Hell on Wheels "Elam Ferguson" Review: Gutted

Hell on Wheels S04E07: "Elam Ferguson"

For as much of a problem as I had with Elam's return last week, I’m willing to forgive most of my gripes after the solid, emotional "Elam Ferguson." As those of us who’ve attended open-casket funerals are aware, the experience yields a strange feeling of wanting to say one last goodbye and also realizing that the figure piled horizontal is not the person you want to say goodbye to, or even a person at all. Not to sound crass, but they're just leftovers. When Eva stated, "He ain’t in that box," it was as if to say that who we are is the sum of our relationships or associations or living connections. Elam died the moment he became Bear Killer. Written by Mark Richards and Thomas Brady and directed by Rod Lurie, "Elam Ferguson" offered not one but three heartfelt sucker punches, as well as some good ol’ fashioned Hell-scapades, giving Mr. Ferguson the quality sendoff he deserved. 

"The world’s catching up to us in the form of the United States government," Bohannon said to Durant at the outset, while maneuvering to lead the Union Pacific out of Cheyenne. Once the vengeance-obsessed gunslinger, Bohannon barely had time to negotiate a higher spot on the rails, what with the demands of family, friendship, and basic moral justice bearing down on him. The centerpiece of the episode found Bohannon—no longer the stoic individual we knew in Season 1—participating in a microcosm of society manifest as a standoff: If the marshals were to let the increasingly violent Elam continue with his faux-slave auction, the women would suffer untold abuse. However, Bohannon, Eva, and Psalms knew Elam wasn’t in his right mind, and therefore shouldn’t have been subjected to such harsh ultimatums. Kind of like when mentally disabled people get the chair. It was a set-up as suspenseful as it was heartbreaking. 

I mean, if you didn't feel sick to your stomach when the townsfolk turned out to jeer at the confused Ferguson, or when he dismissed Eva, then surely your tear ducts started humming as soon as Elam became friendly with Psalms. It was such a turn from the ruthless, fearsome owner of "bear magic" we’d seen up to that point. Not only did he appear to be more "Elam," he was a naive Elam from younger days. From his slave days where he wasn't allowed to go in the house. I guess the reason this part hit hardest for me (well, hardest until Bohannon's climax), was the glimpse of hope that this friendly Elam offered. For a second, everything seemed like it might be okay. A false hope. The opposite of the phrase "darkest before dawn" (dawnest before dark?).


Elsewhere in the episode there was relief from the tragedy of Elam—Bohannon teamed up with Maggie to get a device to dig up and around the mountain, Naomi hassled Cullen about his dedication to family, and Campbell distanced himself from Heckard's beating of Durant two episodes ago. In response, Durant gave Heckard the business end of a femur (?). Was that what that was? In any case, Durant got to make some broken-head pie while expressing both sides of his character: the violent part and the conniving part. At first it looked like he was going to come clean with Mrs. Delaney (Gia Crovatin; Full Circle) but then it was some drawn-out story about how Thomas indirectly drove her father to take his own life. I’m not so invested in whether or not Durant gets caught for the murder of the Senator from last season, but it’s certainly a fair thread to explore. 

After talking a big game to Durant about how wrong it is to murder ("Don't quench"), back in town Bohannon had no choice but to pull the trigger on the knife-wielding Elam. That's kind of what you do when someone—friend or foe—tries to scratch out your medulla oblongata. Isn’t that just life in a nutshell? We try to get along with one another, try not to step on each other’s toes, but when it came right down to choosing who gets a future, Bohannon had to choose himself, his wife, his baby. You could tell it wasn’t an easy call. He tried everything he could. He smiled, he told old tales. No such luck. Elam was a dead man once those lady-slaves were freed. Was it more honorable for a friend to pull the trigger than the government? I think so, yeah. Is it going to hurt any less for this reason? Hell no. 

Wow, though, that bawling at the end—that supremely gutted me. Anson Mount is an actor’s actor and Bohannon had earned a good long graveside cry. No doubt Eva’s words were echoing in his head as he buried his friend. "He went looking for you." Time and time again, Bohannon’s positioned the completion of the railroad as some sort of life’s duty—an explanation for all the tragedy that surrounds it. In his mind, completing the nation’s lifeline will justify, maybe, just a little bit, everything that’s gone to shit around it. 

"He went looking for you." True, but then again would he have run off if Eva never gave away his baby? We saw Elam’s visions, his rants about "why she leave me?"; had Eva kept their baby, he’d have his own home to protect, his own reason for avoiding sacrifice. Or maybe it was just Elam’s stop on the great railroad of life.   


What did you think of "Elam Ferguson"? Did you find it a fitting sendoff for the character?


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Jul 21, 2015
Just finished season 4, a year later.

