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