Oct 072012

All I got right now is this job, and you.

Hell on Wheels-Blood Moon Rising-Lily comes homeThe 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.


  71 Responses to “Hell on Wheels Season 2 Finale: Blood Moon/Blood Moon Rising”

  1. I am still in shock over Lily’s death. It will take several days for me to process.

    • What the freak?! Why kill Lily?

      • I cannot figure that out. She and Cullen were building a relationship together. He was concentrating on the future rather than the past. Why?????????????

    • Me too!!

    • The arrival of Hannah and the threat to the Durants’ control of the railroad made it clear that she was in danger already before the Swede made HIS Lily decision. He just took advantage of the chaos to wreak revenge on Bohannon. Of course, that doesn’t make it any less wrenching.

    • Lily’s death is sad but inevitable. In the ‘Moral Mathematics’ of it, she has to die because Bohannon killed an innocent man. This is very much an Ingmar Bergman theme that runs through his movies so it is appropriate that Mr. Swede embodies this philosophy.

      • What an interesting point. I like it. The Bergman movies contain this theme and the “Swede” as the one to bring about “justice” is a novel one.

        • Something occurred to me today about Lily’s death. The song, “Annabelle” that played during Lily and Cullen’s love scene in ” The White Spirit” is about the loss of a love named Annabelle. Was this foreshadowing Lily’s death? Many people said they thought it was a reference to the death of Mary Bohannon, but it is a warning of the impending death of Lily.

      • Very interesting. I hadn’t thought much about Bergman in some time (decades ago, I saw nearly all of his movies), so this is food for thought.

        The point about “Annabelle” is well taken. I wondered about the lyrics when I watched that scene. No doubt you’re right.

        Good stuff.

    • I did not expect that Lily would be dead..
      I would change the script if I were the director.

    • I just watched the season finale, and I am styill shocked that Lily is dead. I just hope they faked her death, so that I will have a reason to watch the show next season.

  2. i’m trying to find information on the last song in the Blood Mon finale.

  3. I dont usually get upset over characters on shows getting killed off-but Lily?!?! I am sure this is meant to dehumanize Cullen in season 3 and make him stone cold-but man, I am crushed.

    • Yes. Cullen will be cold and methodical as head of the railroad. Lily made him human. I’m very upset.I don’t see him having a relationship this next season unless it’s a lukewarm marriage of convenience.

  4. Well had a long explanation but it got erased and too tired to redo it but basicaly theyve screwed the show.. Killed off two of the three interesting characters on the show (lily and swede) and made the last one (cullen) uninteresting. Like you said it was mean to dehumanize him or send him back to the bottom. Only thing is weve already seen cullen at that point more or less in season one. So i guess season 3 we get to look forward to …more of the same no thanks.. I like to see my characters progress and forced into different situations to see how they react..not the same one over and over. Great job derailing a great series writers. And for what, the shock value in order to garner some extra viewers for the finale?

    • Ever think that they will devise new characters that add to the future storyline. Like the late 1800’s – mortality rate was if you lived to be 40 years old you were old. And the dangers of the frontier was what we saw tonight.

      • I imagine times back then were just as hard as they are pictured on this show. I hold my breath half the time. Are we assuming that Swede is not dead? Another thing…this was the first time I’ve noticed children in the show. Tonight I had to listen closely as the conversations seemed so low pitched.

        • Love this show! Hated to see Lily’s character killed.
          “Devil’s Waitin’ ” is a beautiful song!!!

    • I do not for a minute believe the Swede is dead. He has survived worse tortures. He will swim to safety.

      • Unless we see them being dropped into a grave, anything is possible. I too believe the Swede lives.

        Others around the internet speculate that Lily and Cullen are faking her death in order to save her. That’s a stretch, but then we never saw her being buried.

        • After reading the different posts, I have hope that Lily might be alive and safely out of the way of the deadly Durants! I hope this is going to be the case!

