Durant continues to scheme while Cullen does the right thing.
We’re offering a weekly account of every episode aired during the final summer run of Hell on Wheels. Be forewarned: There will be spoilers a-plenty in each of these overviews. Here are five takeaways from Episode 509, “Return to the Garden.”
Cullen Bohannon returns to the secluded Hatch family home to reunite with Naomi — and to inform her about The Swede’s execution — only to find that, during their long separation, his wife has more or less committed herself to Isaac Vinson (Toby Hemingway), who barely escaped being killed by The Swede in Episode 508. It’s obvious that Naomi still loves Cullen. But it’s equally obvious that Cullen feels, all things considered, Naomi and William, their infant son, would be better off — or at least safer — with Isaac. So he escorts the new “family” back to Salt Lake City, patches things up between the “apostates” and Brigham Young (Gregg Henry), then rides back to Truckee. Before he leaves, however, Cullen bids an emotional farewell to his wife and son, indicating that, even though he feels he is doing the right thing, that gives Cullen precious little satisfaction or peace of mind.
Meanwhile, back in Laramie, Thomas “Doc” Durant (Colm Meany) once again tries to extricate himself from a dodgy situation with equal measures of grandiloquent bluster and smooth-talking wheeler-dealing. Since the betrayed Brigham Young isn’t likely to provide many more Mormon laborers, he makes a deal with the newly ambitious Mickey McGinnes (Phil Burke), giving the saloon owner several shares of Union Pacific stock in exchange for Mickey’s help in recruiting a thousand or so new Irish workers. And while he doesn’t exactly apologize to Psalms (Dohn Norwood) for not warning him about the dangers of buying land in Cheyenne — which Durant had falsely identified as the intended site of the railroad hub — he does remind Psalms that he did try to warn him against making the purchase. Psalms writes off his financial loss as yet another instance of his exploitation by an untrustworthy white man, and vows to the workers who invested with him that he (and they) will be more careful in the future.
And in Truckee: Mei (Angela Zhou), still disguised in male drag as Fong, is so distraught about Cullen’s absence that she visits the bordello/opium den operated by Chang (Byron Mann) — even though the villain murdered her father — and drugs herself into an oblivious slumber. (During her incapacitated state, her true gender is discovered by one of Chang’s prostitutes — “You can fool 15 thousand men, but you can’t fool a whore!” — but the working girl indicates she will keep this secret to herself.) When Cullen finally does come back to town, Mei knocks on his door, immediately disrobes — and offers herself to him. Cullen, of course, is in an emotionally vulnerable state after leaving his wife and child. But he doesn’t waste much time in taking to heart the lyrics of a song by Steven Stills: If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.
Takeaway No. 1
Mei isn’t the only woman in Episode 509 who takes charge of the situation while dealing with a normally independent guy. When Durant starts to complain about possible impediments to their conspiracies, Maggie Palmer (Chelah Horsdal) shushes him up by planting a great big wet sloppy one right on his lips, bluntly sums up their situation — “Our schemes have left us with no friends!” —and then sends him off to make nice with Mickey. Durant, it should be noted, is too surprised — and, perhaps, too aroused — to argue with her. Could all of this lead to, ahem, a closer partnership?
Takeaway No. 2
Elsewhere in Episode 509, there’s a well-played and smartly written scene that pivots on one of the show’s more intriguing relationships, Durant’s platonic, almost paternal rapport with Eva (Robin McLeavy) — who, you may recall, helped save his life back in Season 2. Sensing Eva is discontent despite her relative success as a madam, Durant diagnoses her condition as “ennui,” which he describes as the “dissatisfaction that sets in when we get what we think we want.” Eva readily agrees with his observation. Maybe it’s time for a career change? And if so, are we to assume by her amused expression in a later scene that she’s considering a new life as ... a horse breeder?
Takeaway No. 3
If you were able to watch the long goodbye shared by Cullen and Naomi without shedding a tear or two — well, pardner, you’re made of stronger stuff than us. Really: You’d have to go all the way back to Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca to a find a more moving example of a guy who’s noble, so loving, that he sacrifices his own happiness for the sake of the woman he loves. No kidding.
Takeaway No. 4
Producer Jami O’Brien’s script was first-rate across the board, filled with memorable moments that ran the gamut from richly funny to deeply affecting. But we were especially impressed by the point/counterpoint embedded in the dialogue between Durant and Mickey. First, Mickey explains his determination to achieve upward mobility: “I don’t want it all to be liquor and whores, Doc.” Later, however, Durant warns that reaching higher ground will require dirty work: “It’s not all steaks and French wine.” Of course, as we’ve seen before, Mickey isn’t a stickler for always keeping his hands clean.
Takeaway No. 5
So we’re left with some burning questions. Like, when Brigham Young noted: “Ambition resides in your heart, Mr. Bohannon. Fed by the sin of pride” — was he really on the mark? What will happen the morning after for Cullen and Mei? Will the prostitute at Chang’s place really keep her mouth shut? And is it all possible that the series will end without Psalms ever punching Durant in the face?