Hell on Wheels, Ep. 1.08 “Derailed”: A lot of activity, but nothing happening.

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Hell on Wheels, Season 1, Ep. 8 ‘Derailed’

Written by: Tony and Joe Gayton, Mark Richard, Bruce Marshall Romans

Directed by: David Von Ancken

Airs Sunday 10 PM Est. on AMC

Well, Hell on Wheels, I surrender. I surrender to the idea that there may not be anything salvageable about this season, and possibly this series. The storytelling, and the character development that was beginning to build in past episodes, burned into a pile of ash and soot. The spark(s) that started the blaze? Characters make sudden odd decisions and turns, of which went against what we were lead to believe in the little character development we were given to this point, and others wander aimlessly.

What immediately jumped out about this episode was the Reverend. After discovering the tragedy of the train derailment the Reverend is distraught, and has suddenly given up all hope of there being peace among the pioneers and the natives. We later discover that he had turned to drinking, and has a violent history with alcohol. The problem with this turn in the Reverend’s character isn’t the revelation itself, but the suddenness of it. We don’t know this man, we have no idea what could possibly be lurking behind his eyes. But, don’t get the wrong idea, to spell it out for the viewer ahead of time would have been a poor choice as well, it is the fact that he was a shallow character to begin with, that made this revelation, or turn, seem so out of place and rushed.

Who is Cullen Bohannan and why should we care about him? He is the main character, correct? So why does he seem to be floundering without a purpose? Ever since his crusade to get revenge for his wife and child was thwarted (which in and of itself was pretty thin) he hasn’t had much to do. He has become more of a bystander, or minor role in other character’s struggles. If, in fact, he was a secondary character, it wouldn’t be a problem, but the writers keep finding ways to plug him in arbitrarily to remind us who the star is.

The best relationship, and what I thought was the show’s best hope, also took a hit tonight, when Lily and Doc took a sudden turn. This turn wasn’t as noticeable right away, as that of the Reverend, but it did undercut much of what was built between the two over the course of the season. Lily, lets Bohannan (in one of his arbitrary plugs) convince her that she is somehow become arm candy for Doc Durrant, and against everything we’ve come to learn about Lily Bell, she listens to him, and very suddenly decides to live in the muck and mire of the rest of the village. Why would a few words from Bohannan suddenly stir so much guilt in Lily? Why would she care about what a man, of whom she just scorned for whipping another man, thought about her? Before now, Lily was billed as a smart, courageous woman who wouldn’t have to prove a point to anyone, much less Bohannan. Would it not be more in line with her character to (once again) prove to Durrant that she isn’t his lap dog, and she doesn’t need him?

Character activity doesn’t equal character depth.


James Merolla

  1. Staindslaved says

    Pretty much after the first episode I knew that this was no Mad Men, Breaking Bad or Walking Dead (I haven’t seen The Killing yet but have heard good things). Nothing in the 8 episodes thus far have made me think anything different. Once I decide to check out a show (especially a drama) I always commit to the full season, because I’ve been underwhelmed in the beginning only to be won over before (Game of Thrones for example). As this thing nears the end I fear it will unfortunately be the first big misstep in quality for AMC productions.

  2. Ted says

    Great observations on the characters seeming to tread in wishy washy water. All I see a poor mans Deadwood. The draw of THAT show was the strength of the characters. While Doc and Lily and to a lesser extent Bohanon and Elam are interesting…they are far from riveting. Same goes for the Reverend, Black Moon and The Swede. Deadwood had heroes and villains that you loved and hated in the same breath. Here we have sort of heroes and kind of villains who seem as directionless and the story itself.

    Decide who these people are and have them live or die by their attributes!

    But they did a decent job with the train wreck.

  3. George says

    This show needs new writers if had any chance reaching it’s true ambitions. Creators contend that this shows is bigger in scope in deadwood. Yet it has no real compelling stakes.

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