Hell on Wheels "Chicken Hill" Review: Dudes and Duties

By Ryan Sandoval

Aug 17, 2014

Hell on Wheels S04E03: "Chicken Hill"

So Cullen finally moseyed back on into town and all the folk were like, "Heavens to Murgatroyd, is that Cullen Bohannon come rise from the dead?" plus other excited responses. They'd all assumed he was dead after all, so the attention paid to his return was appropriate—though it was a shame that the former train man didn't receive a very earnest welcome. It was just shady Mickey, conniving Durant, and angry Eva, and as a viewer, I definitely felt an element of, "Yeah, what a crap life he's returning to." No Elam, no job. Just Cullen smelling the rugged smells of 1867 and waving half-heartedly to Wallace with his scalp-jar and probably thinking, "This is it, Cullen. Welcome to Loserville, population: Me."

Written by John Wirth and directed by Dennie Gordon, "Chicken Hill" also found Cullen smack-dab in the middle of a love triangle. I'll tell you what, you do not want to be caught in a church-lady love triangle. So many forced smiles. Ruth came running up the street that's covered in muck (I know that doesn’t exactly narrow things down), and when she saw his hot new Mormon wife Naomi and child-baby, her face fell faster than a fiddler on a greased stump. Strange thing is, it doesn't seem like Cullen would be happy with either woman. Sure, he’s making an effort to turn the page on his killing days, but going full-Mormon is textbook use of a religious meat cleaver when what's really needed is a religious scalpel. Let’s just say I don’t see him angling for a chance to land the Melchizidek Priesthood via the laying on of hands anytime soon.  

But what else is the guy supposed to do? You can’t just go walking away from a baby you made, no matter the religion you ascribe to. Even we snake handlers know that. And so, there was Cullen, trudging away alongside the freedmen and telling jokes about shooting poodles in the face and protecting the chief railroad engineer from shale shrapnel. He didn't want to, but he knew it was the right thing to do. 

Why didn't he take the easy route to getting his job back? Honor, and a hope that it'll shape his future for the better. In a sense, Cullen is in his own form of Reconstruction. It’s like when you first move to a new place and, for the first few days following your arrival, you just kind of milk the obligation of moving before setting sights on a new goal. Right now, all Cullen has to worry about are the basics: food, work, and moral stability. 

Doesn’t he get it by now, though? No matter how hard he tries to stay out of the railroad drama, that same railroad drama always ends up enveloping him. Of course, that’s not to say he should join up with the evil carpetbaggers (there goes his Southern Pride if he does). Man, those dudes are so evil; they have not done one nice thing so far. They just go around pulling the two Hs of jerkdom: harassing and hassling. It works for the plot that these guys are faceless A-holes, sure, but let's be a little more nuanced, Hell on Wheels. I'll cheer like everyone else when they get all their bones broken, but it'll count way more if they are individual people first.  

But hey at least Eva’s future's looking a little brighter! Lucky for her, she was able to turn a trick for a trick this week. I mean, it was wrong and randy that the dude who looked like the Devil himself taught her those card tricks in such a way as he did, but at least now she has the building blocks to make a little cheddar for herself. I'll reiterate, though, that Elam is definitely not dead, and it makes sense that when he returns, Eva will be back to her old hustling ways and this will probably piss him off. But just know he's not dead. He's not!

I’ll tell you what I did not like about "Chicken Hill": I did not like how Louise Ellison narrated the episode through the article she’s writing about national sensation Cullen Bohannon. Very rarely does narration add to a piece of entertainment—it’s usually there to tell the audience flat-out what might be better shown via imagery and subtext. There are two exceptions: Eastbound and Down and Enlightened, whose narrations added to what was happening onscreen. But here, Louise basically conducted her own version of Lake Wobegon, all, "Well that’s it for us folks here in Hell on Wheels, where the woman are strong blah blah blah." Don’t need it! 

Don’t need it like Durant don’t need the carpetbaggers stealing up his land via eminent domain. The storyline from which this episode drew its title found Durant hustling to install some chicken coops on a hillside where Governor Campbell sought to plant the Wyoming flag. Of course, it wasn’t just about where the flag should go—it was another round in their power struggle. What good is having a train depot if whoever pulls into it just gets reminded first thing of which entity is really in charge here? (Answer: No good.)

And so, just as the city of Cheyenne awaits its leader, Cullen ended the episode reminded of his own growing responsibilities: Ezra lights right up when he's around his daddy, Naomi is already accepting government cheese on behalf of the whole family, Elam went missing on account of Cullen, and there's only one former slaveholder-turned-gunslinger who's tough enough to take on Campbell and his crew. Was a time he'd just run free of these sorts of ties. But then who would build the train?

What'd you think of "Chicken Hill"? How are you liking Season 4 so far? 

  • Comments (20)
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  • ganeshas Aug 26, 2014

    Elam isn't dead. Check this and the next episode:
    Well, sorry. I saw it and I had to share it before someone else would.

  • rebeccaland391 Aug 19, 2014

    Is that really Cullen's baby? I thought it was the boy that Cullen had hung???

  • KarenCohen2 Aug 23, 2014

    John Wirth, the Executive Producer, as well as Anson said it was written as Cullen's son. No incest.

