Hell on Wheels, Ep. 1.09, “Timeshel”: Objectives are getting more muddled

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Hell on Wheels, Ep. 1.09: “Timeshel”
Written by: Tony and Joe Gayton, and John Shiban
Directed by: John Shiban
Airs sundays at 10PM ET on AMC

If one was to forgo the storyline and simply pick  tonight’s episode out at random they would be hard pressed to have a complaint. The acting was fine, the music was very good, and other than a few cliche cringes, particularly the opening slow motion montage, the direction was good. In fact, there were some shots in this episode to rival any show on television visually. Unfortunately for Hell on Wheels the main reason we watch shows of its kind is for the characters. When the characters are rich and full everything else the show positively does (visuals, acting, music) enhances the experience that much more. Ultimately we get a long, uninterrupted, cinematic breath.

If I am sounding like a broken record it is because this show, frustratingly, has some positives, but it seems as though the writers tried to cut corners. The last two weeks it has felt almost as if they’ve skipped over a few episodes. Characters, and developments are being rushed ahead without any desernable motive. It’s like they are building a house before the foundation. One of the more grievous examples of this is Doc Durrant giving Bohannan the heads-up that the Swede has alerted the U.S. Marshals of his crimes. At first glance we believe Durrant is doing Bohannan a favor because of his (Bohannan) hard work, but then it becomes apparent that he wants Bohannan gone because he sees him as a threat for Lily Bell’s heart. This ignores the fact that Bohannan and Bell haven’t interacted much this season outside of one episode, and at no point was there any romance established at all. But, Bohannan buys Bell a drink, and suddenly out of the shadows Durrant wants him gone?

As a sidebar to the mysterious Lily Bell love triangle, at what point did she become an expert surveyor? It’s understandable that she picked up a few tricks of the trade from her late husband, but the idea that Doc Durrant would simply turn over the reigns of surveying the route of his million dollar railroad to someone whose only experience in the job is that they were once married to a surveyor is ludicrous. I might be nitpicking on that though.

At this point it would seem that even Tom Noonan, a fine actor, is struggling with the direction his character (the Reverend) is taking. It isn’t so much that the Reverend, once a mild mannered, passive, gentle, man of god, has become so vile and morally confused, it is how quickly he escalated to this point. The abruptness of his change makes it very difficult to swallow, so the character feels very contrived, and forced. His murdering the Lieutenant at the end of tonight’s episode would be a much more empathetic and human scene if we were given time to truly understand the character and know him. But instead, we get a bloody, violent, cheap scene played only for the purpose of shock value.

The second to last episode of any series is a time for the audience to hold its collective breath, and brace for the finale. But it feels more like we are staggering towards the finish line.

James Merolla


1 Comment
  1. Andy says

    I like this show quite a bit, but definitely agree with you re: the character development. The Reverend is the most egregious example – given his abusive family history and his role in Kansas massacres, a slide back into darkness is entirely plausible, and would have been a great slow build story line – but instead feels rushed forward in a barely explained way. The writers established the foundation, but then rushed the story line.Still, all in all, I like the story line and the characters quite a bit and will keep returning, fingers crossed that the promise of this series is realized. Also, agreed, some very nice cinematic shots in this episode, almost “Breaking Bad” good.

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