HELL ON WHEELS 1.07 ‘Revelations’

Cullen stops a lynching as Durant and Lily travel to Chicago to secure their respective futures.

Blair Marnellby Blair Marnell

Episode Title: "Revelations"

Writers: Tony Gayton & Joe Gayton

Director: Michelle MacLaren

Previously on "Hell on Wheels":

Episode 1.06:  'Pride, Pomp and Circumstance'

Story:

Flashback to many years before the Civil War. At a plantation, a young slave named Elam Ferguson (Amadou Diallo) recites passages from the Bible for the amusement of his white owner and father (Trevor Leigh) and his friends. When one of the men warns Elam's father that teaching slaves to read could ultimately be trouble, the man insists that Elam has no understanding of what he's read and is little more than a parrot for the information. But at night in the slave quarters, Elam reads tale of Exodus for his extended family and fellow slaves. And the story of the Israelites' flight from slavery has great meaning for them…

Back to Hell on Wheels in 1865, Thomas "Doc" Durant (Colm Meaney) and Lily Bell (Dominique McElligott) arrange to travel back to Chicago together, but for different purposes. Lily makes a point out of saying goodbye to Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) and wish him well. Just then, a bleeding Eva (Robin McLeavy) runs up to Cullen and begs him for help. As she explains that Elam (Common) is about to be lynched by Mr. Toole (Duncan Ollerenshaw) and the Irish, Cullen races off to save his friend… Except that's not the way it happens.

Instead, Cullen seems eager to shift the responsibility to The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl) until he learns that he already signed off on Elam's lynching. The Freedmen don't take kindly to the attack of one of their own, but Toole and the Irish are well armed and ready to slaughter them. At Elam's urging, the Freedmen leave him to his fate. Toole and the other Irish then begin hanging Elam, until Cullen barges into the tent with his horse and kills the first man that draws on him. At gunpoint, Elam is freed and Cullen instructs him to get on a waiting horse before they flee Hell on Wheels. Cullen also warns the Irish not to follow him.

Far from Hell on Wheels, Cullen and Elam stop to rest. Elam tries to thank Cullen for his intervention, but Cullen berates him for sleeping with a white woman to instigate this mess. Back at Hell on Wheels, The Swede suggests that Toole and his men form a posse and hunt down Cullen and Elam. And when Toole is reluctant, The Swede stabs him with a fork until his morale improves. Mr. Bolan (Ian Tracey) and Mr. Dix (Diego Diablo Del Mar) also join the makeshift posse. Back at the makeshift camp, Elam obliquely shares the details of his life as a slave.

In return, Cullen reveals how his Northern wife insisted that he free his slaves… and he notes that one of his former slaves died trying to protect his son on the day his wife was murdered, but Elam pretends not to have heard him. On the train to Chicago, Durant confesses to Lily that Senator Jordan Crane (James D. Hopkin) has information that could ruin him, but she gives Durant a harsh pep talk to make find his own way out of the situation. Inspired, Durant figures out that Crane wants an important stock tip in return for his silence.

As they await an inevitable attack from Toole and his men, Cullen teaches Elam how to fire a gun. Elam turns out to be a pretty terrible shot, but Cullen does impart the value of counting how many times an enemy has fired their weapon. In Chicago, Crane predictably shakes Durant down for the name of the railroad he intends to merge his line with for a New York connection. Meanwhile, Lily visits the family of her late husband, Robert… none of whom are particularly happy to see her. When Robert's sister, Charlotte (Chantal Perron) implies that Robert would have lived if Lily hadn't been with him, Lily confronts the woman and reveals that it was she who killed their attacker with his own arrow.

Charlotte calls Lily a liar and earns a slap for her bitchiness. Durant then escorts Lily away. Meanwhile, Toole and his men come across Cullen and Elam's resting ground and fall into their trap. Cullen takes out most of the posse almost immediately, including Mr. Bolan. Toole takes off into the woods with Elam in pursuit. They wildly fire their weapons at each other and miss until Toole gets the drop on Elam. But Elam smiles and tells Toole that he is out of bullets. Once Toole learns that Elam is correct, he is shot in the face by his would-be victim. 

