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Hell on Wheels, Ep. 3.09, “Fathers and Sins”: One rail at a time

Hell on Wheels, Ep. 3.09, “Fathers and Sins”: One rail at a time

Hell on Wheels, S03E09 promo pic, "Fathers and Sins"

Hell on Wheels, Season 3, Episode 9, “Fathers and Sins”
Written by John Wirth and Reed Steiner
Directed by Billy Gierhart
Airs Saturdays at 9pm (ET) on AMC

From the moment Cullen (Anson Mount) made the decision to hang the young Mormon teenager in the season premiere, it’s been obvious that there was going to be some kind of brutal retaliation from the Mormons at Fort Smith. Like most things this season, the story has been a slow burn leading to the bloody fight in “Fathers and Sins”.

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There is a light humor to most of the episode, until Elam (Common), Ezra (Tayden Marks), and Cullen are chased into Cheyenne and forced into a shootout. Of course, this is Hell on Wheels, so even the lighter moments are tainted with sadness.  Ruth’s (Kasha Kropinski) guilt at her involvement in Shaun’s death and Elam’s drunken stupor have become major themes for their characters in the last few weeks.

Along with some dark humor, Cullen has found a false sense of security. For the first time he’s exceptionally close to reaching Cheyenne and he has somewhat of a father-son relationship forming with Ezra. He’s as excited as we’ve ever seen him. “We won the war”, he tells a drunken Elam.  He’s strangely optimistic but by the time he makes a slow walk through the town and is kidnapped by the Mormons, you’re left wondering about his mindset. It’s as if he realizes, yet again, that he’s never going to have the life he had before the war. “Fathers and Sins” highlights that Cullen is torn between where he is now and a very thin promise Ezra and Ruth offer him.

Hell on Wheels promo pic, S03E09, "Fathers and Sins"

That potential relationship with Ruth is an interesting choice for the writers to make. In the second season the show stumbled when it forced Cullen and Lily Bell together. They will have to tread lightly if they choose to put Ruth and Cullen together. Hell on Wheels isn’t a show designed for romance but a major theme this season has been Cullen’s desire for something more. Ruth has offered him solace and there is a real chemistry between Mount and Kropinski. Handled correctly, any romance between the two characters could be a new direction for Cullen.

“Fathers and Sins” gives us one of the most densely packed, action-oriented episodes we’ve seen this season.  It’s clearly designed to give the show a strong push towards next week’s season finale. The episode benefits from being beautifully shot; every action sequence is presented in a way that drags out a frantic, nervous fear, particularly in the shootout scenes.

Hell on Wheels has always been deeply affecting when Cullen is forced to face his past transgressions. It’s hard to see how he’ll get out of his kidnapping, but it does lead to Elam being placed in a position of power. It says a lot about the relationship that’s developed between Cullen and Elam that Cullen would put Elam in a place of authority- Elam has become one of the only people Cullen really trusts. Season three has been Hell on Wheels’ best so far and this episode is a fantastic lead-in for what should be a powerful, intense finale.

Tressa Eckermann

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