        • Great news! AMC announced that HELL ON WHEELS is renewed for Season 3 to be filmed next spring. I noticed that today FACEBOOK’s Dominique McElligott page has more pictures posted. The announcement in VARIETY also said that the Gayton brothers, creators of HoW, will not be actively involved in the story or the day to day development of the series. I have no idea what that means, except I can only hope that Lily is being hidden for safety by Cullen, perhaps with Ruth or maybe with Joseph Black Moon, since his tribe, the Cheyenne, are not at war with the railroad.

    • First of all, I don’t think they did it for the shock value, but they chose not to pander to our needs as viewers – maybe suicidal for them as a show, but very challenging for us.

      If they are good writers, they will find another way forward for Bohannon rather than making him relive his revenge mission – they are definitely not formulaic in their approach to character, so I’m optimistic about their ability to come up with something new. I’m really looking forward to it.

      I completely agree with you, Deborah, the Swede is not dead. I would be shocked, though, to find out that Lily is alive. That makes no sense.

  5. Aaaaaaand after last week’s surprisingly inelegant episode:

    Knocked. It. Out. Of. The. Park.

    And. Way. Over. Waveland. Avenue.

    I have been trying to remember if I can count on more than one hand the other times television has supplied such a gripping, tense, can’t look away, insanely beautiful two hours. (That I have been lucky to have witnessed, of course. Certainly, on that one hand is the Mad Men episode “The Suitcase.”)

    But this was two full hours of sensual, sublime, and horrific visual poetry… tight, turn-on-a-dime writing… and searing acting.

    Think I had the same reaction to last season’s finale.

    Except for the fact that it’s a storyline… this could have been run on a theater screen. Epic. Epic.

    Oh God Oh God I hope it gets renewed

    • YES!

    • I too am flabbergasted by Lily’s death. It was somewhat comforting to see Bohannan open up and show a softer side once he and Lily got together. As was posted above, DO NOT count the Swede out of Season 3. He is definitely not dead.

      This episode was extremely amazing and in response to sportpepper…check out Sons Of Anarchy. That is another amazing series penned by Kurt Sutter. Talk about jaw dropping episodes…

      I really hope that AMC holds onto Hell on Wheels and strategically plots out Season 3. There are still too many questions that have not been answered…the future of the Durant’s, the “ledger” that Elam was supposed to mail for Lily, the Swede, etc. If the writers are as good as they showed themselves in the season finale of Season 2 then Season 3 should be just as exciting.

  6. I’m devastated by Lily’s death. She had made Cullen a better person, more hopeful and certainly not the stone cold killer of Season One. I cannot see him having another relationship now. These two episodes were well-written and directed. Absolutely edge-of-your-tension throughout. I really hope for Season 3 and 4 but I won’t be as excited as I was about the characters.

  7. The thing I enjoy the most about this series is that consummate acting of little known actors, the period reproduction of all sets, costume, dialogue etc. AMC has hit it out the park with this rivaling Boardwalk. I do genealogy research on my family that have been in this country for almost 300 years, and these characters bring to some degree the ones that are from my kin, and have come to learn about as real and tangible.

  8. I found your blog as I was watching the finale, because I needed to read a reviewer say that Bohannon walked in and killed the Swede before he got to kill Lilly. Sadly, the page loaded just as Lilly stopped struggling. What a terrible, TERRIBLE plot twist! I’m sorry, but I was just starting to like her again. And the fact that they let it happen just as she and Cullen were getting on their feet.

    One other weird thing … the way Mickey was treating Eva. I don’t know, it just struck me as very odd, him being THAT kind to her both at the beginning of the episode and at the funeral. I wasn’t sure if his blessings and praises of her child and “his father” were sardonic (in which case, he’s just becoming more and more cruel) or genuine (in which case, it still scares me a little).

    • Mickey has always had great affection for the whores of HoW. Remember, he got himself into trouble by boasting to the one he considered “his girl.”

  9. Devastating. The table has been overturned. I hated to see Lily die so awfully. The Fair-Haired Maiden of the West, crushed beneath the pitiless hand of a monster.

    Bohannon is pretty much ruined for women now. Discovering Mary, and then Lily, in much the same way. I hope I get to see what he does next, though. Hard to imagine the railroad without that snake Durant, though, and his deplorable bride.

