Hell on Wheels started as one man’s single-minded journey to avenge the death of his family. As the series enters its final season, though, it has been transformed into a deeply meditative look at a changing world, an intricate retelling of a brutal time in American history and powerful examination of the characters that helped create it.
Hell on Wheels
The last two episodes of Hell on Wheels, “Life’s a Mystery” and “Reckoning” were startling disappointments with only a few bright spots. This is especially true in comparison to just how good the first three episodes of the season were and how brilliant the third season was. Until the final minutes of “Life’s a Mystery”, it seems like Hell on Wheels has lost its direction.
When you consider that “Chicken Hill” is only the third episode of season four, it’s quite remarkable how much has already happened this season. Last week’s episode featured what was perhaps the finest scene of the entire series, Cullen (Anson Mount) and the Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl) facing off in a furious, frantic confessional that resulted in Cullen escaping with his family and the Swede presumably dying. This reviewer has on many occasions praised Heyerdahl for helping to create such menacing, terrifying, and compelling character. It would be a shame to lose him for good.
Season three of Hell on Wheels has been moving along steadily. It has been deliciously tense, powerfully acted, and full of exceptionally well put together stories. The season has been slow, yes, but with only four episodes left it’s also been very rewarding. With “One Less Mule”, it’s clear that the season is headed towards a breathless finish.
“The Game”, Hell on Wheels’ fourth episode, slows the show’s pace to a near crawl until its last few moments, when Eva and Elam face a tragedy. The episode may start off with humor as Cullen and Elam attempt to find timber by visiting the Arapaho tribe, but this being Hell on Wheels, things quickly devolve.
It’s no secret- last season’s Hell on Wheels had a lot of issues, mainly the forced relationship between Cullen and Lily Bell (after all, this is not a show conducive to a dewy romance). Fortunately that arc wrapped up in the season two finale and judging by the premiere season three promises to be one heck of a year.