Hell on Wheels, Season 3, Episode 8, “It Happened in Boston”
Written by Mark Richard
Directed by Rosemary Rodriguez
Airs Saturdays at 9pm (ET) on AMC
“It Happened in Boston” picks up directly where last week’s Hell on Wheels ended, with Elam (Common) returning from burning the cholera victims to find that Eva (Robin McLeavy) has given away their baby. This moment from last week is one of the episode’s biggest issues. How could a mother, even one as conflicted as Eva, just hand over her child? True, a place like the Hell on Wheels camp isn’t the best place to raise a child, but something about the decision just doesn’t ring true to the character, especially after the kidnapping left her so devastated. Elam’s reaction, falling into the bottom of a bottle and kicking Eva out, is understandable. He’ll never get Rose back, but even more painful for him, regardless of how terribly naïve it was, is his lost hope that he could finally have something that was all his.
The majority of “It Happened in Boston” shows Mickey (Phil Burke) and Shaun’s (Ben Esler) past coming back to haunt them, in the form of a special agent from Boston investigating Durant’s (Colm Meany) murder of Senator Metcalf. As season three moves towards its conclusion, Shaun grows less and less likeable. Mickey might be blunt and cold when he asks his brother why he can’t just disappear like “dead air”, but he’s honest, which is a major quality Shaun lacks.
The episode’s biggest revelation comes towards the end when Mickey shoots Shaun as he tries to “confess” to Ruth. Killing his own brother is a brutal act and one that he doesn’t want to commit. Preventing him from confessing about Senator Metcalf’s murder is one motivation, but this has more to do with Boston. Mickey said it last week- he’s tired of cleaning up Shaun’s messes, and the two girls he killed in Boston are just the most recent example. No regular viewer would have guessed at the beginning of Hell on Wheels’ run that Mickey would become one of the show’s standout characters but after “It Happened in Boston” it’s not even a question- he’s utterly compelling.
Surprisingly, Cullen (Anson Mount) takes the backseat this week. His biggest development is his continued relationship with the young Mormon boy who finally speaks, telling Cullen that his name is Ezra. Cullen’s fatherly love for the boy highlights a major theme of the season- second chances. When Cullen says “Durant might be right, some men are builders, while others are architects”, you have to wonder which Cullen is and which he wants to be. He’s always wanted to be a better man, while never making excuses for his complexity. Ezra might be giving him a chance to start over, even if that’s one of the most difficult things he’ll ever have to do and will probably end in yet another tragedy.
“It Happened in Boston” is another example of why Hell on Wheels is one of the most layered, honest, and affecting dramas on television.