Hell on Wheels "One Less Mule" Review: Killer Personality

Hell on Wheels S03E06: "One Less Mule"


As chief engineer of the Union Pacific, Cullen Bohannon’s current troubles can pretty much be traced back to his decision way back when to work the rails for the sake of revenge. At some point along the way this chance at a new transcontinental life took priority over vengeance, and the ex-soldier seemed to have left his murderous past behind him, only to be torn down once more by the world’s ugliness. More obsessed than ever, it’s debatable whether or not Cullen’s involvement with the train enterprise has yielded more pleasure than woe, to the point where walking away from it all seems like a better option than dealing with the machinations and accusations of those who would do him wrong. This week’s "One Less Mule" gave Bohannon’s fixation new life, in an episode that started off slow with a revisit to familiar conflict but then gained momentum by presenting our hero a path toward atonement.


But first, the thing we all knew was coming, came (sort of): Considering the Swede’s quality time with Ezra, talk of wearing his dad’s hat, and sinister Book of Mormon readings, it was only a matter of time before Thor Gundersen made a move involving the loss of life and creepily saying "Ehhhh!" The assumption was that he’d become the kid’s father, but who knew he’d slaughter himself a whole family? And during a baptism no less! Way to misinterpret the doctrine, Brother. 

The Swede killing the Mormons in the midst of a ritual that's normally meant to clean away one’s moral misdeeds paralleled Cullen’s trial, as well as Durant's efforts to reinstitute historic sins. Using the spiritual water ceremony as a means to commit murder is pretty damn evil, and recalled comparisons between the Swede’s affinity for ending lives and Cullen's. The difference is that, regardless of how many men he’s buried, Cullen still seems to have a good reason, even if at times the law disagrees, whereas the Swede is just a certified psycho.   


The kangaroo court scenes were a nice way to remind us of all our regular townsfolk (always happy to see Mick doing well for himself), but I got antsy with so much dialogue being delivered by seated people whose every word further condemned Cullen. But maybe this was the point. The more Durant clucked his tongue and grandstanded in front of an out-of-his-element Cullen, the more I wanted to see some good ol’ fashioned street justice go down. Were this Season 1, we might have seen just that. Instead, the train engineer demonstrated maturity by deciding to play by the rules of professional society men, even if it meant losing his job. Cullen refused to sign Credit Mobilier's statement, kept his honor, and blew off some steam with the realization that his days on the rails might be as good as over. Cullen is usually so intense and stoic (less so in this season, but more in previous ones) that any time he can crack a smile does the heart well, even if it occurs in the spirit of not giving an eff. I got fired y'all, let's get DRUNK! What’s cozier than the two-step in a saloon full of friendly faces? For a moment—just a moment—this seemed like the kind of regular, pressure-free life that might make Cullen happiest.  


Of course, the chief engineer is cut out for greater things than frivolous folk dances. Plus what kind of show would we have if, God forbid, Cullen Bohannon ever got to be happy? This man thrives on woe, either being burdened by it or getting tough in spite of it. In sharing cigars with the general in charge of soldiers who killed his family—and receiving the guy's personal endorsement—Cullen showed that his days of bitter vengeance are behind him, but not his days of murder. "Killing ain’t something anyone’s born to," he admitted, "it’s something you learn, and you’re the one who has to live with it when it’s done." Yes, later that day he drunkenly killed that Prescott fellow in cold blood, but he offered the gunman an out, and the exchange was as emotionless as the episode-opening mule-shooting. He’s atoned for his sins and made peace with the fact that every once and a while a body’s going to drop, because that's who he is. Cullen will do what he can to change, but from this point forward, any reminder of his messy past is just another petty obstacle blocking Cullen's path fulfillment.  


QUESTIONS:

– Will Elam and Eva’s wedding plans get screwed up?

– Are YOU happy that Cullen doesn’t really have a love interest?

– How will Louise Ellison's sexuality come into play?

