In what is possibly the most thematically dense, yet still unsubtle episode in a very unsubtle television show, 'Slaughterhouse' aims to show just how similar every character in Hell on Wheels is to one another, and just how willing they all are to become a part of the ever-present violence that surrounds them.
The growing psychosis of the Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl) seems to have made him the unofficial chronicler of Hell on Wheels to the viewer. His propensity for summing up (and sometimes egging on) the brutal nature of the environment, in relative poetic fashion – or notes that he's cribbed from the bible – has added a new way to view the character who has been on the receiving end of retribution after his undoing at the hands of the McGinnes brothers last season.
Still, just like everyone else involved in ever-so-slowly constructing Durant's (Colm Meaney) railroad, the Swede has his share of prejudices and more than enough hatred to go around. Unlike most everyone else, however, Gundersen likes to put pieces into play, rather than do the job himself.
'Slaughterhouse' opens with the Swede seducing the German butcher, Mr. Bauer (Timothy V. Murphy) with the chance for revenge against those who murdered his prostitute-killing friend in 'Durant, Nebraska.' Though the Swede likely knows the McGinnes brothers had nothing to do with Mr. Schmidt's stabbing death, his hatred for all things Irish (and the McGinnes brothers, in particular) is at the forefront of his insidious decision-making process.
While Sean (Ben Esler) seems to have settled into the role formerly inhabited by the Swede, (running the protection racket in Hell on Wheels), his brother Mickey (Phil Burke) has settled into something decidedly less than productive, apparently spending most of his time in the company of prostitutes and boastfully claiming responsibility for dispatching Mr. Schmidt. The trouble with this is that when the brother's lives are on the line, there is a distinct feeling that Mickey's life is worth less to the productivity of Hell on Wheels – in Durant's eyes, anyway – than Sean's, and since Durant so emphatically claims someone has to hang for Schmidt's murder, Mickey's end, it seems is drawing near.
Mostly marginalized by the actions of others, 'Slaughterhouse' is a tough day for Bohannon (Anson Mount), who has to deal with workers outraged they are now essentially working for a man who stole their payroll, and intervene in on the McGinnes brothers' behalf. Bohannon takes some time out to try and explain the concept of the payroll being insured – which is essentially Bohannon's way of making it a victimless crime – but the workers aren't having any such nonsense. To further ingratiate himself to the railroad workers, Bohannon makes Mr. Toole (Duncan Ollerenshaw) the new foreman, which essentially puts the semi-reformed racist and murderer even higher on Elam's (Common) hit list, since he's got such a penchant for murdering guys in charge.
Bohannon's day gets worse when he and Elam try to put a stop to the McGinnes' murder and Cullen finds out just how fleeting a reputation can be. Mount should earn some praise for the incredulous facial expression he gives after realizing how few people know who he is, and after Elam refuses to help perpetuate the legend of Bohannon. Despite the lack of camaraderie, the two take the McGinnes boys into custody where they await their hanging on behalf of Mickey's big mouth, so they can both get back to not really caring too much.
For his part, Elam's got Eva (Robin McLeavy) back on the hook after his ultra-romantic gesture of disemboweling a killer of prostitutes, while Bohannon decides he's going to pay the Swede a visit. Their bathtub conversation again points to the Swede's tendency to clarify situations for the audience a little too bluntly. Like the season premiere in which Gundersen describes the rise of Lily Bell (Dominique McElligott), here, the Swede breaks down Bohannon's personality by saying for all their apparent differences, they're both just a couple of rage-filled hate-tanks that will take a life in pursuit of what they seek. What they're seeking, however, may be more questionable – especially since Bohannon doesn’t seem to be questing for revenge any longer.
With Elam and Bohannon basically washing their hands of the McGinnes' lives, Lily confesses to Durant of her involvement in Schmidt's murder, knowing he'll chew her out a bit, but considering his feelings for her, and their recent agreement, little in the way of punishment will be heading her way. Still, as arbitrarily as Durant claimed the men must hang, he vacillates and lets the McGinnes brothers go free. That means Bauer either has a straight shot at vengeance, or the McGinnes boys can protect their lives with a preemptive strike. Either way, Bohannon tries to stave off further bloodshed by sending Bauer out of town…after punching him in the face.
Bohannon's efforts are of little use, however, as shortly after the brothers are released, Mickey proves he's actually adept at something by cornering, and with the help of Sean, brutally killing Bauer in his own slaughterhouse. The apparent regression (or reveal) of the McGinnes' nature, paints them as yet another malicious pair in an increasingly hostile and unforgiving setting that seems to relish and reward such endeavors.
Hell on Wheels continues next Sunday with 'Scabs' @9pm on AMC. Check out a preview below: