Jun 272016
Hell on Wheels white horse

Photo Credit: Michelle Faye/AMC

Every breath you take with this in your hand is a challenge to God.

Hell on Wheels is back to the railroad, but in episode 5.10, 61 Degrees, it’s clear that it’s also still in the business of looking into Cullen Bohannon’s soul. In Two Soldiers, Thor Gunderson told Bohannon that he was in love with death; that’s what the war had taught them both. And in 61 Degrees, we see this acted out almost too literally, as Cullen and Mei get all sexy on a TABLE WITH NITROGLYCERINE WHAT!?

I thought the title was foreshadowing, when Strobridge said that the temperature of nitro had to remain lower than 60 degrees or it would explode. I mean, I thought 61 Degrees was literal foreshadowing, and figured Mei’s blown-up bits would be all over the mountain by episode’s end. Instead, it’s metaphorical. Everyone is just past their internal combustion point. Cullen can’t control his passions—not his passion for Mei nor his passion for building the railroad at all costs, and Mei is past the point of maintaining self-control as well. And things are very overheated indeed in Laramie.

With Gunderson dead, we need Bohannon’s other doppelgänger, Thomas Durant, to be correspondingly reckless and explosive. Bohannon is an obsessed hero—obsessed villains create resonant mirrors. With both of them suddenly, almost inexplicably in romantic relationships, the correspondence is ripe. And of course, with his crazy Fargo kidnapping plan that was destined to go wrong, and then bringing in Mr. Dead Rabbit All I Do Is Go Wrong to execute the scheme, well, boom. Mickey and his cousin are definitely Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare in the Old West, and Colm Meany is doing William H. Macy with a little more bluster.

There was no way that scheme wasn’t going to go wrong. It’s not just stupid, it’s Coen Brothers stupid.

Louise is back. Did anyone miss her? I didn’t miss her. This show is so great with interesting women, but Louise is too much an eyewitness and too little a person.

Here are a bunch of bullet points:

  • Durant says “It is in the nature of the lion to eat the zebra.” When he said this in Season 1 it was both portentous and pretentious. This time, it’s just kind of whiny, particularly when he says “a herd of zebras” has come after him.
  • Eva got herself a white horse.
  • The phrenologist spent two hours analyzing a whore’s head bumps.
  • Stagecoach Mary Fields has a coin that implicates Chang in a murder (remember the spy at the Central Pacific?).
  • The light at the end of the tunnel might be the broadest metaphor this show has ever offered.

  2 Responses to “Hell on Wheels Season 5 Episode 10: 61 Degrees”

  1. This episode frustrated me. I got all of it, but if ever there was a time they were jumping the shark, this was it. Cullen and Mei don’t care anymore, they WANT to be caught As you pointed out, the Fargo-scheme was hopelessly bad. I was hoping for more comedy of the Bendix kind. And yes, Louise is being under-utilized.

  2. […] entire episode involving nothing but Thomas Durant’s venial and dangerous schemes is too much. I said last week this whole thing is Fargo, and so it turns out to be, except without the dark comedy. Death piles […]

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