– Will Cullen have to keep killing people connected to his past?

– What will make Bohannon happiest?

– What did you think of "One Less Mule"?

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Aug 02, 2014
any dam' Yankee has got it comin'
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Sep 09, 2013
LOL, I can't read apparently, because I tottaly missed the "doesn't" part of this question the first time, my bad.
"
Are YOU happy that Cullen doesn’t really have a love interest?"

The answer is: YES, I'M ECSTATIC ABOUT IT!!!

Aaaand this is why:
we never got to know his wife but we did meet Lilly, she was the love he deserved, they both suffered, made mistakes and found each other in the middle; I'm still bitter and heartbroken with her demise so nope, no woman can have his heart yet, let it heal as it should.. plus I just can't stand the woman; there's something about this Ellison lady that just gets in my nerves and I'm pretty sure is the fact that her character just feels a little too shoved down my throat... send her back to NY.

*Spoiler if you haven't seen the preview of next week:

The kid who finds Bohannon sick on the ground is Ezra right?
How about instead to imposing a love interest for him the writers give Cullen a different kind of love, bringing a kid to his life might just soften him and offer a perspective that's missing. Filial love can heal too you know...

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Sep 09, 2013
I'm like 98% certain the kid in the promo is Ezra, and I had the same thought: wondering if Cullen is going to become in loco parentis. It would be an interesting twist. At the same time, I sort of wonder if even Cullen would think that was a good idea. Somehow, I see him wanting instead to send Ezra off to "the Mormon fort" (Fort Smith? But which Fort Smith?) and "his people", regardless of whether Cullen feels an attachment to him.
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Sep 09, 2013
Send the kid to the place where they preach love but fathers are capable of sacrificng their own sons to protect themselves? I don't think so.
If the scenario is presented I think he would rconvince himself that Ezra would be safer by his side than there, more so when he realizes that it was his very own nemesis the one who killed the kid's family. I think that would be the invisible bond between the two.
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Sep 09, 2013
I guess it would depend on whether Cullen views Hatch's actions as emblematic of all Mormons, or whether he just puts that down to Hatch being an individual bastard (which all populations have examples of). The show was certainly trying to portray Ezra's father as a good man; not that Cullen would have gotten to see that for himself. But Cullen *was* willing to promise to make sure Hatch's family got to Fort Smith safely. Not sure how Hatch's subsequent actions will have changed Cullen's view.

I absolutely think you're right, that the kid is going to be what draws the Swede into the main plotline.

Knowing this show... I guess we shouldn't really be banking on the kid surviving the season.
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Sep 09, 2013
I have been waiting for the Swede to go on his killing spree but was surprised and shocked it included the boy. I really thought he might even save the wife and try to take the place as head of the family. I guess it's good, in a way, that there is a character whose actions you can't predict but I get creeped out every time he is on screen. He needs to get his just desserts now, he's been spreading his evilness around for long enough (like Clay on SOA).
Apart from the whole family homicide thing I enjoyed this episode and I hope Elam and Eva will be happy (but I seriously doubt it).
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Sep 10, 2013
I thought I saw Ezra in the water at the end but now I think I was wrong. Looks like Ezra may be back next week. Run Ezra, run fast!! That Swede is a lunatic!
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Sep 09, 2013
Definitely really enjoyed this episode.

* I'm guessing yes, Elam and Eva are not going to find happiness soon. I wish that wasn't true, but the whole thing they're doing with the baby and Eva's "post-partum depression" stuff suggests to me that their storyline is going to keep being complicated. I just kind of wish it wasn't. The show has enough crappy stuff going on, why does EVERYone's lives have to be crappy? It just feels a bit boring after a while.

* I'm glad it looks like they aren't steering Ellison into really being his love interest? Just because, I thought it seemed like too rote an answer. I wasn't hugely invested in his relationship with Lily; I didn't hate the development either. But a relationship with Ellison at this point wouldn't have felt earned.

