Hell on Wheels "Durant, Nebraska" Review: Romantic Knife Murder

Hell on Wheels S02E02: "Durant, Nebraska"

Howdy buckaroos! Uh, what if there were separate strains of currency with different purchasing values depending on the money's moral history? Like, a $5 bill at one time used to pay for murder would be worth less than a similar note with a clean past of ice cream purchases for orphans? Let the eggheads in Fort Knox worry about how to keep track of all this somehow. Finances bearing the mark of ethical transgression could be treated like a foreign economy with appropriate exchange rates and there'd be a tangible incentive to behaving in the best interest of human nature: less crime and a clear conscience. World peace, solved! Burn Band-Aid's instruments! Glue Bono's lips shut! There'd be so much fulfillment via mass good will, no one would even think about scoring a little extra life quality by spending benevolent smackeroos in a discounted criminal market (and hooking up some cheap boots and stolen spurs with that strong cash)— oh wait, that's exactly what would happen. There'd be no point in separating the two markets because the human spirit is always going to look for a way to become top dog by any means necessary (—Chucky Darwin). Those with money (and usually power) can dilute personal blame or guilt by paying off the less fortunate to perform evil deeds or even use economic sway to redefine "evil" itself. Last night's satisfying "Durant, Nebraska," illustrated how reckless ambition in the name of a greater good can justify murder and questioned who ultimately settles the bill when the buck of "moral debt" gets passed through different levels of society.

Following an excellently filmed Native American attack on Mr. Durant's namesake camp, Hell on Wheels had to absorb the displaced refugees. Seriously, that was like the opening to a tense slasher film where the killer is American Indians. Also, kudos to Eva for having the ear for such a thing. The assault came courtesy of a Sioux "murder raid," as a warning to those who might trespass on their land (Mr. Toole was too busy saving his "lily white arse" to distinguish the tribe—possibly hinting at more racism on his part). Looks like prosperity for this new westward-bound nation will come at the cost of another, but not without casualties for both. Luckily, this show isn't so much concerned with laying guilt trips about whether or not it sucked for natives to be at the tail end of dominance, as it is putting on display the sort of complex emotions involved on either side of the frontlines. At the end of the day, a cutthroat businessman like Durant has no vested interest in preserving a culture that understandably rejects new money and faith. He's not commanding the deaths of innocents, he's defending his way of life.

Meanwhile, Cullen was set to be killed unless he gave up his Confederate compatriots and he couldn't have cared less. Imminently close to the wrong end of a firing squad, Bohannon confessed to Doc Whitehead that he didn't feel a damn thing about murdering the wrong man last season—except he WAS shaking the whole time, so he might have just been talking tough (or suffering from a first-class ass-whooping). Even though we've seen less Cullen this season than last, the current iteration of our hero as a double-crossed bandit with nothing to lose is already way more fun than the pitch-friendly "haunted former slave owner railroad employee revenging wife's death." Of course, we never would have arrived at this point in Bohannon's life were it not for that initial task of vengeance, and there's nothing to say he won't continue that mission sometime in the future, but at least when he does, dude'll be more of a wild-eyed sass-mouth about it.

With the refugees taking up more space than they could afford, Lily compassionately settled with Sean McGinnes who tried to sell them lots on Mr. Durant's behalf. That the absentee railroad baron's conflicting interests of business opportunity and consumer relations (after all, he gets some cut of everything eventually) could manifest and find resolution without his presence turns the town of Hell on Wheels into a living embodiment of his character (in modern terms, a Sims of the soul). When a temporarily rescued Cullen remarked, "Playing God comes natural to you, don't it?" it was in keeping with Durant's grandiose and duplicitous nature that he responded, "Well, yes. But like any benevolent God I'm here to help you," and when Cullen questioned the rescue, admitted "...my motives are purely selfish."

