Hell on Wheels "Get Behind the Mule" Review: The Last Episode of the Season, But Was It a Finale?

By Ryan Sandoval

Oct 06, 2013

Hell on Wheels S03E10: "Get Behind the Mule"

Huh. Well. Technically that was the last episode of the season, but was it a season finale? 

Much like its scrappy protagonist, AMC’s Western has managed to cheat death for at least three seasons + a switch to Saturday nights. This most recent 10-episode arc established a new direction for the world of railroad citizens, the nation, and most importantly, former rapscallion Cullen Bohannon. As the Union Pacific has become more established, so too has Hell on Wheels' infrastructure. There's more oversight from Washington, more town stability, and more maturity in the chief railroad engineer's perspective. But is this satisfying? Like, if this were the last Hell on Wheels season ever, would viewers be happy? Of course not. You can’t largely neglect the emotional devastation that Lily Bell's death must've had on Bohannon and exile a great villain like the Swede to the role of distant, looming threat, then say that Bohannon's moved past all this when for most of the season he's been focusing almost entirely on railroad business duties. As such, "Get Behind the Mule" worked fine as a standalone episode of Hell on Wheels, but struggled to wrap up the nine episodes that preceded it, opting instead to bet on the future.

I don’t know how the television business works, guys. I’m just a simple plumber. Like, behind the scenes, do the Hell on Wheels folks know that they are in good standing with AMC, and they're all "Cliffhanger duh, then the suits will have to give us another one duh"? Maybe. Let’s do a little review here: So Bohannon has married a Mormon girl and is working basically as a slave under the Swede, helping these pious fort-dwellers build a spur line. Elam might be dead at the paws of a grizzly. Ruth said "damn," and is caretaker of little Ezra (who could help undo the Swede’s schemes), while toastmaster Durant’s back in charge of the Union Pacific. Mickey’s gearing up to be a successful businessman and town mayor as Eva walks the streets in a daze, believing her lover to be dead. These are all cool machinations, but not endings where I come from (a.k.a. "a sewer in Central California"). 

We finally got that reunion between star-crossed haters, Bohannon and the Swede, or should I say, "Bishop Dutson." While I’ll never kick drama between these two out of bed, one thing I found pretty disappointing was the refusal to address in high detail the Swede’s death confirmation on Bohannon’s part. What we saw was a man falling off a bridge into some water, but why didn’t Bohannon trundle down to water’s edge and check? Perhaps the tide was too strong for him to make it down in time, but this small detail has always irked me. Like, was there a time when the Swede might not have returned, and the show runners needed a possible out? In any case, it was fun to see Bohannon’s eyes go wide at recognizing his old nemesis and attempt to give him the old Jesse Pinkman manacle treatment. Don't get me wrong, it's good these two are together again, but to what end? We don't have any more episodes to find out! Similarly, Bishop Dutson introduced an interesting comparison in their meeting of the minds: For Bohannon to believe that he himself has changed, he might have to accept that others can change, too. Only difference is that the Swede has changed like three times already, and I think there is a limit on personal change, which is "before 'changing' is just what that person does."   

After last week, we knew that Bohannon’s trajectory was aimed somewhere near family territory, what with all his wholesome daddin’-out with Ezra and talk of marrying Ruth, so it was clever to force him into the world of a married man under undesirable circumstances. The Swede's decision to let Bohannon live made some sense, but I’m not sure the Swede even hates Bohannon that much anymore. His options seemed more like "Definitely kill this guy I hate so much" or "Eh, I don’t hate him that much. Whatever" and he chose the latter. Then again, neither knows the other’s connection to Ezra, which could stir up some fatherly conflict.       

But see what I mean? There’s not another episode to explore these setups, and no word yet on whether a new season is on the way. Elam’s trip out to rescue Bohannon confirmed their friendship, which is always a heartwarming thing, but I don’t think he’s dead. He can’t be. He’s one of the most compelling characters on the show and deserves a much more extravagant sendoff than being a cliffhanger.  

I guess what I’m trying to say overall is that there’s the kind of finale that hints at more story (like Elam not being killed via bear) while still presenting a theoretical conclusion to the whole deal, and then there's the kind of finale that leans so heavily on that hint of more story (like Elam definitely not being killed via bear) that no ending, not even a temporary one, really takes place. Just a lot of "Wait 'til you see what we got planned for next season." Guess we’ll have to cross our fingers in the meantime.   


– What relevance do the characters "Ruth" and "Naomi" have to the bible story with characters of the same name?

– How will Durant run things now that he's back in power?

– Is Elam dead?

– What do you think of Mickey's ascent? 

– Will Bohannon ditch out on his Mormon marriage?

– Will Bohannon join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints?

– What did you think of "Get Behind the Mule"?

