sees the General that Chang worked for arriving.  Bohannon meets with Chang’s boss and when the delegation leave, Collis asks if Cullen killed Chang. He does not reply.

Returning to his room, he finds Mei gone.  The episode ends with Mei Fong  on the ship to the Convent.

Any Sum Within Reason  is almost a “part two” to the “I am Thor Gundersen” episode. Chang, like “The Swede” has been an obstacle to Bohannon for quite some time. Both men refusing to give into the other while Chang worked to find a weakness in Cullen.  Ultimately it was the Chinese opium dealer and pimp who  underestimated Bohannon and he pays the price.

Bohannon is nearing breaking point. His appearance has gotten shabby and he looks tired.  This episode revealed much about Chang and Wei Ling before the railroad and Truckee.  It also provided more insight into Cullen.

The man is good at dispensing death. A fact that he is not proud of,  but he owns it.  He is confident in this deadly skill and after he efficiently takes out the five Chang thugs he tells Mei, “Now you know that side of me.”

Byron Mann as Chang

His tone is quiet and sad. This is not too dissimilar to his reaction  to Thor Gundersen’s death.  Another thing that he tells Mei is that he let everything he loved go.  Ironically, the one person that he struggles to keep leaves.

Cullen Bohannon is a man full of regrets and is ashamed of some things he as done. He proves this when admitting to Mei that he kept slaves.

The relationship with Fong,  a lot like Bohannon, was doomed from the start.  Cullen Bohannan is a man caught up in the time of the railroad. The epic journey of connecting both coasts in the US has brought out the best and the worst in the man.

It is all too likely that when this mammoth task is complete Bohannon may just slide back into some sour and sad obscurity. In some ways Cullen is a spiritual twin to the Tom Doniphon character in John Ford’s classic film “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

In that film Doniphon (John Wayne) has a specific purpose.  Once he has fulfilled his task, and in the process loses everything, he dies a lonely old man. Penniless and friendless and forgotten.

One gets the feeling that Cullen Bohannon faces the same end.

Anson Mount will be back as Bohannon for two more episodes in this final season. Hell on Wheels airs Saturdays on AMC. Check out this excellent western offering if you have not already.



Hell on Wheels: Chinatown (recap and review)

Cullen Bohannan in Hell on Wheels
Bohannan is back in the season five premiere episode of this AMC western and to help show where his head is at, the man has a daydream about his wife and son while hanging on the side of a mountain. In Hell on Wheels: Chinatown, Cullen has switched sides, last season’s finale had him leaving the Durant camp and joining Huntington, while still searching for his little family.

Episode one of season five has Mount’s character moving on from being the champion of former slaves and in this last visit to the railroad race of the old west, Cullen is now looking out for the Chinese workers on the Central Pacific that he has a stake in. He is still working for Huntington, who may be the big guy in charge but who still won his oriental “wife” Polly in a poker game.

Since the last antagonist in the series was blasted into oblivion by Ruth, Bohannan needs a new one this go around. The position of all around stinker is taken by John Chang, played with smarmy ease by Byron Mann the man who insures that the railroad has enough Chinese laborers to get the track laid and the tunnels bored through those mountains to Utah.

According to Truckee businessman James Strobridge (Reg Rogers) Chang is a former pirate descended from Chinese Royalty. Later in the episode, Chang is getting dressed and his bare back shows signs of being caressed with a cat o’nine tails, the preferred tool of punishment in the maritime world in those days. So there may be some truth the the rumors about John’s beginnings.

Cullen spends part of this first episode showing his new group of workers that he likes to get his hands dirty and that he sees them as equals, not some inferior second class citizen. This is the stamp of Bohannan, unlike Huntington who, after telling Chang that he will have to tolerate Cullen’s interference where wages are concerned, orders the man to help him into his coat. A not so subtle reminder of just where Collis believes Chang fits in his society.

Bohannan learns that Chang is shorting the Chinese workers from Tao’s son Fong. Tao (Tzi Mao) pays for his son’s revelation by getting roughed up by Chang’s paid muscle. Cullen steps in to chase the men off and a line has been drawn in the sand, these two will obviously butt heads throughout the season.

One character to be concerned about is the one-eyed Strobridge with his family of adopted waifs, “They’re not mine natural, we collected them along the way,” he says of the children at the family table. This seemingly decent man adopts Cullen and when James invites him to play cards later, Bohannan reacts awkwardly. “You don’t have many friends do you, Bohannan?” Strobridge asks, “None living,” Cullen replies. Stoic, taciturn and concise, it is no wonder that Mount’s railroad man has few friends.

As Cullen and Chang react badly to one another, a face from Cullen’s past is having issues with the Mormons. The Swede, who helps Phineas Young bless “this loathsome gruel” when the offspring of prophet Brigham Young falters at the task of blessing the evening meal, turns his back on the religious group that he worked so hard ingratiating himself to earlier. The man turns up at Cullen’s door to announce he believes that Bohannan is the devil. Played by Christopher Heyerdahl, the Swede is a splendid mixture of ominous foreboding with a touch of comic relief. The scene with the mongrel dog in Chinatown proves the point perfectly.

Colm Meaney, as Doc Durant, gets to make a brief appearance when he grabs the telegram sent by Samuel (Mark Krysko) his mole in Huntington’s office. As usual, his character makes no bones about his annoyance that the “turncoat” Bohannan is working for the other side.

The main theme in Hell on Wheels is that the railroad is being forced across the wilderness not by men of vision but greedy businessmen interested only in making massive amounts of money and becoming even more powerful. Cullen Bohannan is, more often than not, the only “fair” man in the bunch. Most are like John Chang, ready to exploit their fellow man or to cheat him while amassing a personal fortune.

By the end of the episode, Cullen learns that the Mormon community have banished his wife and child and they can now be anywhere. John Chang reveals himself to be an erudite philosopher as well as crooked businessman, pimp and drug dealer, Strobridge turns out to be a good friend, Huntington is still not to be trusted too much and the Swede, who announces to a bemused Bohannan that he is a prophet and that Cullen is a devil, has returned to plague our hero.

Hell on Wheels airs Saturday on AMC. This final season looks to be on par with the earlier seasons and fans will welcome Cullen Bohannan’s return.

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