‘It Happened in Boston’ is the end of the line for Sean McGinnes. He started out as a secondary Hell on Wheels character who often stood for the series’ depiction of advancement through any means necessary and has now ended as an example of how the past is never forgotten and that redemption is perpetually out of reach for some men.
For a short time, the characters of Sean and Mickey were drawn like a low-level substitute for Thomas ‘Doc’ Durant,’ in that the brothers’ relentless pursuit of money and status wasn’t too dissimilar from what we knew of Durant’s dealings with the railroad and his misappropriation of government funds. This was especially evident in the episode ‘Slaughterhouse,’ which saw Sean and Mickey kill and dispose of a German butcher who mistakenly sought to kill the brothers for a crime they didn’t commit, but foolishly took credit for.
Back then, however, Mickey was drawn as the perpetual good-for-nothing brother, a small time crook and weasel who would use another man’s murder to garner attention from a prostitute. But in a relatively short amount of time, Sean and Mickey ostensibly switched places. While Mickey took ownership of the saloon and brothel in Hell on Wheels, his brother languished and became something of a villain following his ill-fated romantic pursuit of Ruth. Since then, Sean has become more of a coward, a feckless individual that feels too removed from the advantageous businessman who once helped instigate the tarring and feathering of the Swede.
While Sean’s demise at the hands of Mickey fits in with the tone and thematic elements of the show, the offset rise and fall of the brothers McGinnes felt mostly truncated, as though we’d only been given a part of the story explaining their shifts in character. This feeling was only exacerbated by Mickey’s expository info dumb to Bohannon following Sean’s death that explained their flight from Boston, which uncovered a side of Sean that fit a little to conveniently into the current situation.
Despite the grim circumstances, ‘It Happened in Boston’ manages to find a lighter balance with a simple plot involving Bohannon’s railroad workers defecting to the Mormons, only to realize life at Fort Smith isn’t everything they’d hoped for. The manner in which Bohannon deals with the situation is for the most part dramatically inert, considering he’s trying to outsmart both Thomas Durant and Collison Huntington and his big plan basically consists of telling the formerly disgruntled employees to make a run for the tree line and hope they don’t get shot.
But what really stands out is Bohannon’s relationship with Ezra, the young boy he’d found in a near-feral state during last week’s ‘Cholera.’ Surprisingly, putting a mostly mute, knife-wielding child and a laconic gunman together winds up being a delightfully droll change of pace that highlights Anson Mount’s considerable charisma and illustrates how a show that teeters so frequently on the edge of nihilism is often better served by showcasing its lighter side.
It’s unclear what fate awaits Ezra, as the Swede will undoubtedly play a part in the season’s final two episodes, but I for one would enjoy watching The Continuing Adventures of Cullen Bohannon & His Feral Sidekick Ezra.
Hell on Wheels continues next Saturday with ‘Fathers and Sins’ @9pm on AMC.
Photos: Michelle Faye/AMC