This episode was a little confusing for me. Why bring back Elam, make an entire episode on his experience with the native and kill him the next one??!!!! Just let the character dead after the bear attack. This episode ending felt rushed and personally didn't make that much sense.
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Oct 26, 2014
I purchased and watched all 4 seasons back to back within the last couple days, and I seriously liked the Elam Ferguson character. That episode was a 'gut cruncher', but far better than him just being killed by the bear. Wish that Common could have finished the series --whenever that will be, as his performances brought 'a lot to the table', as it were...
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Sep 30, 2014
We miss you Elam! It was harsh to get you back only to loose you so violently. Kudos to the writers for that evil twist.
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Sep 30, 2014
I thought the totally destroyed and irrationally emotional crying done by Anson was perfect for the moment, it felt like true grief and dismay. The whole episode sets up a deeper need for blood since these characters so attached to Elam are going to have a lot of steam to blow off when it cones time.
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Sep 29, 2014
Lots of folks commenting on whether or not Elam could have been brought back to lucidity (regardless of Common's decision to leave the show) but it seems like people missed something. Elam wasn't just suffering from PTSD - he was suffering from meningitis from the bear's tooth entering his brain. He had been healed up on the outside, but as evidenced by his headaches, he was already dying of an inflamed brain infection. Poor guy was already dead, Cullen just literally put him out of his misery.
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Sep 24, 2014
I was skeptical of how Elam was being handled ever since the bear scene at the end of last season, but damn... the last two episodes really brought it together. I started to lose it when Elam was talking to Psalms and by the end I was openly crying along with Bohannon. What a gut-punch of an episode!

When Elam was about to die near the end, I worried for a moment that they might do the cliche "moment of clarity before dying" trope, but thankfully Elam remained broken and confused to the bitter end. A sad but fitting send-off for a character who has been torn between two worlds since the very start.

Definitely one of the better episodes of the series, in my opinion.
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Sep 18, 2014
I'm not too happy about this. I loved the character of Elam. And also liked Elam and Bohannon friendship. I wished he was still on the show, it would of made it a lot more interesting to see Durant, Elam and Bohannon go against Campbell and his crew.
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Sep 22, 2014
I also loved the dynamic between Elam and Cullen and was hoping up to the very last minute that Elam would somehow come out of this alive. I felt cheated that he was brought back in Ep6 only to be killed off in Ep7. However, the writers had little choice in the matter as Common wished to spend more time on his music career.
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Sep 22, 2014
Really? That's too bad cause he was awesome in the show.
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Sep 18, 2014
What a fantastically heart breaking episode! Anson Mount's performance was outstanding!
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Sep 24, 2014
For sure! Common brought his A-game as well this time, which was also appreciated :)
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Sep 17, 2014
i think he's not dead
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Sep 19, 2014
It was too specifically done for him not to be dead....
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Sep 16, 2014
The "old Yeller" ending. Put down like a dog by his best friend
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Sep 27, 2014
Best doggone dog in the west!
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Sep 16, 2014
A battle to the death with a big ass bear will mess a man up.
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Sep 27, 2014
Dead, is about as mess up as a person can get.
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Sep 16, 2014
I wasn't too happy with the amnesia thing last week but I have to confess I really liked Elam's final episode. His utter insanity and unwillingness to cooperate in any way about the captured women and the impending interceding of the Carpetbaggers really made the episode tense and exciting. Bohannon did everything in his power to save his friend as did Eva and Psalms. Watching Bohannon have to mercy kill his only friend and then see him break down as he buries him was pretty powerful stuff. Kudos to Anson Mount for a great performance. I won't comment on his crying......everyone cries differently.
I'm not worried about him putting his gun away. it will only be that much more dramatic when he opens the box and straps it on again.
A femur????? Who carries a femur around?? I think the shillelagh theory is more likely. You would have thought that guy would have fought back a little more. Durant isn't exactly powerful and intimidating.
Now let's build a railroad!!!
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Sep 16, 2014
While it was a well written episode, I found the "end" for Elam less satisfying than it would have been had they left him dead from the bear attack. Weird that the constructed this story arc just so they could kill him off in this way....
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Sep 19, 2014
They should have banished him somehow...
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Sep 15, 2014
"He went looking for you" would also of been a good title for this episode.
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Sep 19, 2014
A song title if ever there was one...

