‘Hell On Wheels’ Season 3, Episode 3 Review – Not Done with the Past

Published 11 months ago by

Anson Mount in Hell on Wheels Range War Hell On Wheels Season 3, Episode 3 Review – Not Done with the Past

It’s fair to say that Hell on Wheels is the kind of program that enjoys taking time out to better illustrate precisely what the story is about. Typically, this means characters sitting down to discuss the recurring concepts and themes of the show, as though they were a part of everyday conversation. And as the themes have turned even more toward the notion of morality, sin, and the question of whether or not a person can lead a good life while still occasionally taking the lives of others, the reasoning or justification behind these talks seems thinner than ever before.

Furthermore, such conversations, like the lunchtime chat between Bohannon and Ruth in her new church tent, make it seem as though the episode is talking at the viewer rather than demonstrating just how complicated the morality of Hell on Wheels is through the actions of its characters.

Up until recently, this was a show driven largely by the concept of a man seeking revenge, while tangentially discussing the construction of the transcontinental railroad. And yet, in the first two seasons, the series only occasionally demonstrated how it was about either of these things, as various other subplots and characters sprung up and required tending to, lest they be thought of as too extraneous.

Now, after the great culling of characters and subplots that was the season 2 finale, ‘Blood Moon Rising,’ there came an opportunity – especially with the addition of new showrunner John Wirth – to point the series in a new direction. And while the first half of the two-hour season 3 premiere felt like it was taking a progressive step forward, the second half, ‘Eminent Domain,’ was tantamount to taking two steps back.

Common and Anson Mount in Hell on Wheels Range War Hell On Wheels Season 3, Episode 3 Review – Not Done with the Past

Some of the regression was certainly thematic, as the hanging of the Mormon homesteader’s son suggested that while Bohannon may be done with the notion of revenge, revenge was far from done with him. But more troublesome (at least at this point in the season) seems to be the re-introduction of characters whose fate at the end of season 2 felt largely complete, even if it was also ambiguous. For the most part, this has to do with the return of Christopher Heyerdahl as the Swede, after his execution at the hand of Bohannon went somewhat awry and the killer of Lily Bell floated away down a river, his death presumed, but ultimately unconfirmed.

The return of the Swede (Heyerdahl’s terrific performance aside) is mostly problematic, as the character’s inevitable return to Hell on Wheels, which will likely coincide with he and Bohannon once again crossing paths, appears to undermine the progression of the series. Certainly there are elements to his revival that speak to what Wirth described as a story of redemption for the former Johnny Reb. Still, the re-introduction of a character behind such a divisive episode and turn of events lessens whatever lingering emotional impact those events still have – by requiring they be addressed well past the moment they were most effective. Ultimately, if Hell on Wheels won’t move past its own troubled past, how is anyone to expect that Bohannon will?

Christopher Heyerdahl in Hell on Wheels Range War Hell On Wheels Season 3, Episode 3 Review – Not Done with the Past

Furthermore, the notion of setting Thomas Durant up as some sort of adversary for Bohannon in his new position as head of the Union Pacific certainly works better the less we see of Durant and Bohannon in the same room together. Watching the now-broke Durant deny any involvement with the cattle rustlers who took the railroad’s food supply – as his rival swills whiskey next to a dead body – was the same kind of face-off the two occasionally shared during seasons 1 & 2, and the series has yet to decide what these confrontations really mean in terms of the characters’ relationship with one another.

If Durant is to try and foil Bohannon at every turn, it’s hard not to think his machinations might have been more entertaining if they had been conducted from the prison cell we saw him in during ‘Big Bad Wolf.’ At the very least, a prison story featuring Durant might hold more promise than seeing him playfully bicker with a Nebraska landowner about where her hotel and its cascading staircase might fit into his vision.

All in all, there are plenty of new characters like the sadistic and bigoted Major Bendix and journalist Louise Ellison to help color Bohannon’s journey toward redemption, and crowding the field with characters who’ve already had their moment seems like a surefire way of repeating the past this storyline is supposedly eager to leave behind.

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Hell on Wheels continues next Saturday with ‘The Game’ @9pm on AMC.

TAGS: hell on wheels

19 Comments

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  1. I enjoyed the episode. I think this might be my favorite show. It is between this and SOA.

  2. I have to disagree with this review. I love the Swede and was glad to see him back, he amps up the creep factor. In fact with him and the Union soldier the creep factor has ratchet up quite a bit.

    I makes one imagine, back in the day, there had to be serial killers and psychopaths around, just like today but back then I am sure they were able to get away with a lot more atrocities than today.

    A bag full of women and children’s severed heads barely gets a second glance and the guy who did it is almost a hero in some circles…but not all.

    I like HoW and have since its first season, perhaps not flawless but certainly worth coming back to week after week with its strong performances and not so black and white world.

  3. WHY IS THE SEASON BEING CUT AFTER JUST 4 EPISODES?!

  4. I tend to agree with the reviewer here. The Bohannon and Ruth exchange felt a bit forced and contrived. And him praying over the dead heads at the end of the episode felt…off and out of character.

    All while I like the Swede, they brought him back way too soon. Should of held off re-introducing him till the end of the season or in season 4 (given a season 4 is possible, based on the low ratings that might not happen)

    So overall, I’m on the fence about the new direction the series is taking. I enjoyed the season opener well enough, but this episode was a letdown. Not into the female reporter either (and her cheesy narration sequences). Maybe she’ll grow on me after awhile, but so far she’s a far cry from the Maiden of the West.

    • Low ratings? Seems like it is doing fine..the premiere was 2% higher than last season’s and AMC said that it doubled their Saturday night average.

      • i swore they mentioned there were 2 final episodes or maybe i am wrong not sure?

      • The ratings aren’t bad. This shows does Mad Men numbers, and the budgets must be comparable–period sets, costumes…I wouldn’t be surprised if MM has a higher budget, actually. I hope HoW maintains this. I kinda liked the first season, liked the second, and I’m really liking the start of the third. It’s never going to be Deadwood, but there’s no shame in placing second in the race for best modern western series–it’s not like there are many of them to begin with.

  5. something is missing from this season, and I was so looking forward to it, well there is the missing Lily, but I really think Bohanon should get back to what his original mission was, the revenge of the killing of his wife and son, unless something come up to remind him of this, I can’t see this season being anything like the other two. and I loved HOW!

    I was actually shocked at the scene with him and the Mormans daughter, what the world is he doing? is he crazy? somehow that did not fit in with what I see Bohanon do, I know you’re gonna say he was without a woman for months, but come on the daughter of someone you really don’t want to piss off?
    why oh why did they have to go and kill off Lily? at least the appearance of the swede will bring something worth watching, (I hope!) the reporter? gee I sure hope the writers aren’t trying to establish a new love interest for Bohanan.

  6. There is an obvious change in the management (writers, etc) in the show. It is night and day. Now HOW is just one of those things that I dvr and watch at my leisure, like many others. Sadly, I loved the first two seasons and could not wait for 3rd. I have not seen anyone else on any board say it was really different to them, but to me it is. And is is NOT the whole Lily thing. It is like Cullen is not the same guy. Or maybe the same guy 20 years later, not one.

  7. No personal attacks okay. your production crew on the costumes for the military officers sucks! I don’t know who is advising you people on the uniforms but their knowledge….well they basically have none. US Army officers did NOT have haircuts like the major. Second uniform coats will be buttoned up completely! Second what is the junior officer’s rank? He has gold shoulder tabs instead of Shoulder straps What is he? I’ll buy the Trapdoor Springfield carbines although they were not an issue until 1969. not 1867. Better than 66 Yellowboy Winchesters in 1865.
    The major would not have been drinking with the enlisted men. That’s fraterznation that was NOT done in 1867. Also US Army officers would not have talked to an officer of the UP especially one who held stock in the company who was a supervisor. He would have found himself in New York city on recruiting duty.
    The officers did NOT put the ammo pouches holsters and saber rigs through the sashes! They wore a 1 and 7/8inch wide black leather belt that those items went on. As far as fighting Indians its asinine to be wearing a bright yellow sash in Indian country. The Major should wear a wine colored (maroon) sash, as well as the junior officer to be less visible on the plains for Christ sake.
    Again like the letter I wrote to your production company awhile back, NO open frame Colt revolvers for the troopers. Western cavalry regiments enlisted carried 1858 or 1864 Remington revolvers and SPENCER 7 shot Carbines until 1869 and 1872. Like the revolver Bohannon drew before the shoot out with the rustlers! Officers, yes it could be, since officers had to pay for weapons themselves.
    This year the show REALLY sucks! I’m done with it. I know from dealing with movie companies in the past that the director has the final say so on the appearance, but man your attempts portraying the US Army sucks!

    • Excuse me that should be 1869 instead of 1969. My mistake!

  8. I think E3 was very strong….particularly for how it examined the use of racism and genocide by those in the 19th century that sought to further the American nation-state at any cost. I teach a college-level course on the Western genre and write about Westerns (in many forms) at westernsreboot dot com – my students learn about AMC’s Hell on Wheels for its treatment of both of history and issues that still connect to today.