Back in Chicago, Crane learns that he was mislead by Durant, costing him a small fortune and earning Durant a significant windfall… more than enough to repay the money he stole from the railroad before Crane can use that leverage against him. As Durant prepares to return to Hell on Wheels, Lily states her intent to return as well. Acting on suspect advice from The Swede, Durant awkwardly hits on Lily, who seems to be quietly shocked. Back at the former camp site, Elam returns from the woods as Cullen suggests that they say words from the Bible for the dead.

Although Elam doesn't seem very charitable towards the men who tried to kill him, he directs Cullen to the 23rd Psalm; which they recite together.

Breakdown:

"Hell on Wheels" may lack subtlety, but that doesn't mean it can't be fun.

Take The Swede for example. I'm no longer convinced that the writers have a coherent plan for his character, since his actions in this episode seem to directly contradict his conduct in the previous episode; specifically regarding his intentions towards Cullen. But I can't deny that it was funny when The Swede made comments to Durant about Lily's possible romantic interest in him. Obviously, that's crazy talk. The woman's husband just died recently and The Swede gains nothing from that lie.

Therefore, the only logical conclusion about his words is that The Swede is just f***ing with Durant, who obviously believed at least some of it. Some observers have suggested that Lily's silent reaction to Durant's clumsy come-on was a sign that she was considering it. They're wrong… that was a look of horror, gentlemen. It was actually kind of hilarious how mortified Lily was in that scene. But if this eventually comes around to Lily making out with Durant, then this is going to be "Hell on Wheels'" Dexter kissing Debra moment of disgust.

Since the beginning of the series, it seemed inevitable that Cullen and Elam were going to form a friendship of sorts. Hopefully "Hell on Wheels" won't backtrack on this point and pretend that Cullen didn't just save Elam from certain death and help take out the men trying to kill him. If that doesn't form a brotherhood between them than nothing will.

Regarding "Hell on Wheels'" previously mentioned tendency for on-the-nose dialog, it's certainly all over the place in this episode. It seems strange that AMC would greenlight a show that doesn't seem to be quite as smart as the others on the network. However, there are still occasionally moments that hit home. Cullen's story about his son dying in the arms of his former slave wouldn't have had much of an impact if he didn't finish it with "I wouldn't give a shit if I was you, either" to Elam's seeming disinterest. And it's actually left ambiguous as to whether Elam was affected by the story or not.

Likewise, the opening flashback to Elam's past was a little obvious; but I did enjoy the way that it dovetailed with the end of the episode as Elam recited the Psalm from memory. Although it seems like a mistake to dispatch Toole and his goons so quickly. And when Cullen shot Bolan and the man lay dying, I was hoping for some kind of acknowledgement that Cullen had saved Bolan's life during the black powder crisis (after blowing off his ear in earlier episode). Without that moment, it seemed like a waste of a character beat.

As for the Chicago side story, Durant's escape from trouble was way too easy. I really like Colm Meaney, but his portrayal of Durant is such a cartoon that it's very obvious when he's lying. Senator Crane seemed like a moron for not picking up on that and thus he deserved what he got. Meanwhile, I'm starting to dislike Lily Bell. The way Dominique McElligott performs the role in her scenes with Robert's family seemed forced and stilted. The only time that Lily seems to come off favorably is when she's playing off of Cullen. And it does feel like the show is bending over backwards to invent a reason to keep Lily in Hell on Wheels.

Seven episodes in, it still doesn't feel like "Hell on Wheels" has figured out what kind of show its going to grow into… if it's going to grow at all. There are definitely aspects of the show that could be great if the creative team can finally pull it all together.

But for now it's just slightly above average.

Crave Online Rating: 7 out of 10.