Fong and Cullen join forces and forge a friendship.
Cullen (Anson Mount) gets a big surprise while attempting to transport a locomotive in “Mei Mei,” Episode 2 for Season 5 of Hell on Wheels. If you missed all the excitement Saturday evening, here are the Top 5 things you need to know before tuning in next week.
WHERE THERE’S A WILL: Determined to speed the progress of the Central Pacific construction project, Cullen opts not to wait for tracks to be laid before transporting a newly purchased locomotive from Truckee to the Summit Tunnel. Instead, he devises a plan to have Chinese workers drag the locomotive aboard a sled down a mountainside through the snow. Strobridge is dubious, but Cullen is confident: “Chinamen built the Great Wall. Reckon they can build me a sled.”
OUT IN THE COLD: Because so many Chinese workers will be diverted to transporting the locomotive, the arduous task of shoveling snow off the tracks falls to the Mormon workers led by Phineas (Josh Caras), Brigham Young’s son, and The Swede. Phineas objects to the new assignment — but Huntington pointedly reminds him of the deal Phineas’ father struck with the railroad. The Swede (who remains suspiciously eager to ingratiate himself to Phineas) advises his younger associate to accept the job as yet another way to do the Lord’s will.
COMMUNICATIONS: Cullen goes to Chang’s restaurant to obtain the workers he needs — and punctuates his request by taking a meat cleaver to the duck Chang is fastidiously preparing. Of course, duck isn’t the only delicacy Chang offers to paying customers — he also sells opium, a painkiller Fong (A. Zhou) purchases for his father, Tao, who was brutally beaten by Chang’s men in last week’s episode. (A random thought: Does Chang, obviously a shrewd businessman, periodically order savage beatings in the Chinatown community just to drive up demand for his product?) While his dad recuperates, Fong volunteers to serve as translator for Cullen as Cullen directs the long, hard haul of the locomotive through the snow. Fong is an invaluable asset — especially when Cullen needs help after a brake is broken — and he demonstrates his true grit by refusing to whimper after being banged up in an accident. During a late-night conversation by the campfire, Cullen and Fong begin to forge a friendship based on their shared desire to be part of “something with integrity — something that would last.”
DEAL WITH THE DEVIL: The Mormon workers are ill-prepared — and worse, inadequately insulated — for the harsh job of snow-shoveling. After one poor fellow loses a few toes to frostbite, Phineas wires his father to send supplies. When Brigham Young wires back that there’ll be no supplies sent until spring, Phineas is enraged — but unable to concoct a Plan B. It’s up to The Swede to travel back to Truckee and negotiate a deal with Huntington: If the workers forfeit a few weeks’ salary, they’ll be provided with boots suitable for the cold climate. After he returns to the work camp, however, The Swede tells his men that it’s Phineas, not he, who’s responsible for their good fortune. Why? Hey, this is The Swede we’re talking about, remember? Even The Shadow would have trouble predicting what evil lurks in the heart of this man.
THE LYING GAME: Come morning, while tending to Fong’s injuries in his tent, Cullen makes a shocking discovery: He is a she. That is, Fong is a young woman who has disguised herself as a young man in order to work on the railroad and, more important, prove herself as a warrior. (Did I hear somebody say Mulan?) Fong begs Cullen to keep her secret safe; Cullen initially is noncommittal. Later, there's another accident — geez, is this transport project jinxed, or what? — and both Cullen and Fong tumble down a snow-covered mountainside. When Fong winds up perilously close to a cliff edge, Cullen tosses her a rope and tries to pull her up the mountainside to safety. But when the ground crumbles beneath her feet, Fong falls — and almost drags Cullen with her. So Fong courageously cuts the rope — and plummets to the snow-covered ground below. Cullen frantically finds a path down to the ravine, and is deeply grateful to find Fong still alive, albeit bruised and badly shaken. As the episode ends, brings Fong home to Tao. “Your son saved my life today,” he tells Tao. Then he nods, respectfully, and rides back to work. Obviously, Fong’s secret is safe with him.