As we’re all aware by now, season 3 of Hell on Wheels is taking seriously its commitment of demonstrating Cullen Bohannon on the road to redemption. Sure, he’s killed more than a few people already this season and we’re only at the halfway mark, so there’ll likely be others he will send to their grave, in one way or another. But unlike seasons past, Bohannon’s taken to addressing his sins with an actual person, rather than drowning them in a bottle of “Corn Likker.”
On one hand, Bohannon’s chats with Ruth are a far cry from any conversation the hirsute Reb ever had with her father – mostly because Tom Noonan never met a crazy character he couldn’t play, and when Reverend Cole wasn’t busy being nuts, he was mostly drunk and/or going through some kind of uncompromising 19th century form of detox with his buddy the Swede, who was also a few bats short of a belfry. So, in that regard, talking to literally anyone would probably lead Bohannon down a more stable path to redemption.
Now, obviously, in titling the episode ‘Searchers’ John Wirth and his writers are making slight reference to the 1956 John Ford classic The Searchers, but more specifically, it’s in regard to characters like Elam, Eva, Psalms, the McGinnes brothers and even newcomer Declan Toole, and the choices they make in chasing redemption or their stake in the future, or whatever else it is they’re searching for. It’s a somewhat simplistic theme of progress and changeability, but it still ties in nicely with the idea of the construction of a transportation system and the transitory nature of the town that follows its progression.
And when it’s discovered a dying prostitute kidnapped Elam and Eva’s child with a dimwitted sap who decided this was the perfect moment to start a family, rather than rain down all sorts of vengeance upon them, Bohannon hands the couple a peashooter (for self-defense/suicide) and sends them on their way. It all illustrates Bohannon’s choice to become a different man; a man who has expressed at least some interest in saving his soul, and who takes the time to pose the question (mostly to others) whether or not taking someone’s life will make proper reparation for a wrong that’s been done.
This new Bohannon is a direct result of the events of last season’s finale ‘Blood Moon Rising,’ which ostensibly forced him to choose a path and then walk that path (a thing that is rarer that it sounds in serialized fiction). This is why the continued presence of the Swede feels so unnecessary. For Bohannon and the Swede to have to confront one another again (which seems inevitable) would be of no service to Cullen’s progression as a character. Sure, it may be dramatically interesting in the moment, wondering if Bohannon will kill the Swede or let him go, but it will only be valuable for that brief instant. Bohannon will either continue on the path he’s already on, or regress into something we’ve seen before.
Although it seems unlikely, perhaps there is a third, more interesting option that could result in Cullen enduring a familiar test again; and hopefully, the writers of Hell on Wheels know precisely what that option will be.
Hell on Wheels continues next Saturday with ‘One Less Mule’ @9pm on AMC.
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