Jun 202016
Hell on Wheels, Cullen says goodbye to Naomi & the baby


At one time, those words from you were the only thing on God’s Earth I wanted to hear. But that time has passed.

Anson Mount (Cullen Bohannon) has said that he thinks Hell on Wheels episode 5.09: Return to the Garden is the best acting he’s ever done. He’s dug deep into himself in this one, plumbing feelings all the way to the bottom. He’s also keeping it dialed down, he doesn’t over-emote, he doesn’t reach for the big moment. There’s no clarity, which is what Big Acting Moments have. He’s confused throughout, lost, and that’s what shows so beautifully.

Like last week’s Two SoldiersReturn to the Garden has a utilitarian purpose: It gets Naomi and William out of the way so that the show can move on with the stories it wants to tell. The most important is getting us to that Golden Spike, but apparently, on the way there, there will be sex.  

Mrs. Palmer and Durant? I guess. I mean, why can’t people be friends or form alliances without getting all sexy? They seem an obvious pair, and maybe that’s the problem. They’ve been there, both available, both like-minded, adversaries and allies, playful and sharp, for several seasons. Why now?

I’m on record as hoping against all reasonable hope that Cullen Bohannon and Mei would not ‘ship. Alas. Professor Spouse said, “If he sleeps with her after just losing his wife and child, I’ll lose all respect for him.” I don’t have that feeling–I think comforting your own grief in sex and even in infatuation is pretty normal. But this is quite the unlikely pairing. I guess he has to have a woman to ride off into the sunset with once the railroad is complete, but, I mean, REALLY?

This episode of Hell on Wheels did two things; it finished Cullen’s search for his wife and child, and moved them off center-stage. I imagine they’re as over as The Swede, but Brigham Young still has a historic part to play, so perhaps not. We could see them again, either to complicate Cullen’s relationship with Mei, or, more likely, to bring a little tear to the eye. Since I’ve said before I dislike Naomi, that probably won’t happen.

Come on boys, smells like horseshit in here.

With first the Swede, and now Naomi and William, gone, the only thing left for Cullen to hang onto is the railroad. The same, we see, is true for Psalms and the men who work in the cut. All you got is this job, he says to a man who wants to walk off. Durant’s cheating, selling worthless Credit Mobilier stock, and failing to pay his bills is all historically accurate (although the Credit Mobilier scandal had disposed of the historic Doc Durant well before the railroad was complete), but it also serves as motivation to get every character to throw heart and soul into completing the race to finish.

Is this the right thing?
It’s the only thing.

This episode of Hell on Wheels does have something of a theme; inevitability. Cullen and Naomi must break apart, Psalms and the men must work, Mickey must continue a violent life. Everyone and everything is being driven along a track, like a train.

Some additional thoughts:

  • After taking a week off, we’re back to a water opening–Hell on Wheels has given us many opening images of rivers, wells, even troughs.
  • Isaac thinks that Cullen left Naomi to suffer with smallpox. She admitted to leaving no word for Cullen–how much does she lie to her new husband?
  • Eva’s hair is much darker and longer.
  • As Cullen leaves his wife and child, he is perfectly framed in the barn door–very Searchers. 
  • What is the meaning of the white horse Eva sees?

  6 Responses to “Hell on Wheels Episode 5.09: Return to the Garden”

  1. The Cullen/Naomi pairing didn’t work because they are fundamentally two different people. The extreme trauma of soldiering in a violent war followed by the brutal murders of his wife and son have put Bohannon in a dark place for years; religion is not going to answer for him. He’s finding diversion enough to keep getting up mornings through the spectacularly ambitious project of building a railroad, connecting from east to west what had been ripped and hacked north to south. But it’s a diversion nonetheless, leaving the gaping wounds in his soul unaddressed.

    Naomi is first and foremost a person of faith. Nothing in her life has made her doubt that. She did have the quandary of making the right faith-filled choice when Cullen chose to leave the Hatch compound; that she went with him instead of staying with her Mormon family could be justified in her Bible. But she did not belong outside the fold of believers, and realized that quickly. I’m sure that even if Cullen had returned her love, eventually she would have been troubled enough by his differing beliefs that she would not have been able to comfortably live without his conversion. And that would never have happened.

    The moment Mei (as Fong) spoke of her own world torn asunder in China, I noted the parallel with Cullen’s own tragic experiences. And then: Mei lost her family when her father was murdered, also. I couldn’t guess that the HOW writers were going to bring them together, but it did seem at least a telegraphed possibility. Two pained, broken people, alone in the world with no solace but work, finally have a kindred spirit who understands what they feel and what they have become. I wasn’t necessarily shipping it, but I do get it more than any other relationship Cullen has had or could have had on the show. (Except for Elam!)

    Completely agree about Mrs. Palmer though. She seems like she’d find Durant- at very best- a less clever, less tough plaything. I’m not saying he’s a fool (and I do adore Colm Meany)… just that she’s a level above.

    Hey, I came here figuring you’d know the answer about the white horse, Deborah! You catch things like water openings that trickled right past me after lo how many episodes! Guess it’s going to be a mystery for now. I’ve zero theories.

    • I agree that Cullen and Mei have a lot in common–I’ve written about that. I just wish they were, y’know, Peggy/Don. Not every pairing should be a romantic one.

      • Yeah, your last sentence there is more to the point than mine above. Cullen/Mei and Durant/ Mrs. Palmer: While not upset, I’m not sold that adding sex and/or romance to those relationships advances the story or our understanding of it. Although it does adhere to decades of TV convention. God, I sure hope there won’t be an impending Eva/Mickey frolic…
        And yet, I did whoop with glee when Peggy&Stan got together!

        • I firmly believe that Mrs. Palmer is involved with Durant for manipulative purposes. I tend to like Cullen and Mei, but not sure how much of a future they have once she goes public.

  2. in Native American belief system white horses along with medicine hats(top of head and ears black like a bonnet, hence war bonnet ponies being another name) were seen as sacred and spirit horses…holding great power form the great mystery. usually ridden by chiefs or the medicine man…..she knows this having been captive….not sure about the rest but in behind the scenes photos we see Anson holding a Thank you sign wearing a wedding band that matches Naomi’s in the daydream he had in the beginning of the last episode of season 5 part 1. This could be a sneaking way to inform us of what the future holds for these 2….but we wont know until the last episode of the season ends and the credits roll.

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