Even though not doing it may have been a bolder choice, it didn’t take long for Hell on Wheels to get things back to a more even keel. And an even keel for Hell on Wheels means an episode featuring men drunkenly spouting biblical verses around a campfire, while one manages to up the ante by producing a saber-toothed cat skull that (in the Swede’s increasingly distant mind, anyway) really brought home the essence of what he was talking about.
All in all, though, ‘Durant, Nebraska’ was really a homecoming; it smacks of the last time Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) was incarcerated, and facing execution – back when the Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl) had the whole of Hell on Wheels under his jurisdiction and just about everyone but Bohannon seemed to fear him. Now, though, times are a little tougher for Bohannon, as he’s scheduled to face a firing squad any day. After his captors attempt to bring out his cooperative side with a little simulated drowning exercise, Bohannon proves just how stubborn he can be by naming Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson as his allies in the train robbings. Sadly, the soldiers don’t quite go for that idea and toss him back into the quaint little cell he’s been calling home for the last few days.
Bohannon receives a visit from his actual train-robbing partner, Doc Whitehead (Grainger Hines), and spends most of his time talking about how he feels nothing for the men he’s murdered – especially the innocent one at the end of last season, and how the only thing he’s got left is to die in such a way that allows him to be defiant right up until the bitter end. This seems to be the way things are headed, but instead Bohannon is tossed in a horse barn, and not in front of a firing squad. Inside, Durant (Colm Meaney) pops his head out and, after likening himself to God, reveals he literally holds Bohannon’s fate in his hands. Somehow, Durant has used his incredible influence and various friendships to secure a pardon for Mr. Bohannon – with a caveat, of course.
Initially reluctant to heed the call of Hell on Wheels once more – seeing as how he had resigned himself to death – Bohannon kicks the idea around a bit and remains as petulant as ever while he and Durant ride the train back to their destination. Sharing a car with a shackled Bohannon while enjoying an evening’s libation is apparently not a great idea, as the railroad tycoon ends up nearly strangled by Bohannon’s chains. In typical Durant fashion, he essentially laughs it off, passes his drink to Bohannon and excuses himself for the remainder of the ride back to Hell on Wheels.
But the episode wasn’t merely to get Cullen Bohannon back into the fray. It also brought Eva (Robin McLeavy) and Mr. Toole (Duncan Ollerenshaw) back to the titular town, after a band of raiding Sioux burn Durant, Nebraska to the ground. While it’s merely another attempt at settling back into the status quo, it is admittedly easier than constantly making up reasons for Elam Ferguson (Common) to travel to Durant and see the lady he gave up in the hands of what amounts to be the walking dead. Still, as far as petty battles over women go, the Elam/Eva/Toole issue is just as ridiculously implausible as the one involving Lily Bell (Dominique McElligott), Bohannon and Durant.
The destruction of Durant also provides a chance to get Lily involved in the proceedings, after Eva demands justice for the slain prostitute from the season premiere. Naturally, she goes to Elam, but he’s initially as uninterested in finding and punishing the killer of a prostitute as the rest of Hell on Wheel’s denizens. It’s only after Lily mentions the request came from Eva that Elam gets to business. In the most outlandishly swift manor possible, Elam manages to track the culprit down, squeeze a confession out of him, stab him repeatedly and not face any kind of punishment or retribution. Only time will tell if this romantic gesture will be enough to win Elam Eva’s heart once again.
In the long run, though, the destruction of Durant, Nebraska stands as another turning point in the railroad’s destiny by pitting its future against the Sioux, who according to Joseph Black Moon (Eddie Spears) have just declared war on Durant’s expansion – no doubt a decision to move into the sacred land, which was discussed in the season opener will serve to help this cause.
The episode ends with a fantastic slow-motion tracking shot through Hell on Wheels where Bohannon sees exactly just how things have changed in his absence. The highlight of which is the look on Bohannon’s face as Reverend Cole (Tom Noonan) walks by, oblivious to his presence, or of the world for that matter. Sadly, any artistry in the episode’s closing is lost when Bohannon, looking out from the back door of his new digs, makes eye-contact with the delirious Swede who had apparently been waiting in that exact spot for that sole purpose.
It’s taken two episodes to get things back to where they were last season, but with little mention of his plot for revenge, what kind of changed Bohannon are we looking at?
Hell on Wheels continues next Sunday with ‘Slaughterhouse’ @9pm on AMC. Check out a preview of the episode below: