‘Hell on Wheels’ – Cullen Bohannon: Gunfighter, Liar & Inspirational Leader of Men?

Published 2 years ago by

Anson Mount in Hell on Wheels Fathers and Sins Hell on Wheels – Cullen Bohannon: Gunfighter, Liar & Inspirational Leader of Men?

As you know by now, season 3 of Hell on Wheels has been about the redemption of surly gunfighter and railroad man Cullen Bohannon. And in its typically winding and occasionally ungainly way, the series has managed to set it up so the ol’ Johnny Reb isn’t just fighting for his own redemption, he’s also managed to secure the fondness of Ruth as well as the mostly mute Ezra.

It’s taken nearly three seasons, and with the series’ future still uncertain past next week’s finale, things look as if the universe (i.e., the show’s writers room) is prepared to square things with Bohannon. ‘Fathers and Sins’ even offers up Bohannon as some kind of inspiration to the men who’ve toiled endlessly to put the railroad within a stone’s throw from Cheyenne.

It’s a nice sentiment and it certainly gives the Common something to do other than act drunk, but as this season has been about Bohannon’s quest to purge himself of the malice that ruled him, and to reclaim a portion of what was lost because of it, the speech seems to come out of nowhere, primarily as a means for the writers to keep the railroad portion of the story going, while bringing the parallel morality tale full circle.

With a prefab family practically waiting for him in his railroad car, the next step would be for Bohannon to address the actions he’s taken this season. Which brings us to the vengeful Mormons at Fort Smith, led by Aaron Hatch (James Shanklin) – who we haven’t seen since ‘Eminent Domain.’

Anson Mount and Tayden Marks in Hell on Wheels Fathers and Sins Hell on Wheels – Cullen Bohannon: Gunfighter, Liar & Inspirational Leader of Men?

On the surface, this is a compelling arc: The story of a man on the verge of renewal, stymied by actions he took to uphold what stands for the law in a mostly lawless place. Similarly, Hatch could make for a compelling antagonist, as his path more closely resembles the plight of Bohannon than any other character has in the show’s past.

Like Bohannon, he’s seeking vengeance for the loss of a child, but the difference is his son was hanged as a direct result of his actions. Also like Bohannon, Hatch is flawed and misguided (but for different reasons) and the conflict between them and the dichotomy of their characters could have made for an interesting storyline, had it actually consisted of more than just bracketing the season’s beginning and end points.

Sadly, the Bohannon/Hatch conflict feels more like a footnote to another disjointed season. While there were inklings of greater coherence, they were largely lost in episodes like ‘The Game‘ and ‘Searchers,’ and by so much of the side story erroneously concentrating on the Swede. Like the construction of the railroad, Elam’s speech and Bohannon’s sudden confession that he never freed his slaves, Aaron Hatch is an engaging component that was regrettably never given the proper attention.

Everything mentioned here carries a great deal of weight, in regard to the overall narrative. As it stands, we can only imagine what might have resulted had the story accommodated these elements for more than a brief moment.


Hell on Wheels will conclude season 3 next Saturday with ‘Get Behind the Mule’ @9pm on AMC.

Photos: Chris Large/AMC

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  1. Man, this season was so bad. But I kind of liked this episode a little more. All I want to see develop is Bohannon and Elam becoming friends. I can’t believe it’s taken this long for the smallest inkling of an actual friendship to show between them.

    Storylines I don’t care about:
    1) The Irish brother killing his other brother and Ruth being bummed out about it. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz
    2) The s***** and forced budding “love” between Ruth and Bohannon. What? Where did this come from? This doesn’t make sense.

    Dunno if I’m going to watch the 4th season. If I do, it’s because I have an annoying habit of being a completionist even when I don’t enjoy what I’m completing.

    • Your last comment is why I think I keep watching each week. This show just seems to throw new ideas in without any thought and try to package it into a somewhat coherent story.

  2. This was, by far, the BEST episode of the season! They should make this the template for future episodes because the shootout in Cheyenne was had a movie quality to it.

  3. This isn’t a great or even good show necessarily, but I do like it (certainly more than Low Winter Sun, which should be put out of it’s misery). Hopefully it gets a 4th season.

  4. This show has gone downhill. It was epic but now is like a weekly serial soap opera. What a waste.

  5. Like Copper, I rarely saw that much advertising for Hell on Wheels before I started watching it this year. I’m not sure how BBCA or AMC think these shows will attract viewers if they don’t get out and promote them.

    I miss Copper since it was cancelled, but BBCA isn’t making too many smart decisions these days, especially with letting Moffat ruin Doctor Who by cutting the number of shows to 7-8 episodes per year. New companions every couple of years and new doctor ever 4-5 years.

    And AMC splitting Mad Men final season in two parts. Sigh!

  6. I really like this show but I do agree that this season does feel like it’s missing something. Either way I do like it a lot more than Low Winter Sun. I would have prefered The Killing over LWS. LWS is very predictable and at times the acting feels forced. I do hope LWS is not AMC’s backup plan for replacing Breaking Bad because if that’s the case it’s failing. Hopefully AMC puts that show out of it’s misery.

  7. I am so happy to see a refreshing Western on TV again! I am so glad there is on TV! Being a man from TN, I really enjoy the lead character, Great actor. I love the plot, and the storyline. When the Swede finally gets his for murdering Lilly Bell, and Ezra’s parents, it is going to be sweet when he gets his!!! Another treat for me is Colm Meany, I am a Trekkie and it is nice to see Mr. Meany streatch his acting abilities. On Star Trek Deep Space Nine, he as always the good guy, i’m sure he loves playing the villain for a change. I am very very hopeful AMC has the good sense to renew this great series for a 4th season!!!!!!

  8. I’m a bit behind on the series, just now watched episode 9 of season three.
    It has to be, by far, the WORST DIRECTED episode I’ve ever seen bc of so many mistakes. The song at the end of the episode, where all the rail workers break into a musical swinging hammers is retarded. None of the workers looked like the had ever swung dead blow hammers/big metal mallets in their life. They looked like teenage girls trying to drive iron steaks into the rail ties, not even lifting the hammers above their shoulders. Not only that, but the scene where the lady journalist “Louise” confronts the motel keeper, she turns in her journal and points to passages of notes to quote him about his past as a doctor that she had discovered – there are no words written in the journal, just blank pages lol. Also at the end of the episode, Bohanon is on his horse being taken captive, with his hands tied, to the Mormon fort, except that the reins are in his hands – whats to stop him just from riding off? And what happened to the mormon boy who bohanon was protecting?

    Really sloppy editing and directing, I could do a better job with my eyes closed. The story line isn’t bad, but I’ve noticed inconsistency with the action in this episode. It kinda lost its ‘gritty’ness