* I'm not fully sure how Ellison's sexuality is going to develop. I did think the reveal didn't make sense -- only in that I might have thought Ellison a LITTLE too smart to reveal something like that to Durant of all people. Can't she see through him? Maybe the point is that she can't. I would have bought it more if he had revealed to her that he knew, and we could have assumed he found out through some back-East connection.

* I'll be a little surprised if Prescott's brother is the only one coming to look for revenge.

So, two things I didn't really get about the episode.

First: everybody who was there, when the Mormon boy was killed, knows that the boy basically confessed to the killing. The father accused him, Cullen gives him two chances to refute the charge, and the boy refuses, accepting the blame. Cullen may have -- in fact, certainly did have -- his suspicions otherwise, but legally speaking, they had a confession, right? I just wondered why that wasn't brought up in all the discussion about whether or not there was doubt that he hanged an innocent man.

Further: if Major Phrenology there suspected that the boy was innocent... wouldn't he have had a duty to stop the hanging, and take the boy back to the local fort, to face the justice system? (He knows that Hell on Wheels doesn't have a judge.) It's not like the Army didn't have the manpower and gunpower to make that happen. As I recall, he prompted Cullen to get on with the hanging (when it seemed that Cullen was hesitating). And Louise and Elam were witnesses to his actions and inactions.

Second: Grant's observation that Cullen's killing days were behind him. What? Did Grant just mean, "your days of killing Union soldiers out of revenge for your family are behind you"? If that was his meaning, I buy that. (Cullen had made clear that he included Grant in the blame for that; but it also seems clear that he's done with pursuing it.) But otherwise -- Grant knows that Cullen didn't sign that paper, and basically SAID, you need a guy who is both a railroad man and a killer. They want him to stay on the job partly BECAUSE he'll kill if necessary, whether it's cattle rustlers or Indians.

For next week: can't wait to see how they handle depicting cholera! I wonder if it really IS cholera, or something less severe? Because that ought to be an awfully high body count, if it's really cholera.

Also: yeah, that kid is totally still alive.

The only thing I don't quite get about the Swede's actions (which, largely: what's to get? he's nuts) is whether he ever really thought he might NOT kill the kid, along with the parents. Still can't quite figure out his mindset there. But the writers do seem to be aiming to bring his storyline closer to contact with Cullen's starting next week. Which is good -- there's only 4 episodes left in this season!
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Sep 08, 2013
Hey guys I just wanted to drop in and let you know we interviewed show-runner/executive producer and co-writer of this episode (One Less Mule) John Wirth last night after the show on our live podcast Talking Hell On Wheels (@TalkingHell on Twitter)! We're going to have on Kasha Kropinski who plays Ruth this Tuesday night and we'll have Dohn Norwood who plays Psalms next Saturday night! Anson Mount and directer neil LaBute called in last week! Like and join us on our FB page. for further news and discussion: https://www.facebook.com/TalkingHellOnWheels and you can listen to the Wirth interview here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/indyshowcaseradio/2013/09/08/4-talking-hell-on-wheels-one-less-mule-1x04
I can't wait for next week! Anyways, I just wanted to share our podcast with other Hell on Wheels fans incase they wanted to interact with the actors on our call in show. Peace!
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Sep 08, 2013
This was the eposide that the set got flooded out.
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Sep 08, 2013
I think it began to rain on the previous episode.
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Sep 08, 2013
I pretty sure it was 306 I was there I don't know about you
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Sep 08, 2013
you were where? on the set, or on the sofa?
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Sep 09, 2013
Set
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Sep 08, 2013
– Will Elam and Eva’s wedding plans get screwed up?
Judging from the way things have played out on HOW, I'd have to say it's highly likely.

– Are YOU happy that Cullen doesn’t really have a love interest? I wouldn't say ''happy'' but it does keep the show more focused on the kinds of things I want to see. – How will Louise Ellison's sexuality come into play?

