Hell on Wheels, Ep. 2.07, “The White Spirit”: Kindred spirits beyond redemption

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Hell on Wheels,
Season 2, Episode 7: “The White Spirit”
Written by David Von Ancken
Directed by Bruce Marshall Romans
Airs Sundays at 9 pm (ET) on AMC

The haunting images start early in this week’s episode of Hell on Wheels as The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl) prepares himself for a Native American ritual. Where last week’s episode seemed to focus on each character’s mounting pain, “The White Spirit” seems to be about choices. “Judging my choices won’t change yours”, Lily (Dominique McElligott) tells Cullen (Anson Mount) towards the end of the episode.

When Ruth tells Cullen that some people are just beyond redemption, it clearly applies to many characters on the show, particularly Elam, who’s found a new and rather unsavory path. Hell on Wheels has always been a show about angry people and what that anger and a heavy dose of guilt can do to them.

“You try to tell yourself that you don’t like the killing but you just can’t stop yourself because death is coming for all of us,” the Swede tells Cullen.  As crazy as the Swede is, he does seem to have his finger on what makes Cullen tick. Very rarely does he say something that isn’t hauntingly true. You can see the guilt from last week’s murder of his close friend pushing Cullen towards a shaky future.

Hell on Wheels is particularly poignant this week and even though I’ve dreaded it since the beginning, the love scene between Cullen and Lily is beautifully shot. It may be a somewhat forced relationship, but the love scene is the culmination of a season and a half of brief, lingering looks and tense conversations.

I still maintain that there cannot be a relationship if there isn’t any chemistry or setup to the characters in the relationship. I don’t understand why the writers insist on a romance when the show doesn’t really need one. When Cullen gives his version of an apology, and Lily asks him to stay for her, the whole conversation rings painfully untrue to their characters. The ending, however, gives us something that’s achingly real. Cullen’s regret and Lily’s painful understanding of their mistake is a wonderful scene.

With only three episodes left, Hell on Wheels has given us a season full of emotional ups and downs and “The White Spirit” is no different.

Tressa Eckermann

  1. Frankie says

    It would be interesting to find out how many downloads of those two songs are downloaded tonight. To the main article observations I would like to point out that romance and love where the very thing that drove Cullen crazy in the first place, finding his wife and son brutually murdered, wife hung,etc is why the first season had all of the revenge killings and drove the show. Lily saw that cullen wasn’t a womanizer, and probably knew the reason for his suffering, even though no hint that anyone told her, you just have to assume the news spread around. Too me the separation of these two was a build up of more of the psychlogical marathdom, (KIlling) that was going on. Almost as painful to watch as the killing. Liked the Barbara Streisand move with the hand in the “way we were” movie with Redford. All of a sudden the previous scene shows this trained killer from the war turn into a little kid talking to lily. “You are right, I always leave”. Funny what love can do. The killing of his first love made him crazy to kill, NOw this love cures him from all his suffering. Maybe she can replace her and have those same feelings again.

  2. Dillon says

    For my previous comment, at the end, I meant “can’t” for “there [can’t] be too much regret there, if any, considering that they continue this romance.”

  3. Dillon says

    I see chemistry between Cullen and Lily, romantic and otherwise. I’ve also seen that there are a lot of female viewers who see chemistry between them and are rooting for them as a pairing. So I’d say that that’s why the “writers insist on a romance when the show doesn’t really need one” — there are always going to be viewers who appreciate or want to see a romance, especially to go along with action (physical fights, etc.). A romance ensures pulling in a portion of the audience that you wouldn’t otherwise have, as long as it’s a romance that works. Cullen and Lily’s work. It’s better that Cullen have Lily as a romantic partner than seeing him have sex with random women or with no women at all. And let’s remember that Elam and others also have romances going on. People are usually going to be most interested in the main character’s romance, however. And it’s not like this show heavily focuses on romance; it never has, having taken, like you stated, “a season and a half of brief, lingering looks and tense conversations” for Cullen and Lily to get to this point. They have not had a lot of scenes together, although that can change and they have had more scenes together this season.

    As for the ending, I didn’t interpret it as “Cullen’s regret and Lily’s painful understanding of their mistake.” Cullen simply appeared conflicted, but notably happy at the end there; and we definitely saw that Lily was happy with what they’d done. And judging by the preview, there can be too much regret there, if any, considering that they continue this romance.

  4. Tressa says

    Yes, both Annabelle by The Duhks and Annabelle Lee by Sarah Jarosz are listed as songs for this episode.

  5. DAVID E. BUTLER says

    Yea, but who was the singer and title of song sung during the love scene, I’m old but she (the singer)reminded me of Emmy Lou Harris (cut the old man here some slack.)

    1. Tiffany says

      Annabel by The Duhks

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