Hell on Wheels is fun to watch. Set aside all the discussions of quality and art and history, it’s fun to watch. The direction can be playful, like the opening shot of the band rehearsing into the camera, and at its best, there’s a whirlwind quality to the progression of events. Pride, Pomp, and Circumstance was a rapid-fire episode with excellent timing, introducing elements just where they were needed. Sometimes it feels like the cuts are all in the right place, and Sunday was one such time.
So, it’s a good plot device to have an inherently exciting contest, an artifice, sort of like a duel, designed to resolve a long-standing conflict between two peoples of different ethnicities. Why does that sound familiar? Oh right, we did it last week. Yeah, it was probably a mistake to have the boxing match and the horse/train race back-to-back, because, barring the comparison, each episode on its own was very good indeed. The Noble Savage thing is certainly the weakest part of the series, these clean, upstanding, Good Family Values Indians with their quaint ignorance of machinery. Oy vey.
Despite my inability to buy this weak Indian plot and the weak Christian Indian flirtation and all of that, the rest of the episode was terrific.
They’re certainly not dragging out the plot points. Ferguson and “that heathen” are already caught, and y’know what? Good. Let’s move this along. Week after week of sneaky forbidden romance was bound to drag; they struck while the iron was hot. Notice no Irish brothers this week? Still plenty of plot to uncover!
I also like that, yes, these episodes have themes, and structure themselves around thematic elements. It’s not subtle, but it works. Pride, Pomp and Circumstance indeed, the pomp and circumstance merely there to prop up the pride. So, we formally greet a senator, and an Indian chief, and a churchman, and a widow, but none of these greetings are sincere.
Did you notice that Bohannon called Elam “Mr. Ferguson”? And went to him as the Walking Boss of the freed slaves. Bohannon may not like treating a black man with dignity, but he knows how to get his job done. Everyone has pride: Bohannon can hold his head up because he knows he was cheated–even though he may also know he would probably have been beaten anyway. He has enough pride to recognize Ferguson’s pride, and know his opponent wouldn’t have cheated because of it. Durant, the senator, Lily, the Chief, the preacher, Ruth…they are each displaying a pride of their own. Ruth isn’t who I expected–I anticipated a traditional Angry-Daughter-How-Dare-You-Leave-Me tale, but here we see her pride–her need to believe she wasn’t abandoned–has constructed a pious and self-righteous narrative. I think that will change very soon indeed.
I’m not sure I’m fascinated by the gamesmanship between the senator and Durant–we know Colm Meany is billed second only to Anson Mount, so I don’t think he’s being brought down. The delight, I suppose, is in seeing how he escapes his fate, and I’m sure Lily plays a role, but I don’t want to find myself rooting for the son-of-a-bitch.
What were your thoughts? Is Colm Meany worth rooting for against the slimy senator and his secret deal with the Swede? Will the Swede find Harper before Bohannon does? Do you like Elam’s relationship with Eva? Discuss.