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Sep 15, 2014
have*
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Sep 15, 2014
Brutal. That was brutal. After all this pain, after all the death and loss, finally something broke in Bohannon. Elam was his best and only friend, he died searching for Bohannon, came back as a haunted monster and although Bohannon tried what he could, he had to kill him - again.
What's next for this guy? His wife and babe leaving for the Mormon's fort to find the swede in power?
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Sep 15, 2014
I believe it was a Shallellegh and not a "femur"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shillelagh_(club)
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Sep 15, 2014
this episode was too contrived - obviously exit point for Common. And if Bohannon is hanging up his gunbelt, HoW is over for me. And Noami and the baby - is their fate to pop into a scene only to have Bohannon run them off? Send her back to the Mormon fort already.
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Sep 15, 2014
I don't know, it all seemed kinda smashed together in a hurry. It was like the only reason for Elam to get hurt and return was for this moment. Not sure what to really think about it all. When we first saw him laying injured after the bear fight, you'd never guess he had lost his mind since he was praying to God to not let him die there. We got the first glimpse that he lost his mind when he was being rude to the Native woman who was helping him. It wasn't until he stabbed that guy and went out to do the war dance that I knew he was done. It's a shame that he had to be put down like that. I thought there was a chance he'd get better once he saw Eva or Cullen but he was already too far gone. I was also tricked into thinking he might still be sane when I thought he recognized Psalms. Also, I noticed someone said something about "his baby", it may be his baby because he stepped towards the position, but he was clearly not the paternal father. She was Mr. Tooles. Seems as though this whole thing had been planned to go this way from that point on when things started falling apart around the baby and Mr. Tooles brother showing up to want to take her. With how Eva was feeling about how the child would grow up, you just knew they weren't going to stick it out and here we are.
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Sep 15, 2014
For me it was not one of the the greatest HOW episodes, I was expecting more from Elam before he dies like a gunfight with dirty government men. Now I just wonder what waits ahead for the them, the cry at closing scene means another revenge mission for Bohannon. They made him kill his best friend it will have consequences for sure.
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Sep 15, 2014
Good review, and a pretty good episode, although the one weak part for me was the climax, which sort of drags down the rest of it. Ultimately I can live with Bohannon killing Elam as a mercy killing, but in the moment, it just didn't work for me, and I was confused and upset long before reaching realization and acceptance. To me, it seemed like Elam taking account of his potentially-survivable stab wound was dispelling his mad belief in his Bear Man Magic, and possibly starting to come back to reality. The fact that Bohannon THEN, right at that moment, decided that Elam was too far gone and should be put down for his own good and everyone else's, was horrifying and dismaying. EITHER that scene was just poorly directed and/or edited, OR the show wants us to believe that Elam died at the SAME MOMENT he was finally beginning to come back to his normal self. And sadly, I'm left to hope that the show just fumbled this bit, and we're meant to believe Cullen did the right thing, because the latter, alternative possibility is unspeakably tragic, even for this often very dark show.
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Sep 16, 2014
The latter possibility is indeed tragic, and the show has left it so that we'll always wonder. But what we also have to remember is that soon after the women were rescued, the white woman (did we ever hear a name for her?) would have told everyone of what Elam did while with the Arapaho -- including the killing of Jimmy Three-Squaws. (She might also have been able to place him in the attack on Bennix's cavalry unit.)

When we saw those things happen last episode, I knew that Elam was a dead man walking. There was no way for him to evade justice for those deaths. They didn't have such a thing as "incompetent to stand trial for murder by reason of insanity / brain damage".

I'm not saying that Bohannon knew that; he certainly didn't, and it's not "why" he pulled the trigger. But for us as the audience, him pulling the trigger spared us having to watch Elam be hanged as a murderer, and honestly, I'm pretty grateful for that.
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Sep 16, 2014
Good points.
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Sep 16, 2014
Just as an FYI aside, they did have the insanity defense in 1866. The insanity defense goes back as far as the 16th century. By 1866, the US generally had adopted the English Rule whereby the "defendant should not be held responsible for his actions if he could not tell that his actions were wrong at the time he committed them."

That doesn't mean it would necessarily apply to Elam. I could make arguments for and against applying that defense to Elam's actions. And obviously, Cheyenne is weak on the whole notion of Due Process to begin with so I'm not arguing with your point. Just thought you might be interested in the history. :)
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Sep 16, 2014
Thanks for the correction. :) I should have specified, there was no way a black man in that town, with Campbell in charge, would have been given the benefit of an insanity defense. (While I have little doubt that if a white soldier under Campbell had been similarly brain-damaged and committed similar acts, Campbell would have made excuses and let him off.)
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Sep 15, 2014
He wasn't coming back to his "normal self." Bohannon knew this. Psalms asked Bohannon "What give you the right?" Bohannon didn't have the right. No one had the right. What Bohannon did was take on the burden.
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Sep 17, 2014
Bohannon had a "right" to save his own life in that banyard dust up.
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Sep 16, 2014
Ultimately I agree with you, and I like your interpretation of Psalms' line and Bohannon's decision. And as HoW moves on I'll be able to live with how it all played out. I'm just saying, in the moment, watching it for the first time, the way that part of the episode was constructed deeply bothered / confused / took me out of the moment of what was otherwise a strong episode. But that's just my opinion. :\
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Sep 15, 2014
I agree with mlprice4, what's more Elam had taken the knife in the stomach... a slow and agonizing death... and if not a death blow, if he gets up to keep fighting the Marshalls are going to put him down...
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Sep 15, 2014
I really enjoyed the last two episodes. I think that Bohannon killing Elam was to take it away from the government. There was no way he was going to get out of that predicament, treating a white woman the way he did. He wasn't going to live any way it went.

