All I got right now is this job, and you.
The season finale was one surprise after another. It was by turns tragic, gruesome, shocking, and breathtaking. It was not flawless–I am still driven quite mad by Virginia Madsen’s character–but it was superb.
A lot of the established plot-points that we spent Season 2 exploring are over. The love triangle between Eva, Elam, and Mr. Toole. The other love triangle, between Cullen, Lily, and Durant. The tension of having the Swede present in town, and yet secretly plotting his villainy. The way the townspeople treat Joseph. The looming threat of a Sioux attack. All of that is over with the season, and whatever Season 3 brings will be brand new.
Consider Cullen Bohannon. Consider the above quote, and ask yourself how committed he now is to the railroad. He has nothing else.
I have to rush to the end with this. I don’t think anything more disturbing and game-changing happened than the death of Lily Bell. It was an episode of profound changes: Mr. Toole’s suicide, the Sioux attack, the Swede’s establishment as a deranged villain, the arrest of Durant, the conversion of Sean and then his rejection by Ruth; but none so shattering as Lily’s death.
Yes, she’s been a difficult character the past few weeks. But as we see at the end, she is also a character who has touched almost everyone in Hell on Wheels. She was, as she said with her dying breaths, kind to Mr. Gunderson, she was helpful to Eva and the whores, she was Durant’s lover, she was known to everyone in town. Elam couldn’t bring himself to kill her.
And she was Cullen’s lifeline. He was better with her, they agreed. And now she’s gone. So his only lifeline is the railroad. Good luck with that.
The Swede. Damn. He danced as the town burned. He danced over the bridge to his own hanging. He’s a new creature, now; overtly evil, daring anyone to stop him. Whoever or whatever he is next season, he’ll be infinitely watchable.
Mr. Toole’s death was shocking to witness, but his arc had certainly played out. No amount of commitment to her marriage would keep Eva from Elam indefinitely, and a black baby would not make it easier. Now they can do the Downton Abbey thing, of feeling they should stay apart because their ‘love is cursed’ or whatever, but we know that won’t last.
I’m still frustrated by women running and saying “eek” on this show, and especially by Virginia Madsen. Layers of makeup? In 1870? Makeup was worn only by whores. Her appearance is so jarring, and her character is so empty; she has still yet to say or do one thing that is not a cliché. Still, most of the episode pulled the season out of the funk it’s been in the past three weeks or so.
I think what we have is a visually stunning and well-written show that just gave itself a kick in the pants. I haven’t heard any official word on renewal, but I can only hope.