Hell on Wheels "Life's a Mystery" Review: Everyone Must Stand Alone

Hell on Wheels S04E05: "Life's a Mystery"


Well, now we know that Mickey’s just the kind of mayor who’s not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty! Take that, Marshall Jessup! And I must say, he's really coming into his Irish, what with his fine green suit and sweet chops. "Life’s a Mystery" picked up right where last week’s momentum-filled "Reckoning" left off, with awesome things like war stories and gunfights and field hangings rounding out one of Season 4’s best hours yet. Written by Mark Richard and Tom Brady, and directed by David Straiton, the episode drew on visually arresting camerawork and an immersive, mood-building score to demonstrate the ever-growing lengths to which Cullen Bohannon will have to go in order to find peace. Also, Mary went blind! Oh wait, that's Little House on the Prairie—wrong show, wrong show...  

The bulk of this week's events focused on Sydney Snow (Jonathon ScarfePerception, Raising the Bar), a physical manifestation of Cullen's wild, warring past. If Cullen’s growing dedication to honest labor and a stable home are evidence that he’s making life changes, then Snow—a former Confederate soldier who fought alongside "Colonel" Bohannon—is that whiskey-swilling, murderous rascal who's looking to continually ride off into a string of endless sunsets. Apart from having a rad name, Syd Snow received the best character introduction I’ve seen on Hell on Wheels. I mean, swinging from a tree in Juarez with seconds left to live and using those seconds to shoot a dude in his skull, from the top straight down into (what can only be assumed) his spine? Amazing! The only other time I’ve witnessed such a thing was in grade school, but it wasn’t that big a deal. Let’s just say the lunch lady was right. 

Fun fact, Jonathan Scarfe has also portrayed Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ in his career. And let me tell you, he's got the intense eyes and charisma for both. Hey, speaking of religious authority figures, who wheeled his way into Fort Smith this week but the "Lion of the Lord" himself, Brigham Young (Gregg HenryScandal, The Killing). Now I’m no church historian, but based on the fictional events of "Life's a Mystery," I feel like it’s safe to say that this mouthpiece of the Heavenly Father did in fact in real life pardon a psychopath impostor in order to further the Mormon railroad. That’s just how Young rolled. In fact, here is an old-timey comic strip drawn by Louise Ellison's cousin (probably) memorializing the dude's legacy:


Hahaha! Get it? What a huge bed! I got to say, I'm honestly impressed by this plot turn. The Swede was running out of chances, and who knew his self-induced religious breakdown and history with the railroad would one day save the weirdo's life? Like, what? He has such an insane backstory that at one point it felt like he was inextricably tied to Cullen, but now he's doing his own thing. Hell, he thinks he saved Cullen's soul! Christopher Heyerdahl is doing some special work with this role, and the character now has more options. Oh man, what if he KILLS the Prophet and assumes his identity? Even better, what if he becomes Young's only male wife? One can dream. "Vilifying" Brigham Young as an opportunist is always welcome in my book. I may've never graduated seminary school (the teacher flunked me for showing up on Jolt cola), but I DO know that Young pioneered such spiritual principles of the one true gospel as blood atonement, not allowing black people to hold the "priesthood," and eating entire beehives whole. 

More importantly, some say he had a mind like a titan of industry. But you don't get points for business acumen when the Lord God Himself is whispering stock tips into your ear via your Holy Ghost. What we do know is that Brigham moves in the same circles as Durant, and in Hell he sure carries himself like a shrewd businessman. I mean, he was Utah's first governor basically and oversaw settlements in the west with rails and bridges and whatnot. His life is like one big Hell on Wheels episode.  

As long as we're talking governorship, Campbell finally got a nice taste of Durant’s abilities behind the desk with the entertaining demolition of the governor’s office. So 1.) I liked learning what a "roundhouse" was, and 2.) it was cool to see a structure demolished. It kind of reminded me of that one scene in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers where the titular brothers fistfight a house apart:

Two can play at that game! I know there’s likely a sinister conclusion ahead for these two, but for the time being their trading barbs is the stuff of magic... Western magic! It was almost flirty, the way Campbell and Durant spoke in metaphors and such while threatening one another. All like, "Be careful what you wish for, it might end up in your bed..." And "Don’t mess with the bull, or you’ll get the horns." The main thing about these two is that they know how to operate without murder, but they will definitely murder if the situation calls for it. And when powerful men murder, they murder ugly. 

