Hell on Wheels, Ep. 2.05, “The Railroad Job”: Ghosts of Cullen’s past

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Hell on Wheels, Season 2, Episode 5, “The Railroad Job”
Written by Mark Richard
Directed by Michael Nankin
Airs Sunday at 9 pm (ET) on AMC

I think it’s safe to assume that by this point Cullen (Anson Mount) has his fair share of ghosts. This week’s “The Railroad Job” opens with the ex-Confederate soldiers Cullen was running with at the beginning of the season plotting the robbery of the Hell on Wheels camp.

Lily (Dominique McElligott) contemplates her future once the railroad reaches the Pacific and Durant (Colm Meany) does little to calm her fears when he tells her that he’ll more than likely  return to New York. The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl) and Reverend Cole continue their bizarre interactions, with the Reverend literally anchored down by his alcoholism. He’s made the Swede promise to keep him tied up until he can kick his habit and finish his manifesto. The Swede is happy to oblige, thinking that he’s a prophet and the perfect person to help him execute his vengeance.  Elam enlists the help of the McGinnes brothers (Ben Esler and Phil Burke) to stop the robbers but before the men can do anything, the robbers bust into headquarters and shoot Durant. The wonderfully filmed old school shoot-out that follows and its final standoff between Cullen and one of the robbers is breathtaking.

If last week’s Hell on Wheels was meant to be contemplative and character driven, “The Railroad Job” is a shoot-um-up nail-biter. While there is some plot advancement when we learn the real reason Cullen was riding with the men (to learn more information about where Sergeant Harper, the man who killed his family, is), this episode exists to simply remind the viewer that even if the camp is growing it’s still a vicious and bloody place. We also get the frightening answer as to why The Swede chose to save Reverend Cole, “To judge and avenge the dissipated”.

Each character, particularly Cullen, Lily, and the African American railroad workers, are forced to question how their lives would be affected if Durant was to die. Cullen would be free of his contract, Lily would be out of a relationship she thought she wanted, and the men would more than likely be out of a job. It’s an interesting twist for a character I never put much stock in. I wasn’t sure of his purpose within the Hell on Wheels world but with his shooting we’re reminded of his ties to the show’s major characters.

“The Railroad Job” is a fun and daring episode. This is one of the first episodes in the series to really plays up the fact that this is a western (and a darn good one at that). It’s fast paced, quick witted, and dark. There are gritty camera angles, unrelenting violence, and brutal fun.

Mount doesn’t have much to do this week, except seethe, look mean, and shoot straight, but you can tell he’s having a lot of fun with the part. Character wise, though, the episode belongs to the ever odd duo of The Swede and The Reverend. Once we learn that The Swede wants to use Reverend Cole as a tool in his own quest for vengeance, we as the audience know that the war he’s been talking about for so long might finally come at his own hands.

“The Railroad Job”, while important for the Hell on Wheels plot, is simply a dynamite episode. My hope is that the creative team behind the show can keep up the wonderful momentum they’ve been building for the past five episodes and maybe introduce us to a few more of Cullen’s ghosts.

Tressa Eckermann

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