Hell on Wheels, Ep. 1.02: “Immoral Mathematics” displays some promise
Hell on Wheels, Season 1, Episode 2: “Immoral Mathematics”
Written by Tony and Joe Gayton
Directed by David Von Ancken
Airs Sundays at 10pm ET on AMC
After a lackluster pilot episode which, like many pilots, was used mainly as a broad set up for the entirety of the season, episode two of Hell on Wheels, “Immoral Mathematics,” starts to dig a little beneath the surface.
The show still has various flaws one would hope it can overcome. For instance, many of the characters are rather cliché and even stereotypical at times, but, the show has admirable energy and enthusiasm that keeps it (pardon my pun) chugging along.
“Immoral Mathematics” picks up on the following day when the pilot ended. The Foreman has been found murdered, and our star, Cullen Bohannan (Anson Mount) is the prime suspect. The chief of security for the camp, known as The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl) plans on hanging Bohannan for the crime whether he is truly guilty or not, which makes it odd that he waits nearly two days to do it. So, you know the story, Bohannan manages to escape the clutches of the Swede before the noose finds his neck, and cleverly ends up getting face time with Doc Durant (Colm Meaney) and convinces him to hire him as the new foreman.
The most noticeable improvement to episode two is that it seems to take a measured step back. The obvious social commentary, which would be impossible for the show to avoid, is delivered with a self-aware brevity and wit that seemed lacking in the pilot. However the show could not avoid being clumsily heavy handed in certain moments, such as Bohannan’s conversation with the Reverend, and the conversation between Joseph Black Moon (Eddie Spears), a Native American converted to Christianity, and his brother, still loyal to his tribe. Bohannan’s conversation with the Reverend merely reiterates details we the viewer are well aware of in the character. We are aware of these things because the show constantly reminds us who Bohannan is, and what drives him, whether it be through banal flashbacks of his dead wife, or a rather hollow moment where he admires a keepsake from her.
The conversation between Black Moon and his brother had all the makings of a poignant meeting of two worlds, but instead it comes off as rather broad and ill-thought. Black Moon’s brother is portrayed as a blood crazed heathen, and Black Moon himself as a brain washed convert.
It is this type of broad characterization that is making it difficult for the show to gain any dramatic footing. When the antagonist of this episode, broadly enough known as the Swede, feels very much like a lazily penned villain from a James Bond knock off, it is difficult to take the show seriously. But, as mentioned before, there is some promise in this show in the assured energy it brings.