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: 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.

Hell on Wheels: Season Five Episode Eight – I am Thor Gundersen (Review)

Thor Gundersen - Hell on Wheels

Anyone who has watched “Hell on Wheels” since its first season will know of the odd “hate/hate” relationship between the Swede, aka Thor Gundersen, and Cullen Bohannon. In this season five opener, the two have their final confrontation and it ends with the Swede dangling at the end of a rope after proclaiming his name and that he is from Norway.

As in all their interactions, this first episode of the last half  of the show’s final season, titled “Two Soldiers,” is one long battle of wills as Cullen struggles to get the man to Camp Douglas.

The episode starts with the thing that shaped the Swede.  In his younger days Thor was a man who plays the harmonica, made jokes and was popular with his fellow soldiers.  A surprise attack from a Confederate patrol lands Gundersen in a prisoner of war camp where the cruelty of his jailers warps and twists him.

After his best friend tries to eat Thor’s arm, the Swede kills the man by drowning him in mud. Shakily repeating “I am your friend” Gundersen murders the desperately hungry man.

As the title of the episode indicates, the main action is between the two former soldiers. One “Yankee” and one Rebel. Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) fought for the South and  the Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl) fought for the North and this may explain all the antagonism that Gundersen felt toward his frequent adversary in the series. 

This final conflict between Cullen and the Swede is, in a word, epic.  Grand on a scale that dwarfs other shows on television.  Gundersen trying to murder Naomi and her family (Nearly succeeding.) and Bohannon arriving in the nick of time to keep the mother and baby from being slaughtered by the madman was a great start.

The battle at the creek (or river) where a wounded Cullen almost drowns the Swede was very nearly the ultimate in irony.  Surprisingly, Bohannon decides not to kill his adversary  but wants him to hang. After Naomi temporarily stitches the leg wound, she tells Bohannon that it will not hold and it does not.

Later Cullen attempts to cauterize the wound with gunpowder, while the Swede works to escape.

The two men finally reach Camp Douglas, after Cullen fires shots to get the soldier’s attention, and they are brought in.  Bohannon’s leg is treated by Jeff Fahey,  who plays the camp doctor,  and the Swede put in a cell.

The animosity between the two men prevails throughout their journey and seemingly ends when they arrive at the camp.  At one point, before they arrive,  a snake threatens the Swede and Cullen kills the creature. As the snake dies, it writhes and Bohannon speaks of this being a sign that the soul is departing.

When the Swede is hung, the old fashioned way; no neck snap here, he writhes much longer than the snake.  Before the act of hanging,  the man is asked if he has any last words. “I am Thor Gundersen from Norway,”  he says, looking at the small crowd and Cullen.

Gundersen’s death, complete with the Swede’s body releasing its fluids at the point of death is a grim reminder that when one dies there is no dignity.  Urine drips from Thor’s shoes and onto the wooden platform. Cullen, looks away in Gundersen’s final moments.

This episode has been called a character study of both men and that is pretty accurate.  Gundersen getting more desperate as they get closer to the Army camp and Bohannon whimpering and crying out in agony while trying to maintain the strength required to go on.

These two men have always been polar opposites. The Swede sneaking his way around the powerful, trying to get power of his own all the while praying to his God and feeling justified with any action he deemed necessary to reach his goals.  Bohannon open and following a strict code, one that changed as the season’s progressed.

At the start it was all about revenge, later Cullen turns his back on this motivator and attempts to move on.

“Two Soldiers” was a fascinating character study of these men who were often in conflict.  Ultimately though, we feel as Cullen does when the light finally leaves Thor Gundersen’s eyes.  A little sad and a little ashamed. Regardless of the apparent evil of the man our learning of his beginnings makes him more human and more tragic.

A splendid start to the second half of season five, this will be  a hard act to follow. “Hell on Wheels” airs Saturdays on AMC. Tune in and see what happens to Cullen next.