Hell on Wheels has started its final season in rollicking style, giving us an adventurous opening. So far, we’ve had big fight scenes and now, in Mei Mei, a falling-down-a-mountain scene so thrilling they showed it to us twice! I’m going to be a big ol’ meanie and say that the special effects looked a little weak to me in HD, but I do love the wild ride.
There’s a lot to like so far this season. I love the introduction of Chang’s complex, Westernized, intelligent villain. I love that the Asian characters are being given depth and complexity. When Hell on Wheels was in production, six years ago, there was a lot of Internet anger over the lack of Asians in the cast, apparently from people who didn’t realize that Chinese workers were exclusive to the Central Pacific and the show was set on the Union Pacific. Now that we’re on the CP, Asian characters are here to stay. Still, plenty of TV shows would have made them background characters, and racist Asian cliches are hardly a thing of the past. I think so far, Hell on Wheels is doing a good job of giving us some interesting people with unique voices. (AMC also has a nice feature of the history of the Chinese workers on the railroad.)
Fong’s character is, yes, a cliche, but not an Asian cliche particularly. As soon as she screamed in pain in the opening scene, Professor Spouse and I started discussing whether or not this character was going to be revealed as a woman. Professor Spouse was 100% sure, I was pretty sure. This isn’t a TV cliche particularly, it’s as old as literature. Fong/Mei is someone, though, she’s not just “woman in disguise” and left there. And now that Bohannon knows her secret, Tao and his “son” cannot simply obey Chang’s directive to stay away from him. This can get juicy.
As I said last week, this show is exceptionally good at showing a diverse array of women with diverse jobs and roles. I do think the makeup department cheated, though. “Mei” had a much more female face, quite suddenly, when her bandages were removed. Later, we saw that she uses makeup to add a false five o’clock shadow, but this happened between shots.
The Mormons, meanwhile, have lost some toes. Clearly Gunderson (aka “The Swede”) is setting himself up as a savior to these men. He believes his own p.r., and seems genuinely to want to help the men–having a toe snap off in one’s hand is a wake-up call to compassion–but the long game is to get them to love him. None of them believe that it was Baby Boy Young who got them boots.
As fun as this episode was on its own, its larger purpose was clearly to set pieces in play for the season. We didn’t visit Cheyenne, didn’t see Mary Fields, whose brief appearance delighted me last week, and didn’t return to Stobridge’s extended family.
The choice to replay the fall down the mountain pretty much note-for-note was interesting. It was all different to the audience with different perspective, but it wasn’t filmed differently.
Even though the preview showed nothing about it, I have to assume some of last year’s regulars will return next week. It seems about time for more Durant and the return of Eva and Louise.