Hell on Wheels Episode 3.03: Range War

 Posted by on August 22, 2013 at 5:47 pm  Hell on Wheels
Aug 222013

Hell on Wheels, The Swede prays with the homesteaders
Thanks for your patience in waiting for this review while I was on my honeymoon!

Range wars, the fight for turf in the American West, form the basis for this past Sunday’s Hell on Wheels episode. Turf for cattle to range freely versus turf for the railroad is a historic reality, and leads in to themes about the fight for the “turf” of Eva’s body and child, as well as the “turf” of railroad control—Bohannon versus Durant, and the turf of the new town that Durant and Palmer plan to build.

But Range War was primarily the kind of episode that clicks along and establishes plot points and characters that will become meaningful later in the season. Every continuing drama sacrifices a certain urgency once in a while in order to lay down track that characters will walk throughout the remaining episodes. Quite a lot of track was laid this week.

In our two-hour season premiere, we met journalist Louise Ellison, and I thought she was too obviously a love interest for Bohannon. So it was interesting this week that another potential love interest was introduced in Maggie Palmer, with whom our hero sparked appealingly. As with the late Lily Bell, he could compete with Durant for her attentions just as they compete over the railroad. I don’t love women as turf as a theme, but it cannot be denied that men of that era would see them that way. Again we see a real effort on the part of this show to find interesting roles for women. I like Maggie Palmer! I like, too, that Louise was given a little independent life in this episode, but while I applaud the effort, she still functions as an expository device, asking questions the audience might ask. Her conversation with Eva was one-sided, with Louise asking questions merely to give Eva a chance to have character moments of her own.

(By the way, as far as I can determine, Old Whore’s Sickness seems to be Pelvic Inflammatory Disease.)

Declan Toole is a creepy new villain with a real sense of menace about him. It seems that the Swede will be occupied for a bit, conning (and eventually terrorizing, I betcha) a homesteader family. Doesn’t it just seem like any minute he’s going to use that ax on them? Anyway, without a villain of the Swede’s caliber in Hell on Wheels, we needed Declan.

Sean and Ruth are negotiating a new and uncomfortable space. Again, this episode just let us know that feelings are still raw and laid groundwork for future encounters.

And with all that groundwork out of the way, let’s get to our main characters. Elam didn’t get much to do this episode except play a supporting role for Cullen. And Cullen himself bordered on Superman.

Seriously, how did he instantly know that it was Durant maneuvering against him, and how did he know that Sean was working for Durant? Last week, those seemed like mysteries being built for long-term reveals, yet Cullen…just knows. Because he’s super-smart as well as super-moral and, of course, super-tortured. You can take this Tortured Anti-Hero thing too far, you know, and this episode pushed the boundaries a bit. Still, he’s fascinating to watch (in part because Anson Mount is amazing) and his moral quandary is real. I like the way he’s establishing an uneasy friendship with Ruth, seeking her out for a bit of spiritual comfort.

I’ll try to get back on a normal schedule, with reviews up by Monday, starting with the next episode. Thanks again for bearing with me.


  7 Responses to “Hell on Wheels Episode 3.03: Range War”

  1. I was also googling “whore’s disease” and found several references to the “French disease”, aka syphilis.

    In her AMC interview, Jennifer Ferrin made reference to her inspirations for the character of Louise, including Nellie Bly.

    And I thought Cullen was beginning to flirt with Ruth…

    • Could be a flirtation with Ruth, but I like it as a friendship. A little bit Don and Peggy without as much alcoholism.

      There were lots of references to syphilis and gonorrhea but I don’t think it matches the symptoms we saw.

  2. Anson Mount is very fascinating to watch – he is very handsome & he’s got amazing eyes in the sunlight. But I disagree with u that he was almost Superman in this episode. Mr. Mount plays Bohannen as a survivor who is very aware of the world around him, true. BUT, Bohannen’s ‘awareness’ left him a couple times – one: he had a chance to kill the Swede & didn’t. And two: he foolishly sent out a telegram for the US Army to slaughter Indians ‘without mercy’ & without first investigating his ‘source’. The US Army never needed much prodding on that part (as u can tell by the Army Captain’s excited vision of the future & the part he will undoubtedly play). I was SO disappointed in Bohannen for being stupidly excited about using the telegraph. What’s sad about u saying Bohannen is almost like Superman is now U r seeming more & more like the Army Captain holding Indian heads.

  3. […] is the way that regionalism is such an important part of our American nature. Certainly, with the turf wars we saw last week, we understand that land is everything in the building of America. And in past episodes, […]

  4. […] are they part of Durant’s scheme? They aren’t hired goons like the fake indians in Range War, and they didn’t implicate anyone or in any way indicate that kidnapping the baby was […]

  5. Thanks for your take on “Old Whore Sickness.” I Googled it, and am pleased that others thought it worth exploring.

  6. I really enjoyed your post. Interestingly enough I found it when I googled “old whore disease”. I think your diagnosis was probably spot on. Wonder if that was a real historic term or made up for the show? In current medical information, pelvic inflammatory disease in modern times affects young women with multiple sexual partners. However, I would guess that in those days women probably became prostitutes in their early teens and with the risk of VD, violence, pregnancy, and abortion, a woman was probably an “old whore” by the age of 20. This show is tough to watch as a woman, because it is probably pretty accurate. I do agree that for a show about a male dominated world, there are still some pretty interesting female characters.

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