    One bit that made me laugh, though: When Elam tells Lily why he agreed to kill her, and she says, “So my life is worth a few acres of river bottom.” And he says earnestly, “It’s a nice spot.”

    • I, too, laughed out loud when Elam came back with that reply. Actually, in the last few episodes, everytime he has had an interchange with Lily, I have laughed.

    • Agreed, that was an LOL. Then again, Elam was once a slave. For Lily, it was unthinkable to be worth an amount of acreage, for Elam, it was normal, if hateful.

    • It was a great line.

      BTW, Iooked up the history of Durant on the net to get some idea of what might happen with his character although the show doesn’t follow the transcontinental history in a literal way. It seems that in real life he remained a part of the Union Pacific after his big Credit Mobilier scandel, but he became marginalized. It will be interesting to see how the HOW writers deal with his position and how Bohannon will fit in.

  10. Maybe, the story Cullen was telling to the investigators was just a plight to get Durant out of trouble and Lily isn’t really dead. Remember the whole last episode was an account by Cullen of what happened it could all be just smoking mirrors. Just a way to keep you hanging on!!

    • Excellent point.

      • No way to alter the fact: Lily is dead. Devastating as it is, because Lily was without doubt the best of Hell, when Bohannon carries her through Hell’s burnt-to-cinder ruins, she is in an advanced stage of rigor mortis. The Swede lives after his plunge — as Dancing Evil Incarnate, just like Judge Holden in Blood Meridian. Soul seared to the core, no way the same man he was at the beginning of Season 1 or of Season 2, Bohannon heads West on the rails to whatever Destiny awaits him — AMC renewal or not. The Searchers, The Wild Bunch, Blood Meridian, Hell On Wheels. Not a bad foursome.

        • Many well sketched points in this blog–. this one -searing. I have been taping the episodes and catching them weeks later d/t my schedule-was shocked at Lily Bell’s cruel demise, after surviving the raid. Purest of hell may be the preacher’s daughter now, but she is so naive. Bohannon will go back into darkness for awhile. Already missing this show.

    • Smoke *and* mirrors. 😉

  11. I hope this is true; I’ll stop watching if I’m wrong! The chemistry between Cullen and Lily makes the show. I think without it you lose the things that draw interest; that is how fate and the struggle of two people who have experienced hardship and loss in difficult times gravitate toward each other. That which is gripping will be gone if they write her off completely.

  12. I loved how this episode was shot. The framing of Cullen while he was driving the railroad — cowcather cam and the shot of Cullen getting out of the cab.

    I was wondering about how the episode was structured. Do we think Cullen is just telling stories as someone suggested above? Or is it flashbacks? It wasn’t clear to me if Cullen was in custody and being interrogated or just being interviewed by the government officials.

    And I’m heartbroken to lose Lily and for her to be killed in that way. Does the Swede have reasons or has he become as some suggested Loki?

  13. I too feel very sad and disappointed about the death of Lily. I enjoyed seeing a change in Cullen and to actually see him smile and laugh. I felt bad about Mr. Toole. His character grew on me over time, and it was shocking to see him take this way out. I have been steadily mystified by the evil evolution of Swede.
    Was he just crazy? Who was his allegiance to????? At first I thought it was Durant, then the Cheyenne, but when he started to brainwash the Reverend into writing his manifesto……I just became totally confused as to what his motives were. Seeing him dance through the burning town was just creepy. Also, the dark and pushy side of Shawn towards Ruth is unsettling. I though Mickey was the bad one, but Shawn’s got a dark side that is going to come out of hiding. Finally, is it crazy to think that somehow, Lily is still alive?? Unconscious, coma??? Ruth’s going to perform a miracle. I will just have to look to the Walking Dead to cheer me back up.

