I can’t blame Hell on Wheels for getting a little experimental this late in its run, and they’ve always freely jumped around point of view, but Gambit is the first episode entirely without Anson Mount as Cullen Bohannon, and I think that was a problem.
Granted, Bohannon and Durant are now at two different railroads, and we are building towards the historic date of May 10, 1869, when the Golden Spike (the “Golden what?”) will be driven in Promontory Summit, Utah, joining the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroads. Of necessity, this splits the show into two locations, moving towards each other—another reason why we had to dispense with Gunderson and Naomi; the show is dramatically divided enough already without these extra branchings.
But an 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 on death, too little money is had, and while Durant doesn’t’ go to jail, he is essentially caught, and emotionally devastated. He asked Maggie to marry him just days earlier, and now he has killed her. Remember—he’s not just morally responsible for her death, the bullet that killed her was fired while Durant was trying to grab the gun.
So, all the things that could go wrong do go wrong. The board refuses to pay. The feds are called in, allowing for the return of Jake Weber as Governor John Campbell—a return I think no one was calling for—and a brief reunion of John and Louise, the least electric lovers on television. Dangerous Crazy Shea does Dangerous Crazy things, Marty is dead, Maggie is dead, and a cavalry redshirt is dead. Some of this is compelling, as in the scene of the booby-trapped cabin, but it’s all drawn out too long. There was no need for a full episode of this scheme; a half-episode, while cutting to the Central Pacific, would have been more entertaining.
Mickey McGinnes is a difficult character. Phil Burke does a hell of a job in the role, but the writing is so inconsistent. This week’s iteration is a good man driven to do evil things; someone with an underlying decency, but corrupt enough and smart enough to do the necessary things to keep his head above water. Of course, when he was introduced, he was Sean’s dumber, stronger brother, slow of speech and dependent on his brother to do the planning. Later, he was revealed to be a serial killer of women, and Eva called him out on his destructive hatred of women and their sexuality. I guess she forgot that, just as the scripting has. I’m glad they at least remembered that he murdered his own brother, and not for any decent but corrupt reason, either.
I have no idea why Eva, knowing what she knows, would bang Mickey—this show is turning into Grey’s Anatomy—everyone screws everyone else eventually.
Maggie sold her hotel to save Durant. Is that the end of Cheyenne as a setting on the show, or is the new owner significant? Probably the former.
On a historical note, the photograph that we see on Durant’s mantle in the flash-forward to 1885 is a fairly accurate reproduction of the original. Although Hell on Wheels gave Durant a fictional past—in reality, he was the child of a wealthy family—his death appears to be historically accurate. Thomas Durant did, indeed die in October of 1885 in New York (the caption doesn’t give us a month, but it appears to be late fall or winter), and he was financially ruined by the “Crash of ‘73”.