  • soonerblue Aug 19, 2014

    Hey now, I hadn't thought about that. Her brother?

  • smithinjapan Aug 18, 2014

    Yeah, I also disliked the narration, especially with its attempt to tie the beginning of the episode to the end, as if it were needed. In fact, it seemed to isolate the episode from the end of the story, cutting it off at both ends instead of smoothing it. It made it an episode entirely about Cullen and Cullen alone. Even when other things were happening it was related to him some how through the narration.

    Anyway, that aside I have to say that while I love this show -- and I think that's due to its stellar production level, amazing actors, and good writing in terms of the characters, I feel that the story's moving along about as 'quickly' as the railroad itself. Not that I need anything fast paced, and like some good drama, but I find myself always doing something else while the show is on and just basically glancing at the TV once in a while and listening to the dialogue half-heartedly. Maybe things will get more interesting now that Cullen's back and a face-off with the carpet-baggers is brewing. I just hope that if the Swede comes back (again), Cullen finally offs him for good. LOVE the Swede and all, but it's getting tired.

  • soonerblue Aug 18, 2014

    Yes, yes, Eva turned a trick to learn a trick - what reviewer could resist that. Seriously, Eva is a most interesting character...and I am curious about her storyline, wondering if those railroad stock certificates that Durant gave her will make her a very rich woman one day.

    And I still don't get that poodle joke.

  • Grumpyclown Aug 18, 2014

    I'm just wondering whether the current engineer will die or step aside.

    And I still think Elam will ride into town with a Bear bride and cub in tow :-)

  • bkto Aug 17, 2014

    campbell is the first governor is wyoming, so he doesn't "lose", however it might turn out.

  • anneherring946 Aug 17, 2014

    I probably am a romantic. but I would love to see Cullen and Ruth together. There must be something in the works concerning this storyline or why else would the writers make it a point to point out that Ruth has feelings for him. It was a good episode and I am a faithful watcher.

  • antmorris3511 Aug 17, 2014

    Ruth is a homely and chaste church lady. The type only included in the fantasies of rapists and blind men. Women may want Ruth to get da booty, but men certainly don't. HOW will only put Bonehannon to bed with an extraordinary beauty. Much like Lily Belle.

  • WavSlave Aug 17, 2014

    When the season began, I was confident that Elam would be back despite Common's name not (currently?) being a part of the opening credits. I based this on Wikipedia's cast timeline table still showing him as a main cast member in S4. But earlier today I noticed that the table has been updated within the last two weeks to show him not being an S4 cast member at all. I'm not sure how to interpret this. Maybe they're waiting until he actually returns before updating that table once again, so as not to be a spoiler. Then again, maybe he really is gone for good. It's disconcerting to me that almost 25% of the season has aired and he has yet to appear. It would be nice to know what the official deal is there.

    This felt to me like a transition/reset episode between the Mormon fort stuff in the first two episodes and the HoW camp stuff in the remainder of the season. However, the previews for next week showed a return to the Mormon fort plot. I don't know how they plan to integrate the characters from those two threads back into one show. For now, the fort stuff seems like it's from a different show altogether. I hope I'm not giving the writers and producers too much credit for knowing what where the show is headed and how it plans to get there.

  • KarenCohen2 Aug 23, 2014

    I think the writers are using the historical facts with the Mormon storyline. The series is based on NOTHING LIKE IT IN THE WORLD. BY Stephen Ambrose which tells the history of the Transcontinental.continental Railroad. The Union Pacific was stuck in Cheyenne in 1868, just as it is in HoW in S4, about to go under to the Central Pacific. Brigham Young, a stockholder in Credit Mobilier,has 8000 Mormon workers who need jobs. The UP get 6000 as contracted workers and dodges bankruptcy. The Mormons are like the Chinese on the CP.: sober, hard-working and reliable. Somehow Cullen will manage the Mormon workers? It might give him power without dealing with Durant or Delaney.

  • jerlouvis Aug 20, 2014

    SPOILER for anyone who doesn't want info on Common's status on show read no further.

    On IMDB they list Common has appearing in the next episode,Reckoning.

  • antmorris3511 Aug 17, 2014

    the fact that naomi, gunderson, and the two kids are still in the story is a good indication where things are headed. though no, its not explicit. swede and the boy will likely meet again.

  • WavSlave Aug 18, 2014

    Yeah, the kid is the bomb waiting to go off in Gunderson's life...if he gets the chance to tell his tale.

  • WavSlave Aug 17, 2014

    ...for knowing where...

  • AmyTeves Aug 17, 2014

    I liked this episode better than the last one. I did expect Cullen would have a lot harder time getting out of Fort Smith. Cullen is doing a lot of turning the other cheek. I guess his time spent with the Mormons taught him patience, preserverance, and that you don't have to live by the gun. Ruth and Eva are mad at him, Naomi probably wishes she never left home. Not to mention the welcome home beating he received.

  • bkyle2429 Aug 17, 2014

    the beat down at the end was payback, for what Cullen did at the beginning!! so not really a welcome home beating

  • KarenCohen2 Aug 23, 2014

    Yeah, the two thugs, Jessup and Heckard, knew when he closed the door in Campbell's face they could get their revenge.