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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