Is California the Road to Salvation? (Hell on Wheels S04E13 Recap)
For the first three seasons of its run, the AMC series Hell on Wheels ran for a compact 10 episodes. For this, its fourth season, after a month’s hiatus an additional three installments ran. For those of us who enjoy the show it was both exciting and frustrating to see them. While none of this concluding trio was subpar each felt a bit anticlimactic. Still, the season finale (S04E13) “Further West” set up the next season nicely.
At the end of the previous episode, Cullen (Anson Mount) announces to “Doc” Durant (Colm Meaney) that he’s quitting the Union Pacific, Durant tries to dissuade him, telling him that he will not take him back. Cullen says that he knows this, then rides out of Cheyenne. Approaching the Mormon fort, he finds the gates open. Inside, he discovers the bodies of several Mormons and Indians. His wife, Naomi, is not there.
The unlikely romance of Louise (Jennifer Ferrin) and Campbell (Jake Weber) ends when she finds her printing press has been destroyed. The governor wants to buy the paper from Louise, but she rejects his offer of protection. She informs him that “I will never let you take it from me.”
Cullen’s search takes him to Salt Lake City, where he meets up with Collis Huntington of the Central Pacific. When Huntington was in Utah to strike a deal with Brigham Young, he attempted to hire Cullen. Cullen refuses the offer but ultimately, after finding his mother-in-law but no sign of his wife and infant son, he hires on with the Central Pacific to gain the means to find them. Unfortunately, the murderous Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl) has won Young’s approval to sign on to the eastward-bound railroad as well and will be in charge of numerous Chinese immigrant railworkers.
Back in Cheyenne, Campbell has been named territorial governor by President Grant, the word “provisional” removed from his title. His control over the local judiciary confirmed, he orders Mickey and the Dead Rabbits gang out of town by the next morning; otherwise, they will be shot. Mickey’s departure creates an opportunity for Eva (Robin McLeavy), who negotiates to become his partner.
Despite his new title, Campbell is determined to remove an irritant. He marches into Durant’s office and tells him that he wants Chicken Hill. Doc produces the deed and tells Campbell if he can take it off his desk, the land is his. The setpiece fight that ensues is the highlight of the episode. The actors play their fight broadly (Weber said that for him, “that’s been the highlight of the season”), bursting out the railroad office and into the muddy street. The townspeople watch in amusement as the men end up worn out and covered in mud. Campbell agrees to pay Durant triple fair market value for the hill.
AMC recently renewed Hell on Wheels for a fifth and final season. Since the first transcontinental railroad took six years to construct, that number feels right. In much the same way, the series’ willingness to end a season without the usual cliffhanger most shows feel a necessary story element is welcome as well. With that in mind, the use of these three extra episodes to wrap up loose ends left by the first 10 also feels like the correct way to structure a season. An effective, entertaining show that never wins any notice from the Emmy voters, the latest season establishes for all who like westerns, period pieces or just solid drama that “Hell on Wheels” is highly entertaining and even gripping at times. Season Five should be even more powerful.
[Editor’s Note: Since it appeared obvious that Durant’s allegiance is to his railroad, it appeared that Durant’s battle over the land title was just his sense of dramatic flare for a glorious exit from Cheyenne and a chance to both humiliate and best Campbell on his own terms. This was in fact the best scene in a very deflated season finale. Now with both Campbell and Snow out of the picture, it will be interesting to see what new villains, if any, will emerge in the final season. One thing is certain, Cullen has now placed himself in a power struggle triad vice grip between Durant, the Swede, and the Morman community. Will the Rabbit Gang be instrumental in bringing the Swede down? What storylines will factor into the Chinese work gangs?
Will Joseph resurface as an Indian Chief leading an attack on the railroad or will he return to fill Ruth’s shoes as the new pastor? Several key characters died this season and it will be intriguing to see who may not make it to the season 5 finale. And even if Cullen finds his wife and child, would he be happy settling down into obscurity or would he be primed for a new adventure? Hopefully, AMC can maintain the previous four season epic pace and story and give us a memorable final season. Overall, I’ve really enjoyed this western-themed TV show for the last four years.]
– Louis Burklow (aka, Hollywood Country Boy), Senior Staff Writer, Phoenix Genesis
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