‘Hell on Wheels’ Season 3 Finale Review

Published 2 years ago by

Anson Mount Hell on Wheels Get Behind the Mule Hell on Wheels Season 3 Finale Review

For those of you who picked Cullen Bohannon takes a pregnant Mormon girl as his teenage bride in an elective (to save his own neck) wedding officiated by the Swede as the ending to season 3 of Hell on Wheels, well, congratulations. For everyone else, let’s just say, better luck next time.

Last week’s episode ended on a cliffhanger that led directly into the events of ‘Get Behind the Mule,’ so perhaps it’s best that we begin our discussion back there, as one of the rousing components of ‘Fathers and Sins‘ seemed to have been completely forgotten by the season finale.

Now, in addition to Bohannon being captured, and presumably facing a death sentence at the hands of Brother Hatch and his vengeful brethren, the penultimate episode also ended with Elam delivering a stirring speech to Psalms and Dutch and everyone else building the railroad, encouraging them to work as hard as possible to meet the deadline imposed on Bohannon by General Grant. And yet, as the finale begins, there’s hardly any indication of excitement, dread or worry over the impending deadline.

It all feels like a massive opportunity was essentially ignored, but with little justification as to why.  Good drama can sometimes be like taking a math quiz: you have equations and variables that will lead to a solution, but to receive credit, you have to show your work. So knowing where things end up with regard to Durant and the railroad, the important piece of the episode isn’t really whether those fighting for Bohannon’s cause win or lose, or even whether Durant once again finds himself in the position he’d fought for all season long.

Those aspects are outcomes that will feed into the story to come (if there is one). What matters in ‘Get Behind the Mule’ is whether or not we see the drama of the men hustling toward their goal and we are afforded the opportunity to feel the tension of their struggle and why it matters, as it builds around the question of their success or failure, which, in turn, would make it feel as though there was some kind of emotional stake in Elam’s speech.

Tayden Marks and Kasha Kropinski in Hell on Wheels Get Behind the Mule Hell on Wheels Season 3 Finale Review

At the end of ‘Fathers and Sins,’ there was a terrific cohesion of two storylines running parallel to one another, centered on the idea that Bohannon and the men of Hell on Wheels were headed toward a presumably unattainable goal and that both might just come up short. While there’s plenty of (deserved) focus on Bohannon and the overt discussion of change, rebirth and redemption going on at Fort Smith in ‘Get Behind the Mule,’ the corresponding narrative of the workers is reduced to the implication that they’re still toiling away somewhere in the background. But of all the aspects that could have used an overt push, it is the one that’s forgotten. In the end we’re left with lackadaisical announcements that time has run out, and that Bohannon and those who put in the effort on his behalf have all lost.

A great deal of drama, tension and pathos in that struggle is simply left on the table, which winds up putting the bulk of the narrative’s emotional weight on the admittedly capable shoulders of Anson Mount. And while we wind up getting a surprising sequence of events that tries to expound on the idea and feasibility of change involving Cullen, the Hatch family and, of course, the “reborn” Swede, doing so results in an either/or scenario, effectively marginalizing Ruth and Ezra in the finale.

Despite what had been building for the last few weeks between Cullen and Hell on Wheels’ resident preacher, and the burgeoning father-son relationship the laconic Southerner had built with the boy orphaned by the Swede, Ruth and Ezra only manage a few short scenes at the beginning and end of the episode, suggesting their arcs have been put on hold.

Meanwhile, in what will likely go down as the greatest television battle (hug) between a rapper and a large piece of carpeting meant to look like a grizzly bear, Elam is last seen bloodied and lying motionless on the forest floor, while Eva announces to Ruth she felt his spirit depart this earthly plane. Although it seems unlikely this will wind up being the final season of Hell on Wheels, at least Elam is fitted with something resembling an end to his arc. It may lack real significance in terms of his speech to the workers, but this ending (open-ended as it is) manages to say something about his relationship with Bohannon – something that was ostensibly denied Ruth and Ezra.

Christopher Heyerdahl in Hell on Wheels Searchers Hell on Wheels Season 3 Finale Review

The primary examination, then, is on what changes Bohannon made over the season. The show clearly wants the implication to be that the man who started this series off as an unrepentant killer is now something else. And in its overly explicit way, ‘Get Behind the Mule’ makes that transformation apparent when the Swede takes the fact he wasn’t killed the moment he handed “Brother Bohannon” a knife, as undeniable proof that a man is capable of change. This seems to be the Swede’s way of cleansing himself of his past sins, by taking over another man’s identity and then using the evolution of his enemy as validation of his phony, self-delusional metamorphosis. Sadly, it winds up saying more about the Swede than the series’ protagonist, which is unfortunate.