    • Mr. Toole grew on me too. I kinda liked the fellow and hated to see him choose that way out of his situation. I can hardly believe so many characters were killed off in this episode. I, too, hope that Lily is alive–just wishful thinking, I’m sure. Everyone is evolving and changing right before our eyes–as you say, Nancy, about Shawn. Isn’t Durant’s wife a pistol. I’ve seen her in other shows when she was younger–a beautiful woman. She’s hard in this one. Will she and Bohannon have any interaction?

  14. I saw the woman’s body in the first minutes of the episode and I was sure Lily was going to die. When the love scene between Lily and Bohannon happened in the recent episode, I thought, well, it’s a great show, they didn’t drag it to misery on that one, didn’t follow the cliche of never-ending tension. But they went with another cliche: give the character a glimpse of hope, of life, and then kill off the girl. It’s always the girl that dies, seriously. After two women in his life dying horribly, what future is there for Cullen? What is there to explore in him as a character?

    • I agree on all points. I saw the woman’s body and knew it was Lily. Even though the body wasn’t hers, it just pinged for me.

    • Cullen will only become a hardened ambitious person. If he does remarry, it will be for societal purposes. With his family connections, he will marry a young woman with a prominent place in society, much as Mary was. It will not be the love match he had with Lily, or what he might have had with Mary. What I think we’ll see in Season 3 is an executive who still is able to motivate his men. But he possesses leadership and administrative skills that will impress the Union Pacific and the US government. There will be a lot of skullduggery in the finishing of the UP line in Utah. There still are the Sioux, but now there are the politicians and tycoons, more dangerous than any Native American! Durant will be trying to raise cain in the background, but will be forced out by the scandal. Instead of the Cullen with dirty hair and filthy clothes, we’ll see more of Cullen as he was in “The Lord’s Day” at dinner with the Durants. He’s a force of nature wherever he goes. Elam will be the head of security for the railroad, and I have doubts over whether Eva’s baby is Elam’s.I feel that Cullen will not be able to ever “trust” happiness after Lily’s death.

  15. Swede’s too mean to die…if he did die… and I am devastated if Lily’s truly dead. What a finale to the season. Now they better hurry up and get Mad Men season 6, and hopefully season 3 of this show!

  16. I for one am enraged at the killing of Lilly! How it was done and by who makes me very angry! The Swede should have been killed so many times in this series already it makes me sick that hes even around to kill Lilly. And I’m sorry, but Cullen was more pissed at him when he sabotaged the rail equip!!!! Gimme a break! they really missed it if u ask me. I for one am done with H.O.W. BRUTAL!!

  17. Excellent summation, Deborah. This one was breathtaking. For some reason, I didn’t get an email about your post for this episode, but the word that came to my mind that I used on the previous finale post was ‘audacious’. Definitely. It will require a new beginning for a 3rd season in a whole new place.

    BTW I read an interview thing of Anson Mount on reddit, mostly kind of dumb, but he did say that it was in the interests of the various companies to renew in December right before the contracts expire, so we may have to wait a couple of months to find out if the show gets another season.

  18. There were a few things about the plot that bothered me.

    1. Didn’t the swede have to break his hand to get it out of the cuff? but then later its strong enough to choke Lily to death? and wasn’t he so very close to death, but then seemed to make a miraculous recovery, dancing in the streets?

    2. Bohannon was ready to kill Durant over contracting Elam to kill her, but the next scene he’s riding up to Elam’s house and isn’t upset at Elam at all, even joking with him about how strong she is. He knows Elam actually went the night before to kill Lily and he knew it even before that, when Elam told him about it when they slept on the cabin floor in Ep 8. That behavior doesn’t make sense. Its as if he and Elam (and Lily) have worked out a plan together. How else could he be so calm with Elam after just being so upset with Durant? And at what point did the evidence get sent to Washington?

    3. I have to watch it again, but the last part of the interview with the investigators and Cullen, they ask him about why he was defending the bridge and not the people? He answers that people are replaceable.. perfect answer to spur them to ask him to stay on and take charge. And the fact that he looks so surprised when they ask him seems false since that is the exact plan he and Lily had talked about.

    4. And last, the ending with the Swede walking without restraints, on his own out to his hanging seemed almost dreamlike. Really, he’s just cooperating like that? Cullen didn’t have a gun on him or have his hands tied or any manpower to help him. He could have pushed Cullen off the bridge any time.

