Hell is a Thing That Rides the Rails (Hell on Wheels S04E10 Recap)
If there’s one thing that unites all the characters in Hell on Wheels, it is the conviction that each of us pays for our sins here on Earth. The AMC series deals with the building of the first transcontinental railroad in the years just after the Civil War. Such a perfect story for a western: a tale of progress, of settling an untamed frontier while reuniting a deeply divided nation.
The world of the show in no way matches that idealized West. In fact, with the sufferings (both internal and external) of its characters, progress is about the last word to describe it. This has never been clearer than in the most recent episode, “Return to Hell.” As many of the plotlines of the fourth season came to a head, the common denominators were pain and regret.
Following last week’s episode in which Cullen (Anson Mount) freed Doc Durant (Colm Meaney) and a train car full of railroad workers being shipped east to be tried for various crimes, he returns to Cheyenne. As Territorial Governor Campbell (Jake Weber) now understands, he has lost his battle with Durant for control of the town and accepts the situation with a sense of calm. In the scene in which he works out an arrangement with Cullen and Durant, we finally see the governor as the carpetbagger he is, more of a bureaucrat and opportunist than all-out villain. Weber gets the chance to bring shades of gray to a villain and he makes the most of his opportunity.
The episode revolves around Cullen’s hunt for Sydney Snow (Jonathan Scarfe), the villain who danced off the gallows long enough to be appointed sheriff by Campbell. Having lost the battle at the train, Snow remains determined to defeat Cullen, his officer in the Confederate army. To that end, he tries to draw Cullen out by setting the church on fire. Finally bringing about the showdown he craves, Snow finds his ambition insufficient to deal with another character’s anger.
As the episode ends, many elements are resolved, yet nothing feels changed in any important way. The misery will move east with the railroad, each character unable to stop its inexorable march. As Eva (Robin McLeavy) declares, once people endure enough they are capable of anything. That attitude underpins almost every important character action this season. Where it will lead is suspenseful enough to maintain interest in season 5.
The episode’s end brought a welcome piece of news: for the first time a season will extend more than 10 episodes. The show is going on hiatus for a month, to return with three episodes in November (S01E11 airs November 9, 2014). At this time questions will remain to be answered. How durable is the agreement between Campbell and Durant? What will become of Cullen’s family? And what of the Swede’s new identity? How will his delusions of grandeur reappear? Finally, will Ruth (Kasha Kropinski) once again pick up a Bible after she’s picked up a gun? At least we will not have to wait until next summer for “Hell on Wheels” to answer all its questions.
– Louis Burklow (aka, Hollywood Country Boy), Senior Staff Writer, Phoenix Genesis
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