Hell on Wheels, Ep. 206, “Purged Away with Blood”: A whole lotta heartache

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Hell on Wheels, Season 2 Episode 6: “Purged Away with Blood”
Written by Tony Gayton and Tom Brady
Directed by Joe Gayton
Airs Sundays at 9 pm (ET) on AMC

“What I got Doc, is a whole lotta heartache”, Eva (Robin McLeavy) tells Doc early in this week’s episode of Hell on Wheels, “Purged Away with Blood”. Each character steps into a world of pain.

We begin the episode with Durant’s (Colm Meaney) bizarre fever dream and Lily (Dominique McElligott) sending him on a train to Chicago, where he’s going to meet his wife and have surgery to remove the bullet still lodged near his spine.  Eva’s joining him. As she boards the train she tells Elam (Common) that she might just stay in Chicago and Cullen (Anson Mount) tries to convince Doc not to get on because he knows that Doc will be captured and killed for his crimes. At the beginning of the episode, The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl) and Reverend Cole (Tom Noonan) arm the Sioux and they assist him in taking over the railroad car, where he starts a bizarre hostage negotiation. Cullen and Elam ride out to the train and Cullen boards, imploring the Reverend to pray on his decision to take innocent lives.

“Blood is God here”, Reverend Cole says, before brutally murdering one of the train operators. Lily arrives and asks Elam and Cullen to wait and try to negotiate with Reverend Cole, but both men believe the only way to end the standoff is an attack. The attack is foiled and Cole demands to see his daughter Ruth (Kasha Kropinski) and Joseph (Joseph Black Moon). Joseph, using Cullen’s knife, stabs Cole to death. As the hostage negation ends, Cullen is asked by Doc to be the one that pulls the trigger, ending his life.

It’s a heart-breaking scene that bookends an incredibly complex episode. “Purged Away with Blood” is a heady mix of violence, action, and contemplation. Durant’s admission about the death of his son is heart-wrenching and curious. Did he really exist or was he merely using a son as a tool to get under the Reverend’s skin? Of course by the end of the episode we know that his son was real and he feels he must end his affair with Lily and make up for lost time with his wife.

This season has done a particularly good job of weaving the characters together. In the first season all the characters seemed to exist, but now they all tie into the central story. Reverend Cole’s eerie admission that he’s doing this all for Joseph, “The die is cast” he tells him, and Joseph’s murder of Cole is poetic. It’s interesting to see Joseph in such a different light. We had gotten a glimpse of his darkness before but there’s something else to see here- recognition. As much as Joseph hates all the blood on Cole’s hands, he knows now he has a fair share on his.

But really that’s what this episode is about. By the end, each character has blood on their hands. It’s handled by the writers and actors wonderfully.  Cullen and Joseph are most affected by their actions and it shows. The argument could be made that each drop of blood is a way for their sins to be purged but in the case of Cullen, it’s just one more thing to push him towards the edge.

There are many stand-out scenes in this week’s episode but the final shot as we watch Cullen kill Doc is perhaps the best. As the two men stand in a beautiful open field the contrast between the murder and the scenery is startling. Mount plays it beautifully, his eyes flooded with pain and confusion. It’s as if Cullen knows that this act is going to be another nail in his coffin, but he can’t deny one of his only friend his last request.

“You be strong, son, you be strong”, Doc comforts Cullen just before his death. Suddenly, that seems just a little bit harder, for each character.

Tressa Eckermann

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