What a difference Virginia Madsen makes. For the majority of Hell on Wheels' run, it seems like the show has had difficulty pinning down two of its more integral characters in Durant (Colm Meaney) and Lily Bell (Dominique McElligott). Now, with the simple addition of the talented Madsen as Durant's wife Hannah, the two are better framed against the backdrop of corruption and bitter jealously.
After a rather strong episode last week in which Durant played no direct part, but his presence was still largely felt in the actions of Lily, Bohannon (Anson Mount) and the Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl), 'The Lord's Day' sees fit to bring the railroad man back to the town that he built, to potentially spell ruin for someone he purported to care about.
As season 2 draws to a close, Hell on Wheels has brought in director Rod Lurie (The Contender, Straw Dogs) to helm an effective episode that sets up the season's two-hour finale next week. 'The Lord's Day' manages to surprise with some revelations about Bohannon's "breeding" and connections he made in Meridian before circumstances sent him out West. In addition to some revelatory dinner conversation, the episode also features Bohannon's awesomely casual, yet ominous torching of the Swede's belongings.
Much of the episode concerns the ramifications of what Lily and the Swede found while going over Durant's books. As the Swede mentioned, it's fraud, but what is there that anyone can, or even wants to do about it? Not taking any chances, the Durants decide that Lily's fate lies elsewhere. Unless, of course, the discussion Durant had with Elam (Common) was a simple negotiation leading to a dead Lily Bell in exchange for the land Elam's already putting a house on. This paints the Durants as particularly ruthless, seeing as how Lily helped keep the railroad from going under while Durant recuperated from his injuries. It also shows just how fragile Lily's circumstances are – considering the fact that she's a woman in a place with very little respect for them, and that she really has nothing else beyond her questionable employment with Durant's railroad.
Durant slogs through town, hopped up on opiates and leaning heavily on his cane, but manages what sounds like a threat to Sean McGinnes (Ben Esler) – who, like everybody else, may have been counting on Mr. Durant succumbing to his injuries. Not long after Durant was whisked away, his return may have initially restored normalcy, but considering things have more or less run smoothly in his absence, there's been a change in priorities for some folks in town. Lily's carrying on with Bohannon, Elam is happily unemployed, and the McGinnes brothers are free to swindle honest folks out of their bars and use Durant's land as a means of currency to accomplish such feats of malfeasance. Now, with Durant back in town, there's the sense that a certain comeuppance is due for all the changes that have happened while he wasn't looking.
The dinner scene could be the best part of the season. Hannah's questioning of Bohannon's past, and the revelation that his former father-in-law was a friend of the Durants puts him in a strange place while Doc and Hannah essentially begin phase one of pushing Lily out. One of the nice touches of the scene is watching Bohannon go from slouched roughneck to someone who's simply been hiding traces of his civility (why he even knows how to properly use utensils at the table). It's unclear whether Hannah or Thomas take note, or what they would even do with such a realization, but then again, this surprising addition to the tenacity of Durant seems to leave everyone off-guard.
Hannah later goes after Lily on her own, revealing she's aware of the particular arrangement she had with Durant, but doesn’t seem particularly concerned by it – apparently, there have been others. Still, Hannah manages to kick Lily out of her train car in a rather heartless way, leaving the younger woman to gather her belongings and wind up putting Bohannon out of his quarters. In a touching scene, she suggests the two could just stay in Bohannon's car together, but he gently reminds Lily it's best not to test a man who is jealous or afraid for his livelihood – two things which pretty much sum up Durant's state of mind.
And while the Durants work on just how they'll push Lily out (or possibly kill her), the Swede fires another attack in his the war against the railroad. By sabotaging a steam engine, he manages to maim or kill several of the workers struggling to erect the bridge, but he does so by leaving a very telling calling card behind. At this point, there's no turning back for him or Bohannon, so the search is on for just where the crazy Norwegian ran off to after the bridge accident.
Tellingly, Joseph (Eddie Spears) returns to camp to offer Ruth (Kasha Kropinski) some supplies, and to warn her that death is coming. Joseph's seen his fair share of it lately, but as he claims to have seen the White Spirit, his words feel particularly portentous. Furthermore, Joseph's presence give credibility to Mickey's (Phil Burke) claim that Sean's intentions for Ruth are misguided, and help carry over to the rather worrisome confrontation the two share near the episode's end.
All of 'The Lord's Day' points to a potentially dark and unsettling two-hour finale next week, wherein, hopefully, many of the last two season's worth of plotlines manage to come together.
Hell on Wheels closes out season 2 next Sunday with 'Blood Moon' @9pm on AMC. Check out a sneak peek of the episode below:
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