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Aug 10, 201310:00 PMThe Telegraph

The Premier Blog of the West

TV Recap: Top 5 Things To Know About Season 3 Premiere Of 'Hell On Wheels'

Aug 10, 2013 - 10:00 PM
TV Recap: Top 5 Things To Know About Season 3 Premiere Of 'Hell On Wheels'

AMC/Chris Large

Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) survives the winter.

Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) and Elam Ferguson (Common) get back to working on the railroad in the two-hour Season 3 premiere of Hell on Wheels. If you missed the back-to-back episodes – “Big Bad Wolf” and “Eminent Domain” – that aired Saturday, here’s a guide to the Top 5 things you need to know before tuning in next week. But watch out: There are a passel of spoilers here, pardners.

EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY: After spending a frigid winter alone in the burnt-out, snow-blanketed ruins of Hell on Wheels – and tangling with a wolf who learns the hard way that Cullen Bohannon is not a man to be trifled with – Cullen revs up a locomotive engine and travels down the line to Omaha, when he reconnects with Elam Ferguson. Cullen wants Elam to accompany him to New York, where he plans to claim the job -- chief engineer of the Union Pacific construction project -- that he was offered at the end of Season 2. Elam initially is reluctant to leave the very pregnant Eva (Robin McLeavy) when she’s so close to giving birth, especially since he likely is, well, you know, the father of her child. But even Eva sees the logic of Culllen’s argument: If Cullen gets a job, Elam will have a job, too.

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES: No sooner do Cullen and Elam arrive in New York than they’re informed by a representative of the Credit Mobilie Bank – the outfit financing the Union Pacific project – that another guy (who just happened to be the son-in-law of a Credit Mobilie board member) has been given chief engineer gig. But Cullen isn’t easily discouraged: He bathes, shaves, and gets all duded up in a new suit, and then presses the case for himself at a Credit Mobilie board meeting. He impresses most of the executives in attendance – heck, he even shows them his plans for new railcars to house railroad workers – and, more important, makes it very clear that his military experience will come in very handy if he and the workers in his employ encounter any obstacles along the way.

TROUBLE AND MORE TROUBLE: News of Cullen’s employment doesn’t sit well with Thomas “Doc” Durant (Colm Meaney), who’s been imprisoned for his financial misbehavior, but doesn’t intend to remain behind bars very long. Sure enough, by the end of the first hour, Durant is freed from incarceration, and back to wringing ill-gotten gain from the Union Pacific project. If he can’t be chief engineer anymore, well, he’ll settle for gaining a monopoly on livestock that must be purchased to feed the railroad workers, and obtaining rights to land where track is scheduled to be laid. In these pursuits, Durant expects to get help from Sean McGinnes (Ben Esler), who’s now working as Cullen’s accountant, but betraying his employer by passing on insider info to Durant. Another troublesome development: Collison Huntington (Tim Guinee), the guy in charge of railroad construction on the other end of the line, threatens to increase the pace of his men, and possibly edge Cullen’s crew out of gainful employment.

TOGETHER AGAIN: Long-simmering tensions between Cullen and Elam boil over even before they leave New York – and not just because Cullen is prone to making racially insensitive remarks – but they cease their fistfight when word arrives that, back in Omaha, Eva has given birth. (The news triggers an unexpectedly affecting scene in which Cullen – who lost his own child at the end of the war – encourages Elam to always remember how he’s feeling at this moment.) Back in the new Hell on Wheels site, however, Elam turns sullen again when he realizes that Cullen has hired a new railroad police chief – thereby demoting Elam to a No. 2 post. But when the chief is fatally wounded while trying to enforce the railroad’s eminent domain claim on the homestead of Mormon settlers, Cullum pins the fallen lawman’s badge on Elam.

TO BE CONTINUED: New York-based newspaper reporter Louise Ellison (Jennifer Ferrin) visits Hell on Wheels do to an in-depth story on the project – and, in Cullen’s view, immediately makes a nuisance of herself. (“I see why they call this place Hell on Wheels,” she says in a disapproving tone. “Rough men, loose women, whiskey, sin and guns.” Cullen’s laconic reply: “It ain’t a church social, ma’am.”) To her credit, though, she’s a pretty resourceful woman: When an oafish railroad worker tries to rape her, she applies a blade to his face to discourage him. (He gives her a black eye – but then quickly vamooses.) More important, Louise gradually revises her opinion of Cullen as she sees how he strives to behave honorably in a difficult situation. Cullen actually attempts a peaceful agreement with the Mormon clan, and promises paterfamilias Aaron Hatch (James Shankin) that he’ll try to reroute the railroad around Hatch’s land. (While visiting the Hatch homestead, it should be noted, Cullen has a short-lived amorous encounter with one of the young Hatch womenfolk.) But when Cullen discovers that re-routing would be impractical, he tells his police chief to serve the eviction notice. That leads to the aforementioned fatal shooting, which in turn leads to Cullen and Elam – and Louise – accompanying a Cavalry unit back to the homestead. Hatch claims one of his young sons fired the fatal shot, evidently figuring that, because the boy is so young, they won’t hang him for the murder. But if Hatch does indeed make that gamble – well, he loses. As the episode ends, Hatch vows vengeance against Cullen. But Louise suggests in the story she writes for her paper that Cullen may be precisely the sort of man best suited to serve Union Pacific – and America as a whole – during a dangerous time.

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