Cullen gets double-teamed by a despicable duo
Chang reveals the full extent of his ruthless cunning in “Elixir of Life,” Episode 5 for Season 5 of Hell on Wheels. If you missed the action Saturday evening, here are the Top 5 things you should know before tuning in next week.
FELLOW TRAVELERS: Cullen and Chang are seated together in what appears to be a luxury-class passenger car during their railroad journey back to Truckee, after tending to important business in San Francisco. Chang suggests they enjoy their time together in this “small alcove of civilization,” and forget their past differences. But for Cullen, to paraphrase William Faulkner, the past is never far away and sometimes isn’t even past. He warns Chang against doing business with the “bloodthirsty crazy” Thor Gundersen (aka The Swede); Chang brushes aside the warning with his usual frosty smile. But Chang stops smiling pretty dang quick when, after returning to Truckee, he finds (a) Tao has recruited a bunch of new Chinese laborers who are not controlled by Chang, and (b) Cullen will now be handling worker payroll, thereby denying Chang his opportunity to skim money for himself. Chang: “Why wasn’t I informed?” Cullen: “You just were.”
MEANWHILE, BACK IN LARAMIE: Mickey warms to his new role as labor contractor for the Union Pacific Railroad by greeting a new bunch of Irish workers, pointing to his saloon and promising: “For every day you lay five miles of track, the drinks will be on the house.” Eva describes other incentives for the men (i.e., her crew of working girls) but has to interrupt her chores as Mickey’s in-house madam when Louise needs her help in ending a problem pregnancy. (Long-time viewers will doubtless suspect the dastardly John Campbell impregnated the newspaper lady back in Cheyenne.) Before she goes to Eva, Louise continues her investigative reporting, armed with new info she received last week from Stagecoach Mary, and asks Delaney point blank whether Durant has employed a spy to keep track of the Central Pacific’s progress. Up until now, Delaney hasn’t known anything about Durant’s industrial espionage. He complains bitterly about being left “out of the loop,” which, with all due respect to the writers, sounds a tad bit like an anachronism.
SPEAKING OF DURANT: Maggie Palmer arrives from Cheyenne just in time to interrupt Durant’s sales pitch to a fellow interested in buying land in Laramie. “He is as crooked as a Virginia fence,” she warns the potential investor, “and you are a fool to buy what he is selling.” As it turns out: Yes, Durant is indeed operating another scam, this time promising folks that Laramie — not Cheyenne — will be the Union Pacific railroad hub. This, of course, is a lie, and he tells Maggie as much over dinner. Right now, he explains, property values may be cratering in Cheyenne — and Maggie may be edging toward bankruptcy — but that’s all part of Durant’s master plan. Working in unison, he says, they can purchase property at dirt-cheap prices in Cheyenne with money Durant makes by selling land in Laramie ” and then turn massive profits when Durant announces that, hey, he changed his mind, he’ll locate the hub in Cheyenne after all. (Maggie is astounded by his audacious risk-taking: “You want to taste death without swallowing it!”) Unfortunately, Psalms knows nothing about Durant’s con artistry, and raises money with some buddies to buy a parcel of land in Laramie. At first, Durant tries to talk Psalms out of making the purchase — “I’m not sure you’re the type of person to buy land in Laramie,” he says — suggesting that maybe, just maybe, there is a smidgen of decency left in the would-be railroad mogul. But when Psalms insists ” well, maybe that smidgen just ain’t big enough to counterbalance Durant’s inherent greed.
PARTNERS IN CRIME: The Swede continues to pour poison into receptive ears. “We share a common enemy,” he tells Chang. “I, too, have been diminished by Mr. Cullen Bohannon.” Shortly afterwards, The Swede tells the all-too-credulous Phineas that he’s been inspired by God to help the young man lead an armed revolution against his father, Mormon leader Brigham Young, and assume control of the church. And how will Phineas and his followers accomplish this overthrowing? Why, with the rifles stashed inside the crates of rice that The Swede has been buying from Chang. Of course.
EVIL DOINGS: When Cullen warns Tao about the consequences of crossing Chang, Tao bravely says: “I’m not afraid of Chang.” “Maybe you ought to be,” Cullen responds, noting that the three Irish workers who tried to lynch Chang never made it to their final destination after departing Truckee. (Stagecoach Mary, you may recall, discovered their bodies on the road last week.) Both men are pleasantly surprised when, during the festival of Tin Hau Don in Truckee’s Chinatown, Chang raises a toast to Tao for negotiating the shipment of dead workers back to their relatives in China, and to Cullen for granting raises to the workers. For about five minutes, Cullen looks happy — even while struggling to use chopsticks — and seems more amused than upset when Tao warns him about what the concerned father interprets, rightly or wrongly, as tell-tale signs of Cullen’s growing attraction to Fong (aka Mei Mei). But as we all know, Cullen rarely is allowed to stay happy for long on this show. When Chang “confesses” that he has been selling rifles to The Swede, Cullen races to the Mormon camp to seize the weapons. But The Swede plausibly denies Chang’s claim — plausibly, that is, because he’s carefully hidden the rifles — and convinces Cullen that he’s been sent on a wild goose chase. Which, unfortunately, isn’t a lie. Cullen rushes back to Chinatown, but arrives only after a hired gun — who had been posing as a harmless snake-oil peddler — fatally shoots Tao while the latter is seated near Chang at a banquet. “The assassin was a white man, Mr. Bohannon,” Chang says while Fong weeps. “Ask anyone.” Then, pointedly alluding to events of two weeks ago, Chang adds: “Pity the only witnesses were Chinese.”