I have to admit, I shed a tear or two. Very touching.
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Sep 15, 2014
Yeah, though I didn't shed a tear until Cullen started wailing and then I knew he broken up inside. Though I will admit, it made me wonder why we hadn't seen this reaction when Lily died but I guess my conclusion was she wasn't as close as I had thought they had gotten compared to his and Elam's friendship.
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Sep 15, 2014
2 men's friendship is stronger than the bond of man and wife. Proven time and again
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Sep 14, 2014
I guess it was obvious from the moment Elam's psyche shattered and he became Two-Face that his life was going to be short. What was the alternative? That somehow he was going to get cured, return back to the way he was and walk around with a white eye for the rest of the show? So while I'm sad about him being gone, I'm also at peace with it.

However, this show has the habit of blowing up minor incidents just to create dramatic situations to further the story. It also goes for the death of Elam. They could have solved the situation in so many ways, without (much) blood, with Elam ending up behind bars. Instead they put trigger happy townsmen around him and had him fight to his death against his best friend. Then Bohannon continued handling the relationship to his wife in the worse way possible by being a sourpuss around her and making her scared. Doesn't he really see what he is doing? The characters' rash decisions take them down perilous paths. The writers really force these characters into conflicts that will end in misery. I guess that's how you create material for many episodes to come.
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Aug 11, 2017
Yep, I dont like like how Cullen talk to his wife too.. not good as a Protagonist character, why get another wife when you don't like them you asshole Cullen
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Aug 11, 2017
I mean you must love them so much to take them with you..
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Aug 11, 2017
He must make his family his priority now his a family man now! If next episode he will be still cold with his family I will not root for Cullen anymore..
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Sep 15, 2014
I wouldn't say Elam was a minor character, same as I wouldn't call Lily a minor character. A minor character would be someone like that girl Abby whose uncle whom got killed off, or for that matter, Abby. Elam and Cullen were like two peas in a pod, often butting heads but obviously would risk their lives for each other because of their friendship. However, you know how these shows go. They have to kill someone off to kick up the interest for another season. I don't see Cullen actively seeking revenge on the lawmen because, well they are the lawmen but I also don't see him being too friendly with them besides whats necessary to get his job done in Cheyenne and get his family out. It would be too perfect if him and his wife were working out, afterall, he did accidentally get this girl pregnant in the barn on a one night fling and then decided to marry her to be responsible after finding out while being held by the Mormons. As far as the show went, he never even gave her a second thought until she rounded the corner with a belly sticking out saying it was his. There is too much going on for him to be the doting father and loving husband we want him to be. He's busy trying to make sure they survive in a time where just drinking water or walking out of your tent at the exact moment someone cheated someone else at cards might get you killed. Rats crawling in the crib, she and the baby nearly get shot just picking up groceries and he's got to worry about taking a train through a mountain and beating the competition. Crazy home-life decisions are bound to be made.
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Sep 14, 2014
another great episode!! simple as that!! only one question are we going to see Charlotte again!!!
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Sep 14, 2014
just seemed stupid to me .
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Sep 14, 2014
I've had the same feeling from time to time.
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Sep 14, 2014
I am still reeling from this episode...I knew Anson Mount was a great actor, but he caught the feeling of total despair you feel when it finally hits you that a loved one is really gone. I couldn't stop watching but I wish I hadn't, but that is why I love this show, the emotions and level of entertainment that the cast and writers bring week after week, make me want Saturday to hurry up and come so I can watch.
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Sep 14, 2014
Anson Mount has created a truly great character in Bohannon. Very good direction helped to retire Elam satisfactorily, but Mount's performance was as good as any I've seen on other AMC productions.
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Sep 14, 2014
"Durant gave Heckard the business end of a femur (?). Was that what that was?"