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  • gavinlockhart58 Feb 23, 2014

    Please tell me somebody else noticed the fact that Eva was crying and said that she felt Elam's spirit pass, Elam's dead. As if in fact he did die. But at the same time they foreshadowed Elam's return.

  • MatthewGeorge0 Dec 29, 2013

    I'm surprised by how few people point out that the marriage to Naomi isn't valid. The Swede's not really a clergyman, he has no authority to marry anyone.

  • KarenCohen2 Jun 28, 2014

    Back in the 1860's on the frontier, marriages were performed by just about anyone in authority, even if they were fakes. Cullen and Naomi are married, along with the other couples the Swede married.

  • ItsATrap Nov 07, 2013

    Any show that references Tom Waits is awesome. AMC makes the best action dramas.

  • patsymartinez58 Oct 24, 2013

    So when is new season starting up again???????

  • antmorris3511 Nov 21, 2013

    It has definitely been renewed but when it returns is hard to say with amc. It will definitely return by this time next year, but it may return a lot sooner.

  • saulsnatsky Oct 20, 2013

    As long as we recognize that most of #HoW is fiction, this is an entertaining story. It was sad but good story telling when Lili was murdered. It would have been best to end it there, allow Bohannon to kill the Swede, finish the RR, move to San Francisco and become fat and rich. This season was simply gratuitous near-death escapes and plot twists. The real story of RR building was indeed full of corruption and almost-slave labor; that would itself make an interesting story.

  • paulostoya5 Oct 14, 2013

    our hero hopes it returns for season 4 or he's left by himself with his pregnant teenage wife living on a Mormon reservation run by a serial killer who has it in for him. Then again back at the ranch his job has been taken from him and there's another woman with the hots for him taking care of a kid he sort of adopted. Maybe he doesn't want to return. I might not

  • bachiralmecci Oct 13, 2013

    This episode ruined the season (even series if its series finale). One of worst finale I have ever seen. It feels incomplete ending unless AMC want to announce season 4.

  • Chuck1980 Oct 11, 2013

    Really like this series but how many of you can see how season 4 (if it gets renewed) is going to play out? Follow me as I Hollywood Plot-O-Matic it for you:
    Elam Ferguson is not dead, but gravely injured. He is rescued by the one Indian he left alive in the 4 on 1 fight he had while on his quest to save Bohannon. That Indian had been tracking him, at first to get even and kill him, but now seeing what a fierce warrior he is, (killing three braves and a grizzly bear with a knife), he brings him back to his tribe to nurse him back to health. Once he regains strength he realizes that the Indians and the black man have a common enemy, the evil white man. Elam gathers them to assault the Mormon camp to bust out Bohannon.
    Meanwhile while in captivity in the camp, Bohannon grows to enjoy his life with whatever her name was. Unfortunately, the series would suck if he was married and had a kid so she will lose the baby and probably die.
    The Swede will be responsible for that somehow.
    Right at this time the Indians will try to bust out Bohannon and probably fail. (we need at least 10 episodes folks)
    Elam will get captured and again Bohannon will be facing the gallows, now with Elam.
    Joseph will get word via the Indian pipeline, get back to Hell on Wheels talk to Ruth who will rush to the Mormon camp, with the boy whose parent were murdered by the Swede.
    The Mormons let Ruth in since she's a woman of God and the boy sees the Swede, outs him for what he is and behold! The swede hangs instead of Bohannon and Elam.
    Then Eva and Elam live with the Indians, (because Eva you know was captured by them when she was young so she would want to go back and live among them), and also that will be the only place that they could live together openly.
    Here is where I don't know what happens. Do they sap out and get Ruth and Bohannon together? I hope not. Does Bohanonn go back to Hell on Wheels and get the railroad back? Probably. Anyway, if Hollywood wants a better story, I'm available. I will write something better and different

  • glassvoncider Nov 17, 2013

    I imagine the mormon girl and their child are killed, and it will be the Swedes fault. That is his ultimate goal. Not killing Bohannon, just hurting him again.

  • bebetweet Oct 12, 2013

    Ruth gets Joseph.

  • Chuck1980 Oct 12, 2013

    Yep Perfect Plot-o-Matic formula. You got it my friend. Now do you think the producerss want me to write a story that viewers want to see?

  • 1rugbyplayer Oct 11, 2013

    I was completely disappointed with the last episode. It resolved nothing and left too many questions hanging. To think of Cullen a prisoner for life and under the thumb of the Swede forever, impossible. He is too bright and resourceful to last long in "captivity". He is the ultimate "Southern Man", one irrepressible and unconquerable spirit. Evil never wholly or truly conquers in this world of God and Christ. Let's have another season. What would life be now without more "Hell on Wheels"?

  • sgitw01 Oct 11, 2013

    To AMC: One of the few decent shows to watch on TV...so please renew to another season!

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