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

 HOW_514_MF_1001_0596-RT

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.

HOW_513_CL_0911_0029-RT

 

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.

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

 HOW_513_CL_0914_0364-RT

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.

HOW_513_CL_0922_1038-RT
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.

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

HOW_512_09-09_0411_CL-RT

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.

HOW_512_09-09_0491_CL-RT
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.

Hell on Wheels: 61 Degrees – Explosive Consequences (Review)

HOW_510_CL_0810_0174-RT

Hell on Wheels this week sees the day after Cullen’s reuniting  with Mei last week and Durant connecting with Maggie. Bohannon and his lover are closer than ever and Doc proposes to the hotelier.  “61 degrees” is about nitroglycerin and  “safe” temperatures where one can use the unstable explosive without deadly consequences.  Bohannon has to force his old friend Strobridge  to mix the stuff up and Jim warns that many will die as a result.

The ranchers gang up on Durant demanding their money back. Maggie opens the company  safe and Doc gets a smack in the mouth with a gun barrel. The safe is empty and the angry land owners give the magnate a limited amount of time to get the money.

At the tunnel, after a successful first attempt,  some workers die when one of the canisters fails to explode. A man grabs the “dud” and it explodes in his hand killing two Chinese laborers and knocking Cullen and “Fong” to the ground.

Jim Strobridge (Reg Rogersrefuses to continue with the dangerous explosive after Bohannon says that he and Collis can personally check for misfires. It costs Cullen’s friend his job. Eva manages get that white horse she spied earlier.

Durant devises a scheme to get more money. He gets Mickey to set up his kidnapping and the money that the railroad pays will pay the ranchers and Mickey. (So much for going legitimate eh?) The saloon owner and new shares owner gets his psychotic  pal Shea (played by Andrew Howard who specializes in deadly nutters) to do the deed.

Bohannon mixes the next batch of nitro with Mei and he gets caught up in the power of what he is doing. The two have rushed sex on the same table the explosive is on. This was almost as dangerous as the game they are playing where no one, apart from Cullen and one Chinese prostitute, know that Fong is a woman.

If Mr. Chang (Byron Mann) learns of the deception,  Mei could be the thing that finally gets Cullen killed.

Bohannon asks his friend to reconsider and when he refuses is forced to move out of the carriage car with his family and belongings by Huntington (Tim Guinee).  (A sad scene where  Strobridge’s daughter, who clearly worshipped the ground that Bohannon walked on is devastated that her hero can be so cruel. Cullen is also upset at this turn of events.)

Another canister fails to explode and Cullen learns he has to drill and place another charge next to the dud. Mei helps him and the explosion takes Bohannon and his crew through to the team on the other side.

HOW_510_CL_0814_0085-RT
Colm Meany as Thomas ‘Doc’ Durant

Dandy Johnny breaks into Durant’s private car where Louise (Jennifer Ferrin) waits for a quote from Durant. Shea pistol whips the newspaper owner. Martin intervenes and dies for his trouble. The kidnapper starts to shoot Louise and Durant shouts at him to stop. “It’s me you want, take me.” 

Chang almost catches Fong,  as Mei, (she is with Cullen)  and the Chinese businessman is now suspicious.

Looking at next week’s preview it looks to be mostly about Durant’s kidnapping and less about Bohannon’s rush to finish the railroad.  With the introduction of the nitroglycerin and the fact that Mei and Cullen are getting careless, it is all too easy to see Bohannon dead before  the series ends.

What do you think? Will Cullen’s injury combined with his rushing to finish the railroad mean his demise?

Hell on Wheels airs Saturdays on AMC.

Hell on Wheels: Return to the Garden – Decisions (Review)

 HOW_509_08-04_670_CL-RT

Two Soldiers” was always going to be a tough episode to follow. Hell on Wheels this week tried to keep the quality high with some  heart tugging decisions being made by Bohannon. “Return to the Garden” continues after the death of Thor Gundersen and Cullen riding back to see Naomi and William. Of course this goes over like a lead balloon with new hubby Isaac, who makes it fairly clear how he feels about Bohannon being back.

That wound is still giving Cullen a lot of problems and it is understood that he is running on empty, so to speak.  The chance meeting at the creek with the wounded Ute, besides being a portent of things to come, showed just how vulnerable Bohannon is right now.

Despite the almost open hostility that Isaac shows Naomi’s husband, Cullen offers to make sure that his family get back to the Mormon community safely. He even promises to put in a word with the leader;  Brigham Young (played by that splendid character actor Gregg Henry).

This was a hard one for Cullen.  He has to eat crow more than once in his efforts to see his wife and son safely ensconced in the Mormon community.  “Turning the other cheek” to  Isaac’s obnoxious and odious behavior; the younger man barely managed to thank Bohannon for saving his life, is clearly not easy.

After refusing to take no for an answer, Cullen goes with them on their journey.  He then has to fight off temptation as Naomi makes it clear a couple of times that she would welcome him back into her life.  “My father would have wanted me to honor my vows with you,” she whispers in the barn.

The “father” speech was particularly poignant (this episode of Hell on Wheels aired on Father’s Day) and  Cullen struggling not to cry was heart breaking. Telling William the things a father needs to tell his son, has Bohannon sniffling and Naomi tearful.

When Bohannon leaves the couple behind, there was a slight “Shane” feel to the scene, or perhaps a “The Searchers” moment where the protagonist turns his back on loved ones. Knowing that leaving is the best thing for all concerned.

Back in Laramie Durant (Colm Meaney) has returned and the first thing he does, besides bait Eva (Robin McLeavy) is head down to see Mickey for more workers. Although he does have to placate a group of unhappy investors whose land is now worthless since the hub will be in Cheyenne and not Laramie. 

Mei/Fong (Angela Zhou) believes that Cullen is not coming back and smokes a little opium to ease her fears.  After leaving the opium den she spies Bohannon riding into town. The two join up before the end credits roll. 

Prior to the romance of Mei and Cullen, Durant finally concedes to Mickey’s request for stocks in the railroad out of sheer desperation. He will get his 1000 Irish workers now and he warns Mickey that being a share holder is not all “steak and wine.”

Looking at the previews of next week’s show, Cullen looks to be back on form, “It’s my tunnel now.” Bohannon is back, the Swede is dead and his family is safe. Cullen can now focus on the railroad and Mei.

Hell on Wheels airs Saturdays on AMC. Tune in and catch this superior western offering and enjoy the performances and the storylines.