The pieces are moving around the chessboard at an alarming rate in the latest Hell on Wheels, Hungry Ghosts, but at the same time, the focus seems rather heavily on character. Brigham Young, Thor Gunderson, the railroad termini as planned by the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific, all of this has far-reaching consequences. Meanwhile, the most important things that happen, the really important things, are Mei burying her father and bonding with Cullen, and Louise suffering a post-abortion infection.
Are Cullen and Mei falling in love? I hope not. The age difference is appalling (although, yes, it is correct for the period), they are from entirely different worlds, and she’s profoundly bereaved. I’ll say, though, that Bohannon is always drawn to tough, smart-ass women, so his attraction is understandable on a deeper level than watching her unbind her breasts through her tent wall. And on that level, his obvious feelings do resonate; she’s someone who has lost, someone who has been through a war and left home, someone who survives as a stranger in a strange land. This describes Lily and Ruth as well. But a feeling of connection, plus a feeling of attraction, don’t exactly have to add up to “falling in love”. Of course, we know that the minute any love does develop, his long-lost wife and child will reappear, to ruin things with Mei just as they ruined things with Ruth. Sure hope she takes it better.
Funny how he said “I lost my wife and boy” and we all knew he meant Mary and his son back during the war, not whatshername and the new baby. But the fact is, he has a living wife and son, and that’s just bound to mess things up with Mei. Especially if Gunderson had something to do with it, which he probably didn’t, but I’m a suspicious sort.
Louise’s story, while tender, sort of rises and falls on whether we care about Louise, and I wish I cared more. She has mostly served as a plot foil for her tenure on the show. Her journalism functions as narration, her affair with the governor mostly just gave us eyes and ears on the ground as we learned what other, more pivotal characters, were doing. Here she is still managing to move the plot forward by writing about the ever-shifting railroad terminus, in a way that will enrage Brigham Young and endanger Doc Durant’s land scheme. However, for the writers to suddenly assume we care about her personally when her personality has always been subsumed by her deux ex machina role seems a bit much. And can I say, it’s an odd choice to have someone who is bleeding out turn blue? White is traditional. Makeup team ain’t winning any Emmys.
Way back in the Season 3 finale of Hell on Wheels, Louise made a move on Eva, and then that whole plot line got dropped? forgotten? saved for a rainy day? In Season 4, Louise had an affair with Provisional Governor Campbell the Carpetbagger, and dismissed her own lesbianism as youthful experimentation. Which seems kind of crazy given the high price she paid for it. Maybe Campbell was the experiment. Now her feelings for Eva reemerge, but it’s impossible to know what to make of it. Frankly, Louise Ellerson is just not a well-written or well-developed character. It pains me to say this because I am biased towards gay women on television.
One of the best moments of this episode was Eva’s encounter with Brigham Young. Eva is based loosely on a real person named Olive Oatman, who was indeed a child of Mormon pilgrims who was kidnapped by the Yavapais (although she wasn’t tattooed by them, but by the Mohaves). Eva calls herself a “Jack Mormon”, which can refer to pilgrims such as the Oatmans, not yet baptized Mormon, or “Jack Mormon” can be the LDS equivalent of saying “lapsed Catholic”.
Brigham Young is a nasty character to mess with. He did, as he said, make war on the U.S. government. Yet Gunderson, Phineas (one of 57 children Young fathered), Durant and Mrs. Palmer are all playing with that particular fire.
Next week is the last episode of Hell on Wheels “this year”. AMC, having had success splitting the final season of Mad Men in two, is repeating the trick.