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?