    All of this makes me question if we really did get the true story from Cullen.. or if at some point there was a shift. Through the whole show something just felt off for me, things didn’t add up. I hate to get my hopes up that Lily will be back.

    • This would be so great if you turn out to be right! I hadn’t thought about him reporting the story, and that it might not have been how it went down. This was the best two hours the show has done, but I could not believe they killed her off like that. I waited two seasons to see Bohannen happy, that was awful. I hope the swede is dead, massive burns near death, and then out and about to dance and strangle? That was ridiculous.

      • Gunderson seems superhuman. I think that’s part of the Loki-ish mystique about him, and I don’t really mind it for the purposes of the story.

        I’m generally disappointed with female love interest characters, but Lily had brains and guts as well as beauty. A great match for Bohannon. I hope the writers have something stupendous to fill the void she’s left, or that the speculation that she’s not dead is true. It would kind of make sense to use the opportunity to fake her death, since Durant was so hell-bent on dispatching her and he could still be a danger to her.

  19. I’m glad Lilly is dead, and I hope to God that the Swede lives on. Vengeful murderous Bohannon is way better than the lovey-dovey-puppy-eyed Cullen. I would never have started watching this show if I thought that this was gonna be a happy ending love story … Barf!

    • But remember that Lily was the one who surveyed the land ahead with her husband and knows how/why they made all their routing decisions when they prepared the maps. She’s also been working in the office while Bohannan is in the field. They really need both to run the railroad to the Rockies, at lease. Even if you’re opposed to the lovey-dovey stuff, there’s a railroad to build!!!

  20. I don’t believe that Lily Bell is dead. Something just won’t let me believe it. I think he took her to the church for safe-keeping and private nursing — to protect her from the Bohannans, Swede, etc.

  21. I don’t believe that Lily Bell is dead. Something just won’t let me believe it. I think he took her to the church for safe-keeping and private nursing — to protect her from the Bohannans, Swede, etc.

    • I hope you are right. This would be the safest place for Lily to be: assumed dead and in the church.

    • I chewed on this episode for a few days, and, the more I think about it, the more plausible it is to think that Lily is alive and tucked away somewhere for safekeeping.

      As someone above pointed out, there were details in the episode that just didn’t add up for me. First of all, the episode was told in flashback – all we really know to be true is that Cullen was being interviewed by the government in the aftermath of the Sioux attack, and that Durant is in custody. Everything from there is a story he tells the authorities.

      As someone else pointed out, the Swede injured his hand breaking himself free — we saw him do that. After strangling Lily (when I saw that I initially assumed she just passed out), he knocked over a candle in her cabin — which evidently never started a fire, because there was no apparent damage when Cullen found her. We know that fire and wood don’t go together, as evidenced in how Elam’s cabin went up in flames in a matter of a couple of minutes after the Sioux attack. I could be wrong, but it seemed to me that Lily’s body changed position between the time the Swede left and the time Cullen found her. Her feet pointed toward the door when the Swede left. Her head was toward the door when Cullen was there. Also, it seemed strange that no one reacted when to seeing Cullen carry Lily through the ruins of HoW and to the church. I have a hard time believing Eva and Elam, in particular, would be so subdued, unless they are in on the plan, too, which wouldn’t surprise me.

      There are a couple of other points, too. I realize I am biased, because I love Lily so much, but these are details — significant details — that continue to bother me. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

      • I think if Lily were to be killed, the writers would have left no doubts in our minds — when people die on this show, we see them get shot, get hacked up, and get buried. None of these things happened to Lily.

  22. Are you sure Lily Bell Is really dead?

  23. Saw the finale last night. So upset by Lily’s death. Didn’t see that coming at all. Really wish they hadn’t done that.

  24. isnt swede dead? when they showed his body floating down the river he was face down in the water ad lily is definitely dead dont think shes coming back

    • He jumped and then we saw him floating down the river. Maybe the impact of the fall killed him, but I doubt it.

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