    Thanks,
    Chad Beharriell, MA

  9. Great start to a 3rd season. I really dont understand WHY Cullen didnt put a bullet or 2 into the Swedes body after it hit the water?

    WHY didnt he??? He is an excellent shot, this was revenge… and it does NOT jive with his character NOT to shoot the body just to make sure the Swede was dead.

    This is a MAJOR BS moment for me in an otherwise EXCELLENT show…

    I really dont give a crap about the Calvary uniforms, haircuts or type of weapons. REALLY? Get a life dude…. It hotter them HELL in that part of the country and no soldier is going to button up his uniform in 100 degree heat? Sashes? You are whining about the color of their sashes??

    Maybe they threw them away in the last Indian fight because they were to restrictive. Maybe they just didnt like the color… The Majors haircut can be down with a straight razor, simple and effective. Keeps his head cool while still having some kind of hair. And the guy is CRAZZZZZY?? HELLO!!?? Do u really think he cares about protocol right now?

    I think complaining about these lil “slip ups”, shows more of the original posters anal retentive behavior than any quality loss due to productions mistakes, that really most viewers dont give a crap about.

    Looking forward to more Season 3!!

  10. OMG: How sick to see Cullen with NO morality hitting on that Mormon child. I was completely disgusted! I know he’s a needy guy, but with a CHILD?!! UGH! and after her Mormon father demanded that Cullen “replace a life that was taken”, I predict she’ll be having Cullen’s baby.. Wait and see!!

  11. I love westerns but this show was such a disappointment. Just plain boring, characters continually act out of character in confusing ways. Sorry, it’s a poorly done show that will probably make people think that westerns aren’t popular anymore.
    I wish HBO could bring Deadwood back. That was a show.

  12. Glad to see the swede didn’t die. He stole every scene he was in, in seasons 1 & 2. I hope this season gets a bit darker, i never cared much for cullens love life and like to see the more menacing characters have an impact on the show. Still not sure why people think deadwood was better, that was a show with great acting but always let me down with no closure and went no where. Hell on wheels is bigger in scope and story. Hope more people viewers jump on to secure it’s future. And I hope not to many people are focusing on the shirt buttons and haircut. I for one promote the hell out of this show

  13. I WHOLEHEARTEDLY AGREE WITH MOST REVIEWS HERE THAT THE MAIN THEME HAS BEEN LOST AND THAT WAS WHAT DREW MOST OF US IN FROM THE GETGO, BEING: THE TALE OF A WEARY AND JADED, LOATHSOME CHARACTER, A MAN DEVOID OF ANY PURPOSE OTHER THAN TO AVENGE THE SQUANDERED LIVES OF HIS POOR WIFE AND ONLY SON, OF A MAN WHO’S LOST ALL, UPON A DIVIDED POST CIVIL WAR WESTERN USA, ENTAILING THE CREATION OF THE TRANS CONTINENTAL RAILROAD. IT’S NOT A NEW CONCEPT TO WESTERN STORIES BUT I THOUGHT IT HAD A BRILLIANT NEW LIFE. ESP. FOR 21st CENTURY TV. BUT SADLY THIS MOMENTOUS NOTION AS BEEN SOMEWHAT, SOMEHOW LOST IN TRANSLATION? IF YOU WATCH S1 Ep 1, AND COMPARE IT TO ANY OF THE MORE RECENT EPISODES, YOU’LL GET IT. AND OF COURSE IT IS NEEDLESS TO SAY THAT THERE’LL BE FOLKS WHO’LL ENJOY THIS NEW DIRECTION AND LIFE WELL INTO ITS FUTURE, AND OF COURSE, THEY’RE ENTITLED. ALL IM SAYING FROM AN OBJECTIVE VIEWPOINT IS THAT AS AN AVERAGE VIEWER I HAVE NOT WITNESSED WHAT GOT ME SO EXCITED IN THE PILOT APPLIED TO FURTHER THE REVENGE STORY OF THE OUTLAW BOHANNON, NOR DO I BELIEVE THAT A TIGHTLY KNIT SERIES, SUCH AS THIS, CAN TURNAROUND ONCE IT’S VEERED OFF ITS POINT OF BALANCE, JUST AN OPINION (EVERYONE’S GOT ONE) SUBJECTIVELY, A SMALL PART OF ME DOES HOPE THE SHOW FINDS ITS CAUSE AGAIN, AND SHIFTS SOME OF THE FOCUS BACK ONTO BOHANNON, THE MAN WHO MAKES THE SHOW, BUT I AM CURRENTLY AND LARGELY “GLASS HALF EMPTY” ABOUT THIS POINT IN TIME. HOPE IM WRONG HA HA. THANKS FOR READING.

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