I believe that was a shillelagh.
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Sep 14, 2014
I think that was a reference to the first murder in 2001: A space Odyssey, when the ancient ape man first yielded that femur and killed the trespassing ape at the water hole. At any rate that was what came to my mind when I saw the scene.
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Sep 14, 2014
It looked definitely looked like a shillaleigh but it was a femur.
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Sep 15, 2014
It looked exactly like a femur, but it couldve been a shillaleigh.
You don't see many shillaleighs in hood life.
(Not that you see a whole lot of femurs.)
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Sep 14, 2014
Such a great episode. Lots of emotion. But I can't help to think that Common was to busy to stay on. I don't blame the writers. They were put in a corner and had to do something. So if people are gonna be mad, I think u got to look at Common first. I mean the guy has another career. But it does suck to lose Elam. He's been there since the beginning. It was sad and amazing episode. Such a underrated show that should get Emmy looks.
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Sep 16, 2014
I now realize how much I missed the friendship between Elam and Bohanan and its importance to the show. Bohanan just feels isolated. I only look forward to scenes with Durant in them lately.
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Sep 14, 2014
Elam had the show lingering in limbo. It couldnt effectively move forward without wrapping up his arc satisfactorily. Now maybe the writers can get back to the business of recreating compelling subject matter.
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Sep 14, 2014
I don't understand why everyone is so angry about his death and just people being killed off in general throughout Hell on Wheels.
This episode was extremely emotional.
I never EVER cry, the last time I did was when I was a child, and somehow, at the end of the episode with Cullen sitting on Elams casket crying, tears started coming from my eyes too.
Perhaps it's also just because I was tired, who knows, but I've never felt this emotional for a long time, maybe there's something wrong with me aha.
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Sep 15, 2014
=) You should watch some DramaFever shows. Sometimes I have to pause it to pull myself together.
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Sep 15, 2014
googled that, came up with korean shows lol? are there actually any good ones with subtitles?
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Sep 14, 2014
No, you're a human being. Everyone has different "triggers" of what will make them be emotional.
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Sep 14, 2014
mount is fantastic, but i did not buy the graveside sobbing. it sounded forced, and un-bohannen like.
also, i was really hoping that elams bear magic would indeed keep him from dying :( or at the very least, recover from the knife to the gut.. the bullet to the lung seemed unnecessary.
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Sep 14, 2014
That graveside sobbing was awful. Forced is a good way to put it, but maybe some people found it touching. It wouldve been more believable if he cried silently. Thats what men do when theyre overcome with grief, guilt, and a sense of inadequacy.
Eva was right. Elam left but he never returned.
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Sep 15, 2014
I created an account just to make this reply. I have experienced much, I am a man, his acting was dead on. I also do not cry often, at all, nearly ever. I think about 12 years ago I did. Since then I have been to many funerals and had other experiences. His acting was dead on. I watched him cry about half a dozen times, thats how dead on it was.
You present yourself on here as a female, and as such you could not know. You bend and bend and bend, and then, you snap.
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Sep 24, 2014
I found it a very believable depiction of a deeply traumatized "tough guy" breaking down and grieving. The more you hold that stuff in, the more comes out when that one thing finally breaks the camel's back... like, say, being forced to mercy kill your one and only friend in a savage world.
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Sep 15, 2014
LMAO that last sentance ahahahahaha
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Sep 15, 2014
What was so bad about his crying? It felt real, it was a cry of being pushed to the limit and the first time we've ever heard Bohannon cry
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Sep 15, 2014
i'm trying to think back to his reaction when he finds his child and wife dead but i can't seem to right now. did we see him cry then?
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Sep 15, 2014
When he shot Elam and tears rolled down his face, it was authentic. The bawling like a baby was not.
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Sep 16, 2014
yup, then he shot him.
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Sep 16, 2014
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Sep 15, 2014
I am a man, and I have been a man in anguish. When a part is played, it should be played well, yet it was not played well. Its that simple, and you know damn well you don't have to agree. I don't mind people having their opinions. Have a nice evening.
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Sep 15, 2014
You don't know what you're talking about—or you've never seen a man in anguish.
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Sep 15, 2014
Exactly what sambumwee said below...
Couldn't have said it better myself
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Sep 15, 2014
Men cry. A lot of times, They bawl. Even the storngest person that has never shed a tear in their life will eventually be pushed to their breaking point. That is what it was showing with Bohannon sobbing. It was real and didn't feel forced at all. He lost his best friend. Him not crying uncontrollably would have been unrealistic.
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Sep 14, 2014
Despite his absence for much of the current season, Elam and the actor who portrays him have been a significant part of Hell On Wheels since the pilot. Still, the decision to kill him off was ultimately a consequence of Common’s desire to devote more time to his Grammy-winning hip-hop career. ‘The way it came together was Rashid called me last year just before Christmas,” explains Wirth (citing the performer’s real name, Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr.). “This was after we had wrapped Season 3 and we were on hiatus. He HELL ON WHEELS JOHN WIRTH told me that he thought maybe it was time for him to leave the show.”
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Sep 14, 2014
I don't know... I really don't understand the whole point of Elam coming back. I know that his original 'end' meant that a lot of people, audience included, didn't get a proper farewell, and I think him getting taken out by Bohannon was in a way somewhat fitting, but still. If his coming back and Bohannon killing him was just a way to push the latter to get his act together and get serious about moving on then I think it was lazy and self-indulgent on the show's part. They should have let Elam's original 'death' lie.

Other than that, I liked the parts with and centered on Durant, and Bohannon was played very well, save that I didn't feel him balling at the end, best friend or not, was believable. I still think it's a good show, but I think it needs to wrap up soon and end before it gets drawn out any further.
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Sep 15, 2014
I do hope the show ends before jumping the shark, but I think it has at least a 5th season left in it before that happens.
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Sep 14, 2014
I'm afraid I agree.
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Sep 14, 2014
I thought it was a really good episode. But I was shocked by the ending. After everything Elam had been through, surviving such a horrific bear attack, it did not make sense that he would be killed in this way. (I realize that Common wanted to leave the show, but couldn't he have just been apprehended and taken East ?)