Then again, h’ain’t never seen a pretty murder, no sir. I did see a pretty cool murder, what with Snow’s double-pistol assault on his would-be hangman. Wow! Candy flying up into frame, and Syd ducking and blasting and... killing innocent shopkeepers. And innocent boys hiding behind barrels. And ALMOST killing Naomi. So this is the other side of living wild and free. Sometimes that chaotic liberty comes at the cost of an innocent person’s life. Which I guess is why we need rules like, "Don’t bring guns into the casino," and other similarly confining edicts. Then again, what else do you expect from a man who grins wide while telling a Mormon woman about shooting unarmed sick and maimed soldiers and doctors? Not giving an eff is kind of his jam, I guess.

The actions that landed Snow in jail were basically the difference between a man like him and a man like Cullen. Yes, Cullen has done terrible things. But a slew of mistakes and bloody loss have enlightened him. He knows stuff like why racial slurs are hateful, and how war tweaks your morals—stuff that can’t easily be forgotten no matter how many Mormon wives you take or how many stakes you drive. The difference between Cullen and Syd is that the former carries guilt about the life he’s led. Guilt that manifested in his impromptu confession to Naomi. It’s the first time we’ve seen the husband in Cullen needing his wife, needing her approval and forgiveness. She can clutch him to her bosom and pat his dirty hair and soothe his troubled soul all he likes, but until Cullen forgives himself, who knows if it'll do a lick of good? Life's a mystery that way.


How did you like "Life's a Mystery"? What do you think of Season 4 so far?


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Sep 02, 2014
Excellent!!
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Sep 01, 2014
Was a terrible episode. Most of the episodes this season have been lackluster and boring.
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Sep 02, 2014
Why are you watching it then?
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Sep 01, 2014

Come on, Can the Mexicans be that stupid.!!?? First they allow a man to be hanged without searching him for weapons. Then they don't use the element of surprise allowing them to kill him right off in the open. Finally when a man is holded up in a grocery store yo don't expose yourself out in the open to be shot. Bad writing !!
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Aug 31, 2014
Test It's hard to log into this site. Too much electronic bureaucracy.
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Aug 31, 2014
A good episode as usual, except that they maybe painted Brigham Young in a bad light. Sure, i do not much about him and it was necessary for the plot but you should be very careful on how you fictionally portray real people, and even more importantly, what overall makes this show really good is that it does NOT really take a political standpoint for or against anyone. It aims for realism and objectivism.

Everybody has good sides and bad sides, just as the world is. Also, there are good and bad people both from south and north, both from mormons and christians, both from blacks and whites. I like this. What makes it even more advanced is that they can make us side with quite bad people, like Mickey. He is quite a nasty and disturbed person, but still we side with him against the carpet-baggers.

I also love how they portray the carpet-baggers and most of the northern government people we have "met" as mostly a bunch of assholes while our main hero is a southerner and the other people we "root for" are basically considered criminals by the government (and some are) and laissez-faire capitalists. Refreshing in some way. Also the most "racist" guy on the show ever was also a northerner, that army dude with the hairstyle.
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Aug 31, 2014
I'm excited after seeing the trailer for next week's episode "Bear Man".
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Aug 31, 2014
If I didnt know better, I'd say HOW is a western. Stuff happens in HOW. What a difference a day makes.
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Sep 02, 2014
It's definitely a western. A modern western. All of the archetypes are there. Only in HOW, the romance has been stripped away to give us a view of the naked west. The railroad itself seems to be a metaphor for Hell, thus Hell on Wheels. And all those amazing sinners seem to be imprisoned with it. Chief among them Bohannan. I feel as though the "devil" needs to rejoin the railroad though.. i.e. The Swede.
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Aug 31, 2014
This show has me hooked like it did when deadwood came on the scene. It looks so original for the old west.I felt real good when micky got his shot at the end. He is a character I have to watch. I am glad that elam is going to make a show. He is a good actor..........
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Sep 01, 2014
Yep, HoW is like Deadwood Light, and helps ease the Deadwood-shaped hole in my soul. Not nearly as good as Deadwood, but since Deadwood might be the best TV show ever conceived, that's easily forgiven.
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Sep 08, 2014
Deadwood-shaped hole in my soul ... I had that too.
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Aug 31, 2014
For me, it seems like every season has been worse than the previous one.. Turned off s04e01 after a while, but might give it another go. :-$
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Aug 31, 2014
Did Durant actually get any information on Campbell yet?
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Aug 31, 2014
Not that I didn't greatly enjoy it, but it felt like a sort of spin-off pilot. Well, that is, until Snow killed the shopkeeper. The racism could be unlearned, and the kid's death might have been the turning point in his life, but not a lot they could do with a character that murders to cover up an accident.
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