Sep 3, 201201:08 AMThe Telegraph
The Premier Blog of the West
TV Recap: Top 5 Things To Know About 'Hell On Wheels,' Season 2, Episode 4
Aptly enough during Labor Day weekend, Hell on Wheels offered a tale of a frontier work stoppage that very nearly escalated into an uncivil war. If you missed Season 2’s Episode 4 – titled “Scabs” and directed by Catherine Hardwicke (Twilight, The Nativity Story) -- here are the Top 5 things you need to know before tuning in next week.
NECESSARY ROUGHNESS: During the opening minutes, this week’s episode once again reminds us that Hell on Wheels isn’t your grandfather’s western. Cullum Bohannon is overseeing a construction crew out in the field when work suddenly halts while everyone pays heed to nearby screaming. Attention focuses on a nearby hilltop, where one of the Irish laborers is being tortured by Sioux tribesmen obviously intent on making a point. (That point: The same thing could happen to any of you other palefaces.) Cullen asks for someone to bring him a rifle. Suitably armed, Cullen fires – not to kill a Sioux, but to put the Irishman out of his misery. (Actually, that sounds like something Ethan Edwards might have done in The Searchers.) The other railroad workers – Irishmen and “Negroes” alike – don’t question Cullen’s action. But that doesn’t mean they’re willing to keep working on the railroad all the livelong day.
THE BUCK STOPS HERE: The Irish workers refuse to continue laying track unless they can be guaranteed protection against assaults by the Sioux. The black workers – most of them ex-slaves – offer to provide security if they’re armed. But the Irish workers don’t cotton to the idea of black men with guns. And, truth to tell, railroad boss Thomas “Doc” Durant isn’t at all that happy about giving a bunch of guns to ex-slaves – and, more to the point, ex-cons -- he considers to be the railroad’s “property” because (he claims) he more or less bailed them out of prison sentences. On the other hand: Despite the protestations of Lily Bell, who insists that they can avoid trouble with the Sioux if only Durant changes the proposed route of the railroad, Durant demands that Cullen take care of the problem. Cullen agrees to do so – but only if he’s granted carte blanche to handle matters his own way. Reluctantly, desperately, Durant gives Cullen absolute authority over labor negotiations.
YOU CAN’T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WANT: Elam Ferguson is getting cozy again with once and future sweetie Eva, the tattooed ex-prostitute. Indeed, Elam even manages to owe up to the obvious – “I love ya, woman!” – after a woodland interlude. But when she tells him she is pregnant with his child, he suggests she “take care” of the situation – not only because she’s still married to Toole, but also because a white woman (even an ex-prostitute) might face a certain amount of, ahem, social disapproval if she were to give birth to a child obviously fathered by a black man. For his own part, Toole – heretofore depicted as a somewhat less than entirely sympathetic figure – seems genuinely heartbroken when he’s told that (a) his wife is pregnant with another man’s child, and (b) she is not too keen on continuing their marriage. When he fortuitously encounters Elam, Toole tells his romantic rival that he should be ashamed of himself for not having the courage to stand by his woman: “You’re no father. You’re a coward.” Elam, it should be noted, doesn’t disagree.
WAR GAMES: Cullen, a former Confederate Army officer, demonstrates that he still knows a thing or two about being a savvy tactician. First, he sends a wire to a far-off town, requesting new workers to replace the sit-down strikers in Hell on Wheels. Then he leaks news about the arrival of new workers to Reverend Cole – who, of course, spreads the word while cadging drinks at the local watering hole. When the replacement workers arrive late at night by train, they’re given a brutally harsh reception by the Irish laborers – and their black co-workers. The replacements get back on the train to beat a hasty retreat. But the Irishmen recognize that, despite their temporary victory, Cullen could easily bring in another group of scabs at any time. So Toole – evidently the unofficial leader of the Irish workers – agrees to lead his fellows back to work, provided they are given protection. And, yes, they agree that Cullen should arm the black workers to provide that protection. Cullen is too smart to flash a self-satisfied smile. But you know he’s happy to see everything has gone according to plan. His plan.
THINGS TO COME: When Elam tries to take charge of the black workers, he is challenged by a defiant fellow who jeeringly dismisses him as an Uncle Tom. This leads to a violent fight – one that Elam loses by way of a knockout. The next day, however, the “winner” of the fight is seen coughing up blood, suggesting his may have been a Pyrrhic victory. Meanwhile, Toole returns to the tent he has shared with Eva, lies down next to her – and indicates that, while he’s not exactly happy that she’s carrying another man’s baby, that might not necessarily be a deal-breaker for their relationship. When we last see Eva, she appears… conflicted. Meanwhile, Cullen is last seen overseeing his brand new, heavily armed security force as the railroad construction continues. He growls at a rifle- toting freedman: “Anything moves – shoot the bleep out of it.”