At heart Durant's in it for Number One, as long as Lily makes him appear decent in the eyes of the public, and his enemies are kept at bay—all that's left to define the man are his inner demons, and he seems to have effectively silenced those so far. Who better to act as the moral core of Hell on Wheels than a compassionate judge who experienced firsthand the horrors of the West? She knows the emotional cost of survivalist murder, so when Bell convinced Elam to avenge the dead town whore, it wasn't without friction... on both sides (funny how communication breaks down at the tip of the spear). She didn't want to speak the words that would end a man's life, and Ferguson wouldn't agree without her taking that slight responsibility ("...oh, you want me to give him a talking to?"). But what she lacks in assassination etiquette, Lily makes up for in relationship savvy. How clever was she in being all, "Fine...but I bet if you killed this dude, Eva would be psyched"?

Meanwhile, a drunken, pistol-wielding Durant was even less overt with his reasons for saving Bohannon and bringing his proven enemy back to town. After that ominous fireside chat by the American West's favorite loons, the Swede and Reverend Cole, it would seem Durant expected Bohannon to thankfully accept his offer to defend Hell on Wheels from violent Native American threat. "Sometimes it seems one has to make a deal with the devil," slurred the railroad baron, to which Cullen quipped, "Who's the devil in this deal?" further highlighting just how much of a wrong-right stew this frontier business was, depending on what hand was serving and who's mouth was eating.

Every other show on television should take note of the penultimate scene in "Durant, Nebraska," because it involved something we as an audience never knew we wanted: "romantic knife murder." Seriously, have you ever seen someone kill not only for justice, but also in hopes that word would get back to his crush, high school cafeteria-style? "OMG, did you hear what Elam did to that whore-killer? So hot. I wish somebody would stab someone to death for me..." Beyond the mushiness, there were a lot of interesting reversals going on here. Schmidt, the privileged white foreman, invoked his racial and social status over both an African-American and female prostitute. He taunted Elam with the assumption that the hired gun would not shoot out of fear of making noise, and that the public would have even less sympathy for someone of Elam's race. So, Ferguson did what anyone would when presented with such circumstances, and passionately stabbed the man to death in silence. Sure, when Schmidt's body was strung up with the sign "Woman Killer" it was ultimately to encourage the town whores to get back to work and make Hell on Wheels a happy place to spend money again, but at least this business-minded railroad burg gets occasionally progressive results. With Cullen Bohannon's return, the kind and enterprising folks have one more soul willing to take on—and account for—society's moral debt.



BUCKSHOTS:


"There names were Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jeb Stewart, Nathan Bedford Forrest..."


"God is at work. His ways are mysterious."
"Your God works too hard."


"Surrounded by six horny sailors..."


"Who's the executioner now?"


"Have you heard of the White Spirit Reverend Cole?"


"Lookit"


QUESTIONS:

1. Does Cullen have anything to live for?

2. Should Cullen trust Durant?

3. Will the Reverend ever become sane again?

4. Where was Mickey in this episode?

5. Do you like/dislike the contemporary music on this show?

6. Is Hell on Wheels a distillation of the American Dream?

7. Will a main character be killed by the Sioux?

8. Are you a member of the Sioux nation?

9. Are there drawbacks/benefits to showing a new town develop at the same rate as a new show?

Comments (19)
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Have to say the music was a real treat on the show this week, especailly at the end. Loved Bohannons walk through the town at the end at the end. There was a real sense of something is going to go down! Love the Swede, he is now one of my favourite tv characters. This is such a great show, I hope people watch it. I don't really understand the way you guys do your ratings, it had just over 2.3mil view and a .6 18-49 demographic from Sunday 19th, is this good or bad?
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1.Lilly Bell and finding the Hanger.

2.Durant doesn't trust Durant,why should anyone?

3.I hope he will.Redemption seems to be a an underground sub theme of the show.

4.don't care.if any other character on this show is any indication then either boozing or fucking.

5.sometimes or I just mute.

6.there is no such thing as the american dream.those that make it and say it has worked for them are mobsters,murderers or big time thieves.As for the honest successes, they are as successful as anyone else in any country of the world.

7.No.but if yes, then it should be the Swede.

8.I am a citizen of the world. I have always sided with the so-called Native Americans, so in spirit yes.

