The Law Must Be Stopped by Any Means Possible (Hell on Wheels Recap S04E08-09)October 1, 2014
The AMC drama Hell on Wheels has used its fourth season to show an alternate life for its hero Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount). An embittered Confederate veteran of the recently-ended Civil War, Cullen spent much of the first three seasons on a quest for vengeance for his lost family. Now married to Naomi (Mackenzie Porter) with a baby son, Cullen finds concern for the living outweighs his one-time obsession with the dead. In having to kill his friend Elam Ferguson (Common) to save his own life Cullen finds himself at a crossroads. Will he once again become the sullen loner on his own quest for vengeance or can he avoid that fate?
In the two episodes since Elam’s death, “Under Cover of Law” and “Two Trains,” the clues do not look promising. An increasingly angry and desperate Territorial Governor John Campbell (Jake Weber) takes a unique approach to defeating his enemy, railroad boss Doc Durant (Colm Meaney). He arrests Durant and several of his railroad employees on a variety of charges and plans to ship them out to stand trial. This is not difficult since many of the workers have escaped criminal pasts back east.
To carry out this policy Campbell chooses a new marshal. He releases Sidney Snow (Jonathan Scarfe), a onetime comrade of Cullen’s in the war turned bandit – who barely escaped a noose in Mexico – and appoints him the new marshal. The post was vacant after Durant forced the removal of the incumbent, then savagely beat him as payback for a beating he took from that marshal. In short order the Cheyenne jail is full of railroad men.
Cullen, having returned with his new wife and working on the railroad again, tries to get Campbell to release them. When his request is refused, he leaves realizing there is only one way to get it done. In violation of the pact he has made to change his ways (and angering Naomi in the process) he puts his holster back on.
Cullen plots a breakout with Mickey McGinness (Phil Burke), the former mayor of Cheyenne who also took a beating from Campbell’s men. Before they can put the plan into effect, Mickey is arrested. He endures a beating from Snow until he can take no more; he reveals the plan before he is thrown into a cell with the others. When the day comes to ship out the prisoners Snow looks everywhere for Cullen, who he is sure is somewhere nearby. He missed one direction: up. Standing on top of the train, Cullen uncouples the rear cars of the train where the prisoners are being held.
Overpowering the two deputies watching them, the now-freed railroad men get their hands on the guns Cullen and Mickey organized. When Snow realizes what has happened, he orders the train back. Once there a mighty shootout that could hold its own with the best of old-time westerns breaks out. Cullen’s men use a Gatling gun to devastating effect, killing most of Snow’s deputies. When Cullen hunts for Snow, he finds the marshal gone. And where is Campbell during all this commotion? Plied with booze and in the arms of the cunning newswoman Louise Ellison (Jennifer Ferrin), her romantic overtures seem to keep Campbell distracted just long enough for Cullen to pull off his daring rescue.
This sets up an equally bloody final showdown between Durant’s men and Campbell next week. Unbeknownst to the governor at episode’s end, he is now greatly (possibly fatally) weakened, yet Campbell has a stone-cold killer with a badge representing his interests. At the same time, Cullen’s story is compelling for a different reason: do we hope he puts his guns away for good? If he doesn’t, will he lose all hope of a better life? Will Naomi become collateral damage? Since the first three seasons of the series ran for 10 episodes, this appears to be the conclusion of Season 4 with only the finale to be aired on October 4th (S01E10, “Return to Hell”). Apparently, there will be plenty to anticipate as well as enough story to carry over to Season 5 in Summer 2015. It took six years to build the transcontinental railroad in reality; how many more seasons will the televised version take?
– Louis Burklow (aka, Hollywood Country Boy), Senior Staff Writer, Phoenix Genesis
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