‘Hell on Wheels’ posed for another great season
TV Review | 3.5 out of 5 stars
Published: Monday, September 17, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 17, 2012 07:09
Every television network has taken a shot at the Western genre at least once, and while most of these attempts earn little attention or praise, AMC’s “Hell on Wheels” has managed to garner both. In the midst of its second season, “Hell on Wheels” continues to deliver an hour of impressive television every week, complete with a setting more vivid and cinematic than anything on the tube today
aside from HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” maybe.
Set on a the fictional traveling town, Hell on Wheels, the series follows the exploits of various characters post-Civil War as they help with the construction of America’s first transcontinental railroad across the Great Plains.
Picking up where last season left off, this year’s premiere began with anti-hero Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) on the run for murder, his future looking fairly bleak. Creators Joe and Tony Gayton managed to bring us back to the status quo in a matter of two weeks, though, after the ex-Confederate is returned to Hell on Wheels with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. After all, it would be rather difficult to have a show with a dead or absent protagonist.
To get Cullen back to the railroad — where he is tasked with dealing justice and creating order, nonetheless — the writers had to pull quite a few questionable plot strings. It’s tough to believe Cullen would ever be exonerated for killing a U.S. marshal in cold blood.
Yet, considering the necessity of his return and the difficulty of his departure, there’s not much else to do but let it slide, especially since the rest of the show more than makes up for this misstep.
It is impossible to discuss “Hell on Wheels” without first thinking about setting. Not only is it a period piece, but the show also has to be filmed on location due to its outdoor environment. “Hell on Wheels” overcomes these challenges to firmly establish an authentic Midwestern setting and brilliantly recreate the construction of an entire railroad and the grungy town that houses workers, prostitutes and businessmen. Matching this with the fantastic costumes and generally convincing dialects, “Hell on Wheels” successfully builds up a dark and despairing post-Civil War world.
Along with the impressive setting, the highly diverse personalities of “Hell on Wheels” only add to the genius of the series. An ex-slave turned railroad justice, a wealthy investor willing to do anything to complete his railroad, an English surveyor committed to fulfilling her deceased husband’s vision, a pair of conniving Irish brothers looking to profit
the list is rather extensive. The way in which these characters come together and interact is often shocking, and consequently, always entertaining.
The well-crafted structure that is “Hell on Wheels” would surely fail if it weren’t for the talent backing each of these characters. Simply put, the casting is phenomenal, aside from a few unsurprising inconsistencies.
Anson Mount leads the impressive roster, transporting viewers to the 1860s with but a few gruff exchanges in his cold, southern accent. His nonchalance and complete control provide the audience with a blunt, merciless protagonist, who, despite his numerous flaws, viewers can’t help but root for.
Seeing Thomas “Doc” Durant (Colm Meaney) and Lily Bell (Dominique McElligott) work together this season after their fiery exchanges last year has led to more than a few perfectly scripted moments, and further drama between them is certain. With their relationship developing on beyond a professional level, the idea of a Lily-Cullen love interest seems less and less likely.
In lieu of that attraction, a far more intriguing romance has been fleshed out. Perhaps the most moving piece of the show is the surprisingly convincing love affair between ex-slave Elam Ferguson (Common) and white prostitute Eva (Robin McLeavy). Their relationship has been pushed even further this season, and continues to incite curiosity among audiences.
In a show with as many thick plot lines as “Hell on Wheels,” there are bound to be a few duds. Due to the bland, horribly acted character Joseph (Eddie Spears), a converted Native American preacher and the despicable, alcoholic Reverend Cole (Tom Noonan), the Christianity thread has become almost painful to watch. God has clearly left “Hell on Wheels,” and now the whining characters wrapped up with the church are dull and boring.
All in all, however, the series has developed a complex web of plots, most of which draw viewers in with ease. Continuing with threads from last season, as well as sowing a few new ones, “Hell on Wheels” has raised the bar, and appears to be on course for another great year.