9.Deadwood did it very well, and sociologically very interesting.Hell on Wheels is still too young a show to see how well they get to do it.

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Maybe they picked it up from their AMC brother Breaking Bad, but especially in these first two episodes of this season, I'm loving the music that goes along with some great scenes in the show. BB, and now HOW, seem to be the only shows that really make me appreciate the music they feature during episodes.



Oh, and uh, Cullen obviously shouldn't trust Durant. As far as I can tell, no one should be trusting anyone in their little town. A man can't even take a wiz outside without another man stabbing him to death.
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Staff
I hope there is a conscious effort within AMC to really play up sound design in its shows. I'm slightly addicted to the noise of boots walking on creaky wooden floorboards and those heavy ass shackle chains sounding like rocks. A good old-school pistol shot is quite thrilling too. Plus, in this age where CGI can make impossible visuals into reality, there's room to overachieve in treats for the ear. I know Tim Surette made a good point in one of his Breaking Bad reviews about how audio can be used uniquely to compliment story, and I hope HoW takes that sentiment and runs with it (those train whistle make me jump every time though)
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1. yes -he has to life for being 'the tortured dude with nothing to life for'

2. no

3. was he ever sane really? i never thought so and believe he will get crazier

4. who?

5. like



7. no

8. no

9. no
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I'm definitely enjoying Season 2 way more than the first season. Season 1 seemed to be all prologue, and now we're finally getting into what this show is supposed to be about. I can't wait to see the first interactions between Cullen and the Swede.



Also, to answer your question, I love the contemporary music on the show. It's used to set mood, and it's typically really excellent choices. I feel like A LOT of time and thought goes into deciding what song correctly fits the tone, and they often do a very good job of it. I'm immediately reminded of last weeks use of The Dead Weather, or Season 1 using Mumford and Sons "Timshel" in the episode of the same name. Fantastic blend. Now, if they start playing some 1860's version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" in the show Moulin Rouge style, then its a serious problem.
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Great episode. The Swede and the Reverend are going to do something crazy this season, you can smell it.
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Staff
No doubt. We're talking, a guy who snapped after beheading someone with a saber, and a fellow who used to execute people like it was going out of style/scrub every inch of his quarters in the buff (when he had quarters to scrub). I hope they do something heroic though, that would be awesome if the duo's wilding out came to some good.
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Thank you, Ryan. I'm so glad someone on TV.com is taking the time to review this show. It's really under appreciated. I'll be writing much more in the weeks ahead if you continue to cover it.
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Certainly FringeFanatic, I agree that it's under appreciated, but it will find love here in the weeks to come.
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Yay to both! Great reviews Ryan, and I always appreciate FringeFanatics views on shows :D
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This show is so rich in texture, music, culture, love it!!!
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Staff
Man definitely - both scenes set to music were amazing. Really digging this 2nd season.
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Bohannon's capture and subsequent waterboarding at least achieved one overbearing task, washing his hair. I think its all the wash those poor hair are gonna get this season.......
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Haha, you're totally right about his hair. Although, I will say that his hair looked even worse by the time he strolled in to town... washing it must have made it really frizzy.
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Staff
Ha! Yeah, let's hope next time it doesn't take the threat of execution for Bohannon to keep birds from nesting in there.
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You ARE right!! I guess I should have been happier about that. I've been begging for them to wash it since the show started. :)
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Great episode, loved the look on everyone's faces as Bohannon walked back into town. Hopefully the Reverend and the Swede pull themselves out of the ditch. I prefer seeing them on top instead of down and out.
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Staff
You know, I hear ya. It's never fun to watch characters suffer - especially ones who once held positions of respect and composure. However, I do appreciate their "daffiness" and how it brings a bit of odd comedy to the grave world of Hell on Wheels. At least while The Swede and Reverend Cole endure this tough lot, they are playing a noble part, insofar as offering a bit of mad levity, in the same way Shakespeare would throw "fools" in the mix (who often ended up very wise in the midst of tragedy). Don't think this show gets enough respect, but it bears close reading if you give it the attention.
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