Aug 092014


You sound like an unreconstructed Southerner, but we’ll remedy all that.

Now that’s more like it!

Hell on Wheels came on flabby with a slow season opener that left me doubting if it could continue to deliver strong stories with compelling characters. One week later, Escape From the Garden, another Neil LaButte episode, leaves no doubt at all.

Everything about this episode was satisfying. Even the death of Elam (Common is definitely not in the opening credits) was handled with real grace. The sea change in Cheyenne, with carpetbaggers bringing rough justice, was intense. I mean, the town needs law and order, and Durant doesn’t care to bring it. We know Campbell’s people are a nasty bunch, but they’re not wrong to want to clean up that hellish town. The cat-and-mouse Campbell and Durant will undoubtedly play will be fun to watch.

But not as much fun as the showpiece of the episode, Cullen bringing down “Bishop Dutson” by preaching his own conversion. It was amazing to watch. I knew Cullen was plotting something, but he was well into it before I could figure out where this was going. It was enormous fun!

Having defeated Gunderson in a battle of morality, Cullen made his way back to Cheyenne with Naomi. The wounded Indian they encountered was what? A warning? A harbinger? A symbol? I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.

Louise, Ruth, and Ezra are all back this episode. Louise looks to be playing a historical and expository role, which could become annoying, but I can see where it’s needed. We aren’t all married to history professors. An acerbic barb in the side of the powerful and amoral isn’t a bad thing to be, and perhaps her personal story will develop in an interesting way. She is, after all, the only gay character on the show.

All of these characters will be impacted by the return of Cullen, Ruth and Ezra especially. It will surely be a blow to Ruth to see Cullen married, and a blow to Ezra to see that Cullen now has a son. I liked Cullen pausing to be angry and bemused at the sunken train car. He knows what it means. Durant, too, will be challenged by Cullen’s return.

Having been unmasked as “Bishop Dutson,” Gunderson is free to take on his next identity, and he is a master of reinvention. Cullen had the insight to understand that Gunderson believed his own transformation; believed he was a man of God, cleansed of sin. With that belief stripped away, I predict he returns to hard core evil and a quest for vengeance. The encounter with his victim Ezra still awaits, but now that we don’t depend on Ezra for the unmasking of “Bishop Dutson,” I wonder what form it will take.

This show is so great with visual juxtaposition. This week, we saw Ruth disciplining Ezra (and sparing the rod, against Psalms’s advice) intercut with the hanging of the gambler. Campbell will certainly not be sparing the rod in Cheyenne.

Dark things are coming for Mickey and Eva, and I suspect we won’t be waiting a season to see what they are.

What did you all think?


  9 Responses to “Hell on Wheels Episode 4.02: Escape from the Garden”

  1. With Elam’s death, there are no real minority major characters on the show.

    • Which is really striking considering how the show started out, as a depiction of America as a melting pot. The Gaytons had a very different agenda to John Wirth.

      Joseph? Gone without explanation. Native storyline? Mostly abandoned except for one episode that used them as a punchline. And now no more Elam, which probably has more to do with Common’s schedule than anything else, but it’s still revealing that there are SO many new characters and every single one of them is white.

    • Only Elam isn’t dead.

    • Psalms will be getting a larger role, we’re told.

  2. I’m not so sure Swede will be back. He’s played out, so how to bring him back and keep tension would be a challenge. The Mormons aren’t as hesitant to kill interlopers, and they now have Swede’s confession. Even if they release him, Cullen can easily spread the word back in Cheyenne.

  3. There is a podcast that airs after each episode. This week Neil LaButte joins them to discuss both E401 and 402 as well as James Shanklin who plays Mr. Hatch. It is also free on iTunes. I was interested to hear Neil talk about the filming of the ‘preaching’ scene. Anson and Chris Heyerdahl were great fun to watch. John Wirth was on the podcast back in July, I believe. That was interesting as well.

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