Hell on Wheels Season 4 Premiere: Elusive Eden

 Posted by on August 2, 2014 at 10:02 pm  Hell on Wheels
Aug 022014
Photo Credit: Christ Large/AMC

Photo Credit: Christ Large/AMC

Hell on Wheels offers us a season premiere that is in no way different from its season finale. Season 3 closed with a lackluster episode, as if director Neil LaBute had no sense that a finale was a different animal from a regular episode. He’s back a year later with Elusive Eden, an episode with no sense that a premiere is a special beast either. It’s not a bad episode, but it’s not going to turn the heads of fans who were thrown off by last season’s ending.

Has Common been written out of the show? I can’t find anything in the media gossip or news sites, and credits are specifically labeled unfinished on screeners, so I can’t go by that, but I don’t see him. Mauled by a bear was controversial last season, and by “controversial” I mean, largely considered stupid as well as poorly filmed. But to leave him like that? To end his story with an off-screen mauling? That’s insane.*

*Just FYI, I get Hell on Wheels screeners several at a time, but I write each review after seeing only one episode, so that my recaps constitute us watching along together. As of this writing, I don’t know if Elam is back in Episode 4.02.

Those unreliable credits tell me that Chris Heyerdahl is a series regular again this year. As much as I like him, that’s disappointing news if we stay stuck in the Mormon village much longer. I feel like that part of the episode is illustrated far too well in the picture above; picaresque but fundamentally static. There’s interest in the stand-off between Gunderson (now Bishop Dutson) and Cullen Bohannon, and you can’t fault the acting, but the tension needs to amp up a bit. Leaving Cullen stranded in a well was momentarily very tense indeed, but he’s rescued so nonchalantly that the power drains out of it. All the stand-offs in the Mormon camp have that quality of building and then fading away.

I also found everything involving Durant this episode decidedly uninteresting. Colm Meany is giving him a lot of bluster and bravado, but what else is there? In the beginning of the episode, he greets a lovely woman. We learn she’s the daughter of the senator he murdered at the end of Season 3. He pretends his innocence with conviction, but by the end of the hour he’s happy to imply a confession, in order to scare a petty rival. That just seems like such a WTF to me. Also, he sunk a train in the river. Geez.

On the other hand, there’s plenty of interest with the rest of the goings-on in Cheyenne. Mrs. Palmer is such a delightful character, I am pleased to see her move from ally to opponent of Thomas Durant. Delaney (the late senator’s son-in-law) could be interesting, and the new carpetbagger provisional governor of Wyoming could be as well. Saying all this makes me want to dial back on my earlier claim: Yes, this is clearly a season premiere, far more interested in establishing future plot points than in having real happenings. Nothing much did happen this episode. Naomi gave birth, Eva was attacked, and Mickey revealed that, yes, he’s the serial killer.

Last season, Sean was killed and named as a killer of women, but we discussed the ambiguity of it: Mickey appeared to be the real killer, conveniently blaming his late brother, who also took the rap for the senator’s murder that Durant committed. Now we know the truth. “All women are whores,” Mickey says. Perhaps he’s an MRA.

A lot of feminists talk about the cliché rape—the go-to trauma for women, as though nothing else happens to us. Well, everything happens to Eva, and now this; raped by a giant and then sexually assaulted by her supposed rescuer. Lovely.

But here is where this show is great even when it falls down. The filming of those scenes was pure poetry. “Dutson” speaking in tongues as Naomi labors, her mother singing and Cullen praying, all intercut with the giant attacking Eva. It was a staggering piece of television.

ut not only is Elam left a cipher by this episode, we didn’t see Ezra, the formerly-mute boy who knows that Gunderson killed his father (the real Bishop Dutson). Nor did we see Ruth, one of the show’s most interesting characters. Louise, with her unrequited passion for Eva, is also in absentia. There’s lots of places this show can go in Season 4, and I’m here for it. What about you?


  6 Responses to “Hell on Wheels Season 4 Premiere: Elusive Eden”

  1. I almost fell asleep. No more of the boring Mormon village. I may as well be watching Little House on the Prairie.

  2. Just watched the 10:30 rebroadcast. Aaaand… I’m still trying to figure out what I thought of it. I love Deborah’s reviews of this show though– they’re the closest I read anywhere that elucidate what was in my head but wasn’t eloquent enough to articulate.

    Very much in agreement with the opening paragraph here. LaBute’s visuals are stunning (how ‘BOUT that opening scene!), but– in this show, at least– they more often than not seem to be good at creating a quick mood (mostly tension) without payoff. The resolutions (if there are any) don’t quite match the setup. And this episode seemed to be ALL setup; not the typical season inaugural indeed.

    Regarding another point in the review: as a female who loves history and historical drama, I’m well aware that the lot of women throughout eons of most patriarchal societies has been one of often violent subjugation. An American western with female cast that didn’t show, or imply, sexual assault at some point would be sterilized. And yet: I put my head in my hands every time, finger on the volume button, wondering why I’m needing to sit through yet another horrific act. I don’t have an answer, for myself let alone anyone else. I try to avoid any film or TV where assault is gratuitous. I don’t think tonight’s HOW scenes necessarily were that (given the characters and setting), but I still grit my teeth through the awful feelings I get during, and afterward.

    The following info hasn’t been a secret in the past month or so to anyone who follows showrunner John Wirth and some of the cast on Twitter or Instagram, but I’ll throw this up first:
    Common will show up later in the season.. ep. 6 if not earlier. He wasn’t on set during early filming, but posted a pic of himself driving in what looked to be rural Canada with a HOW script reflected on the dashboard and hashtagged #hellonwheels. As well, photos of him posing with the cast on set have been circulating, including SPOILER SPOILER one of him (if memory serves, can’t locate the photo) with a First Nations actor– Common looks to be dressed as if he is part of the tribe. And this tweet, from Wirth this evening: “Wait for COMMON. It’ll be worth it!!!!!”

    • “I put my head in my hands every time, finger on the volume button, wondering why I’m needing to sit through yet another horrific act.”

      I hear you sister-girl…but it’s our history, and needs to be told.

  3. The fact that the showrunner has revealed Common is coming back (especially that showy tweet) says they feel insecure about losing their audience with him gone I think, which I don’t think they will. Elam’s a popular character but he’s not the reason people tune in. It all sort of reeks of giving away their big surprise. Shouldn’t whether he returns technically be a mystery? In any case he’s been very busy with a new album, is doing lots of shows and is currently beardless while they’re still shooting the season so I can’t see him coming back for more than an episode or two. My guess is he quit the show at the last minute and they shoehorned in the bear thing, but since it ended up being so weirdly lacklustre and poorly received they coaxed him back for another brief appearance which they’re trying to hype up.

  4. 1. I’m one of the few viewers who actually prefer the new actress playing Naomi.
    2. Eva had a traumatic story line in this episode, but hopefully it’s going to drive her towards empowering herself. And yes, Mickey was confirmed as the real killer in Boston.
    3. My favorite line came from Delaney: “Nobody said that killing him was a bad thing”.
    4. I’m liking Maggie more and more.
    5. I knew Cullen was getting to Swede Dutson when the latter said “I thought Thor Gunderson was NORWEGIAN”. Cracks in the facade.

  5. After watching the marathon of Season 1 -3 episodes I was left with really wanting Cullen back as his old guns a blazing, hell fire self. Anson Mount is a natural for that part and to keep him stifled is the true crime. The Morman village is boring and he is “the victim” rather than the hero. I too was wondering where Ezra was, and until Cullen escapes from the Mormon’s and Elam resurfaces the story will not develop enough to hold my interest. Just my thoughts.

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