In the end, Cullen assures his new wife Naomi he’s not going to leave her, and we see what looks like Bohannon taking the first steps toward this commitment. At the same time, the episode’s final moments seem to suggest the changes in both men are superficial (and temporary) at best, hinting at a return to the status quo, which means, for a season that was primarily about redemption, season 3 may have wound up being about finding a way back to the middle.


Screen Rant will have news on the decision regarding season 4 of Hell on Wheels when it is announced.

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  1. Loved Season 1 & 2. Season 3 was just ok. Still like the show. Hoping Season 4 renews my love of this series.

  2. Liked this show until this season. Not very good anymore.

  3. our hero hopes it returns for season 4 or he’s left by himself with his pregnant teenage wife living on a Mormon reservation run by a serial killer who has it in for him

  4. I’m certain the railroad reached Cheyenne in time. They show the engine in the town. The only thing in question was whether Bohannon himself would be there to assume permanent control over the railroad.

    (The article seemed to read to me that you believe the railroad did not make it to Cheyenne by the deadline. If that’s not what it meant, sorry. Disregard my comment!)

    Anyhow, the ending seemed very lackluster. Probably my least-favorite episode of Hell on Wheels, and I really like this show.

  5. Hell on wheels… interesting and brief time in history, and the writers of this great show are stuck with the constraints of the real history of the Union Pacific project. The characters Durant and Bohannon are perfectly fitted to this, as they represent the people that really existed at that time. As I watched season 3 end with Durant winning the contract back from President Grant… knowing this is how it really played out in real history… I was glad the writers did not try to re-write the history of corruption that was only just beginning then. Bohannon has been such a well written and acted character that I would be happy following his life next year; it seems clear that he and the Swede will have their day!

  6. Loved the show and hope the selection of a new head writer does not mess up the mix. The acting is great and everyone I have mentioned the show to have watched it and loved it.

    The last episode was a bit disjointed… but now I know why… writer down.

    Hoping all is well in AMC land and Hell on Wheels will resume in the near future.

  7. How could they end a season with not a proper ending or cliffhanger?
    Our hero should try to escape with his new bride. And the Swede has to pay, hasnt he?

  8. BTW “can someone please shoot him” was the best part of season 4, perhaps the writer could have used the same line for the president to Durant?

    • Just because you don’t care for the way your religion is portrayed doesn’t mean its wrong. Do you expect Sweden to denounce the series because it portrays Swedish people as evil terrible people? You talk about Cullen Bohannon as if he were a real person, its kind of disturbing honestly….

      And I read around on that Mormon website you posted, quite a tall heap of garbage it is, cool how it calls obama a pimp and claims that the reason mitt romney didnt get elected is because people fear a global mormon conspiracy, and claims obama “hates the constitution,” maybe their writers should start writing scripts because that’s quite a tale.

      My personal favorite? When it says that Obamacare is meant to ” appealing to young people to buy into the scheme so they can drink and drunk drive and sex themselves up knowing they’re covered” super classy

  9. Season 1 & 2 of Hell on Wheels had finished production and aired before Django Unchained was even released. If you are going to be a pathetic hater at least get your facts straight.

      • It only shows the one family but it generalizes the whole way. This is in no way historically accurate and his review is sound. I had great respect and love for this show but i have since lost my sentiments due to the unfounded and offensive way they portray my religion

  10. The last episode was by far the worst episode of entire series. It has almost killed the whole thing for me. The only good part was the Durant got the union pacific contract which is true to the real story. Whomever the new writers are need to be let go or shown a direction.

  11. I love reading your reviews of this show. Thank you! Personally I loved this season and I thought the culmination of the Swede/Mormon/Bohannon arc were fantastic! I was riveted. Although I will agree Ezra & Ruth were left hanging. I want more for them and hope they will be reunited next season (although it seems impossible for Ruth).

  12. Is any1 gonna mention how that can’t really be Cullen’s baby?? He & Mormon girl was kissing but they stoped cause of her little brother, they never finished having sex so that can’t be Cullen’s baby.. I think it was a setup..

  13. Looking forward to Bohannon killing the sweden. That will be a delicious episode.

    • I double that lady09 & Jackson Adkins! Can’t wait for the “Swede” to get his COMEUPPPANCE! I’LL be sitting back w/popcorn, feet up, enjoying every moment! His character creeps me out as much as Anthony Hopkins character in “Silence of the Lambs”! Anxious for the show to return, sooner better than later! Love it!