Hell on Wheels, Season 4, Episode 4, “Reckoning”
Written by Jennifer Cecil
Directed by Dennie Gordon
Airs Saturdays at 9pm (ET) on AMC
What people are willing to do in order to survive has always been a driving force for Hell on Wheels. It’s been there from the beginning, often used as a stepping stone to something else. Season four has made this concept the show’s main focus. Cullen (Anson Mount) has, from day one, been a brutal man, walking a dangerous line between morality and survival. Really, most of the show’s characters have. How cruel and far away from humanity can one person get all in the name of survival?
We see this idea littered all over “Reckoning”. Durant (Colm Meaney) is willing to bet on Cullen again because he knows that Cullen is his best option. Campbell (Jake Weber) is another great example. He has set about violently “fixing” the town of Hell on Wheels. His every act is calculated. He hides behind justice but clearly has his own agenda, one that makes him willing to acts as viciously as he needs to. He continues to be one of season four’s most fascinating characters.
The first three episodes of this season have been an exceptional continuation of last season, the series best group of episodes, but “Reckoning” is missing something. There are great moments, like Durant’s strangely touching friendship with Eva (Robin McLeavy) and Ruth (Kasha Kropinski) struggling with the test that Naomi’s (MacKenzie Porter) faith represents. “Reckoning” is missing that passion and grit that we’ve come to expect.
“Reckoning” is owned by the women. In previous episodes, Eva, a potentially great character, was wasted on a subplot that saw her struggling in a clichéd way. She is still having difficulty with the loss of Elam (Common) and their child, but this episode sees her growing and gradually healing herself. Her scenes with Durant are oddly sweet and heartfelt. They are people who have lost almost everything, and they recognize that in each other. Naomi, on the other hand, is pushing herself to become the wife she thinks Cullen would want, only realizing now that she is always going to live in the shadow of the railroad. By the end of “Reckoning”, it seems like she has resigned herself to that fact.
“Reckoning” feels off, a filler episode in a series that doesn’t need it. We get important moments, like Cullen’s push to reclaim the railroad and Mickey’s (Phil Burke) deal with Campbell but no real decisions are ever made. Hell on Wheels has always used every moment perfectly. The great scenes in “Reckoning” feel wasted. Burke continues to stun as the combustible and unhinged mayor. Alongside Campbell, Durant and Cullen, Mickey may be the most dangerous of them all. He’s a terrible mix of desperate, violent and crazy.
Perhaps the issue isn’t that this particular episode isn’t good, it’s just that it doesn’t live up to the standards that we have come to expect from Hell on Wheels. The pacing is slow enough that the good moments aren’t enough. It seems like the characters are biding their time waiting for something bigger and more important to happen. Hopefully next week’s episode will return the series to the exceptional level we have all come to except.