I suppose it was clear that Elam was never going to "snap out of it" and remember who he was, that he had sustained a severe brain injury. The man he used to be had indeed died when that bear attacked him. But, in my opinion, there should have been a different way to deal with him, or overpower him. It was surprising no one else came forward to try to help Bohannon. I just wish it had been someone else that killed Elam. But from the writer's perspective, it may have been more of a "mercy killing" rather than self defense, and it does drastically change things for Bohannon going forward.

Fantastic acting from every member of that cast, especially Robin McLeavy (Eva). Excellent episode.
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Sep 16, 2014
Agreed - the mystery and sadness of Elam's absence was much more moving than two episodes devoted to his odd death. I understand this is a show about Bohanan's emotional growth - but there's been way too little railroad and way to much boring wife and baby. I like the colorful characters like Eva and Durant. Some of this season's decisions - including letting the carpetbaggers behave like cartoon characters- leaves me empty. I used to love the show. If this show doesn't get back to what was great about it last season then I don't expect I'll keep watching. Which is too bad - I really once loved it.
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Sep 14, 2014
If Elam had been taken east, people wouldve continued to wonder if he was ever coming back. The writers had to put an end to the Elam question once and for all.
When he stabbed Buffalo Bill you knew Elam was going to die.
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Sep 15, 2014
A more open-ended ending for Elam could have allowed Common to change his mind and come back later in the show, if only for cameos. Not saying that would have been better, but I don't think it would have really been a problem.
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Sep 16, 2014
Thats just it. Obviously Common had been ambivalent or indecisive about what he wanted to do, and that kept the show hanging in limbo. The writers got sort of stuck because they knew fans wanted Elam to return, so the bigwigs tried to get him to do so, thinking many people would stop watching if he left. I'm sure thats a big part of why the show has seemed somewhat directionless and unable to move forward (early this season). Sometimes you have to choose to stay or go, or the decision will be made for you.

Elam's departure makes it that much more likely this train's bound for Deadwood
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Sep 16, 2014
Well, it's already lasted longer than Deadwood, which is a tragedy. =[
(Not that it matters, but if I were in charge of the story, I think I would have gone through with turning Elam into the Bear Man, but then left him out there alive with the Arapaho as a wild card that could return once or twice a season if Common wanted to do so. And Jimmy Two Squaws would still be as alive as heck. Of course, this all would have transpired much earlier in this season.)
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Sep 15, 2014
I agree with you lukemueller, an open ending leaves an open door to return. But a death seals one's fate to become a flashback, or a ghost haunting someone's dreams.
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Sep 14, 2014
What an appropriate titled eppy......because it left not only the characters gutted but any fan of Elam and Bohannon's friendship. Elam always served as the reasoning part for Bohannon and Psalms served that purpose for Elam and it was sad to see all that end. I wasn't crazy about the Hell on Wheels one dedicated eppy to Elam last week, because I knew it meant the end of him. Common should be very proud of what he was able to deliver in the character of Elam....great job. And finally seeing Bohannon let his guard down at the end was not only a surprise but a confirmation that he was capable of letting someone else in and that was Elam. And I hope Elam knew. Eva's constant pointing of blame is getting tiresome, I'm still confused why she would deny her family a future together; which eventually set Elam off on this ill fated trip to save Bohannon. But with that said, I think Elam would've went on that journey even if the child had stayed......Bohannon and Elam were friends and Bohannon would've went after Elam if the situation was reversed. Another character that stood out and continues to be underrated is Psalms.....he has a sensibility that one wouldn't have expected when he first appeared. I hope they use him more generously in future eppys.

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Sep 14, 2014
such a good show
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Sep 14, 2014
This was total and utter bullshit. The show just died for me...a second time. After they killed of Lily Bell just as stupid and just as much for no reason at all. Killing off people mostly just for shock value is NOT interesting or audience engaging story telling. Its just stupid. And especially if it is done in such totally idiotic ways like here. After all she survived, after the attack of the indians the swede murders her for no good reason? And Bohannan is nowhere to be found to protect his love? And why is she even alone in some deserted corner of the town anyway? Just stupid.

And noch Elam coming back in such a great complicated way? Eva's love of her life giving her a second chance? Only to die literally minutes later? NO FUCKING GOD IS THAT CRUEL! At least not more than once a century...just moronic screenwriters who want to make a name for themselves by being brave and extreme.

Worst is the way he dies. Bohannon couldnt stop him from entering the city?!? For crying out loud he didnt even have a gun! Shoot him in the leg and thats it! Even without a leg Eva would still have had her Elam back! And in the city? DOZENS of grown men around and NOBODY not even the black friends of Elam help Bohannon take him down?!? Half a dozen man cant subdue a guy with a knife??? Or shoot him in the arm from like 3 feet away???

Utter and complete bullshit. And eva? She could have just thrown herself at Elam and insisted he either stabs her to death or looses the knife? Or FOR GODS SAKE thrown herself at him and then Bohannon gets a chance to rid him of the knife. So either Elam HAS to kill Eva or he gets saved. In any case Eva doenst have to live without him. That was REAL lovers do which those to were.

You DO NOT improve your show by randomly killing off people. Its just like in real life. If you exhcange your aquaintences and friends every few months you never will have any real or deep relationships.

I quit the show after Lilly's totally uncalled for and stupidly constructed killing. What brought me back was Bohannon back in town for railroad buisiness and kicking ass. But this is the linch pin. Im not getting interested in and start to care for characters and relationships which will be killed off again at the next whim of some pimply screenwriter or a change of occupation by some actor.

Goodbye HoW. Hope you die just as horribly and uselessly as you let your characters die.
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Sep 15, 2014
I think they are just going for realism and people die, especially in those days and in those places, no favorites are spared. You don't get what you want, you get what your given. Tragedy is a big part of the show.
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Sep 19, 2014
I thought about that realism part somewhat in tv shows. And i think the point is why tell the story of somebody who just dies at some point for no reason? I mena in history we dont tell the story of farmer Joe who lead a mostly ordninary or even complicated life and suddenly at 24 years old died of being hit by a fallen tree branch...
I mean sure there are people dying for no reason and without any enlightning value to their tale and the same assumingly applies to the fictional worlds. So why do you tell the story of someone who just suddenly and without any "lesson" learned or insight gained dies? Usually or almost always we tell the story of other kind of people.

In my opinion its about shock value and especially in "Game of Thrones" which kind of started this trend for TV shows (though its not the screen writers there but the books it is based on) its about the lack of ingenuity. Its easier to kill of characters you are unable to tell anything interesting about anymore than to drag them along. Just think about great works of literature. Where are main characters just killed of without advancing the story? They arent. Because the good authors plan ahead. They dont make things up as they go. So why tell a lengthy story about a character you kill off without making any point later? That makes no sense.
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Sep 14, 2014
*Killing off people mostly just for shock value..

I've never been a fan of this* stuff, but you sure do see a lot of it these days. Writers can deliver a story but they can't always give it substance.

For the sake of generosity, lets say Cullen killed Elam because he's known Elam to be stubborn and that Elam couldve come to harm him, his family, or someone else. He knew that wouldnt have been what Elam wanted (be he in his right mind). So lets just call it An Act of Mercy.

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Sep 14, 2014
Despite his absence for much of the current season, Elam and the actor who portrays him have been a significant part of Hell On Wheels since the pilot. Still, the decision to kill him off was ultimately a consequence of Common’s desire to devote more time to his Grammy-winning hip-hop career. ‘The way it came together was Rashid called me last year just before Christmas,” explains Wirth (citing the performer’s real name, Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr.). “This was after we had wrapped Season 3 and we were on hiatus. He HELL ON WHEELS JOHN WIRTHtold me that he thought maybe it was time for him to leave the show.”
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Sep 14, 2014
This was hands down the BEST episode of this show's entire run, period. Complex and completely character driven. Also, just a heartbreaking and engaging episode. This show was insanely uneven and not great in it's first two season's. I still loved it simply because i love Westerns and it was decently entertaining. Season 3 really stepped it up with the new show runner. It became a solid story with an actual point. Season 4 has improved on the previous season and has become one of the best shows on television at the moment. If this ends up being the final season, At least it will go out with a great season that didn't cater to anyone. I can't believe people are complaining about these last 2 phenomenal episodes. Two of the best in the shows history. Last week was great. Subtle, slow burn, Atmospheric episode with some great performances and great direction. Then some people complain this week with an AMAZING episode like tonight's, Do you really think that your favorite characters can just survive forever because you like them and think that the writers should give you what you want? Some of us are along for the ride and want to be challenged emotionally by what we watch. Give me a show that is daring and able to surprise me. A show that does not spoon feed and cater to it's audience. Anyone that can't understand why the show would kill off a character (even though it is a show set in the "wild west" post civil war, Where people died daily), Should probably not be watching a drama for adults. Something on ABC Family would better suit you. I can't believe how great this show has gotten. Best episode of television I have seen in a while. People with taste will understand how great this episode and entire season has been. The usual, simple, TV audience will not. Always the case with great storytelling.
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Sep 24, 2014
Very well said. I think a lot of people have favorite characters that they just aren't ready to see go (such as Elam), despite the show being set in a fairly realistic railway town in the 1800s. The mortality rate in such a place was... high, to say the least.
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Sep 15, 2014
Excellent post..and I totally agree with your assessment of this programs progress thru the 4 seasons. Season 1 was one thing, Season 4 is a thought provoking , supremely produced achievement in episodic television. Excellence in television is very rare. Kudo's to AMC as well as all involved with Hell on Wheels.

It comes to mind again, that sometimes it can be dangerous when a program becomes smarter than it's audience.

Well said sambumwee
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Sep 16, 2014
Yeah, I mean, I have loved the show from the beginning but in a different way. Season one and two were entertaining, well acted, and fun to watch but with season 3 and especially this season, It has stepped up so much in terms of writing and character development. I honestly believe that this is one of the best shows on TV now and it is getting better by the episode. I do not say that lightly, I watch A LOT of television. It makes me so happy to see this show become what I always imagined it could be and to push itself instead of staying in a comfort zone. It has become it's own thing. It has it's own style, pace, and way of doing things. I think for some people, that is something that they can't handle simply because they want that comfort that comes with predictable and tired storytelling. As much as I liked seasons one and two, They were mostly things that had been done before and things that had been done better by other films and series in the past. That is probably why you see some of these complaints from people about how the show has been "ruined" and how it "Isn't the same". I for one am glad that it isn't the same, It needed a change. I think the new show runner has saved this show in a huge way. Now, Hell on Wheels is cutting it's own path and doing things that while familiar, are not tired or watered down. It is a shame that this show is not getting much attention now as far as critics are concerned. That may be because of what it presented early on and the fact that outside of it's core audience, a lot of critics and other people haven't given the show another chance since then. It may never get the proper attention but at least the people that stuck with it are being rewarded with a couple of great seasons. Hopefully, It will at least get one more. I think 5 seasons would be perfect.
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Sep 16, 2014
I wish the A.V. Club had a dedicated weekly review for HoW. It's a better show than many others they keep close tabs on.
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Sep 14, 2014
Agree .. it was epic, it was heart-wrenching, and no one will ever forget how Elam died....or how he lived. He was a good, dear man, and Bohannan is the better for knowing him, loving him as his best friend, and only he could have taken him out of this cruel world, and into God's hands. Great, great drama and many meanings to this one episode...
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Sep 14, 2014
My Gosh .... I cried when : Elam died, Eva told Bohannon that he went looking for him, Bohannon buried his friend.
Very curious at how Bohannon is going to behave in the next episodes.
RIP Elam Ferguson. You will be missed.
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Sep 14, 2014
Hannon's gonna get on with it. He's never been overly sentimental. The guy has lost a lot.
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Sep 14, 2014
It was a poignant but beautiful sendoff to the character. Elam Fergussen died a long time ago when he killed the bear he was reborn, but he could not find what he had lost all he had was bear killer. He had lost his baby, Eva, and his mind. There was no turning back. Psalms, Eva and Bohannon all tried to reach out but could not reach Elam Fergussen, he was already dead. In that last moment the look on Elam's face was almost recognition. Earlier Cullen and Eva were haunted by Elam's ghost, now at least for them there is closure and they can grieve for all that they have paid for and lost.
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Sep 14, 2014
very very stupid way!! what was the hole point of bear killer?? really i though bo n elam would take over and become the law in future the way they did this idk if i would watch anything anymore just worse ep i seen so far..
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Sep 14, 2014
It may have seemed a bait n switch in a way, but you'd have to be really distracted to be unaware that Hell on Wheels is dying. I still don't think there'll be another season because the writers arent putting in enough substance to earn one.

I'd love to be wrong, and see the remaining eps regain HOW's former glory.
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Sep 14, 2014
They are no longer spoilers after the episode aired.
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Sep 14, 2014
I didn't like it. I would have prefered the Elam death from the bear, the one where the wilderness claimed him and he died as he lived - courageous and strong. This death (and the whole strange Bear Man episode) was pointless and pathetic, watching him terrorize women and getting shot like Old Yeller. Anson Mount's acting was superb, but this whole brain damage thing was not deserving of Elam.
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Sep 15, 2014
I love terrorazing women, very good episode.
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Sep 14, 2014
It was laboured to say the least. At the end of last season I don't think the writers knew there'd be another.
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Sep 14, 2014
I appreciate the way they did this. People knocked the Amnesia thing as too cliche last week, and it would have been if it magically cleared up this week, but a major permanent(likely) brain injury isn't unrealistic or often used. Obviously Common wanted out, and I'm glad they gave the actor a final long goodbye, even if Elam never got one.

Oh and maybe the review title is a little too spoilery this time? I would have been unhappy if I saw it before the episode.
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Sep 14, 2014
People shouldnt read reviews with the expectation of nothing being spoiled. You can't review a show without talking about its content.
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Sep 14, 2014
I agree with you, but what I was commenting on was the original Review Title that showed up multiple places on the tv.com homepage not the content of the review you have to choose to read. It was "Bear-Killer goes the way of the Buffalo", which is a fun and clever title, but was basically "Elam Dies". Ryan must have agreed because it was changed to "Gutted", which makes me a bit of an Ass, but also like I have a direct line to the powers that be. Next I'd like a TV.com App that keeps track of all the shows I watch and reminds me of when they air.
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Sep 14, 2014
I hear that. I guess the way of the buffalo means dead? I don't think buffalo are extinct. As in the way of the dinosaur. At least I hope not.


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