Bohannon might throw her a hotdog.
– Will Cullen have to keep killing people connected to his past?
I doubt it, but obviously that fatnasty guy with the mohawk is gonna ride the lightning.

– What will make Bohannon happiest?
Booty. A man's butt. – What did you think of "One Less Mule"?

It seemed like an enjoyable filler episode, practically uneventful without being boring. We knew the swede would kill the mormon father but I guess they added the wife to make it even more appalling. If he found and killed the little boy I must not have been paying attention. Hopefully the kid escaped.
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Sep 08, 2013
Excellent review and the page looks so pretty!

– Will Elam and Eva’s wedding plans get screwed up? can a black man legally marry a white woman during that period of time? I don't think they can legally get married (not sure). I think they will stay together.

– Are YOU happy that Cullen doesn’t really have a love interest? Yes

– How will Louise Ellison's sexuality come into play? Good question and I'm not sure. If she is bi-sexual and stays in Hell on Wheels then it would be nice if she hooked up with the guy who runs the whore house;-) I think her goal is to return to "the big city" and be respected as a reporter/writer. In that period of time there is no way for her to be accepted as a lesbian or bi-sexual woman but the wild west and Hell on Wheels seems to accept more untraditional people/pairings (imo). Unfortunately during that period of time homosexuality was not accepted so I don't see real happiness for her (so she fits in with all the other characters on the show)

– Will Cullen have to keep killing people connected to his past? depends on what you mean by "past". I assume you mean his past referring to his slaughtered family and his revenge against the men responsible. If so, then I doubt it since that would get boring and move away from the main storyline of building the railroad (doesn't move the plot along).

– What will make Bohannon happiest? Durant in prison without any way out and the successful completion of the railroad. Eventually, if he deals with his "demons" then I think he would like to have a family but he isn't at the point to even think about that yet.

– What did you think of "One Less Mule"? another great episode but I felt more sorry for the mule then the blind vengeance of the Prescott brother. One may want to know why someone killed someone since there may be a valid reason but there is never a valid reason to rape. Also the way The Swede killed the mom and dad was brutal to watch and powerful. I knew it was coming but how he killed them and that fact is was during a baptism was surprising. He is so creepy--like the boogie man in a scary fairytale or blue beard....

My questions:
1. Should Elam and Eva give the baby to the baby's uncle? One could argue that if they truly loved the baby then they would want what was best for her and what kind of life would she have in those times with a tattooed former whore mother and a freedman black father? On the other hand how do they know she would have a good/happy life with her uncle and they know that they love her and will do as much as they can for her. I personally want Eva to keep her baby but I worry about how she will be treated by society (the general public) with Eva and Elam as parents.

2. Do you think The Swede killed the boy and do you think The Swede will become a Mormon town leader (elder)? If the boy is alive then how will he survive and will he seek revenge on The Swede? Can you picture The Swede with multiple wives (I know, not all Mormons back then had multiple wives)?

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Sep 09, 2013
On the legality of interracial marriage at the time in question: the answer, broadly, is yes, it was legal.

The more complicated answer: it may have depended somewhat on the location, but, in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, we know that there were legal interracial marriages even in the Reconstructed South. This pattern lasted about as long as Reconstruction itself, whereupon the increase in Jim Crow laws stamped out the practice. But for a few years, it was legal, and definitely happened, if not very frequently. And since this show is set so soon after the Civil War's end, it falls within the correct time period.

From "The Effect of the Civil War on Southern Marriage Patterns":

" There are records of interracial marriages in the census, but social pressures probably led many interracial couples to claim that they belonged to the same race. Of the more than 8,000 southern white women from 20 through 24 years old whose marriages are recorded in the 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880 IPUMS census samples, only 11 are recorded as living with a black or mulatto husband. Peter Bardaglio’s examination of the manuscript returns for the 1860 census of South Carolina reveals only 61 co-residing interracialcouples “in the entire state (outside the city of Charleston).” BardaglioReconstructing the Household. p. 60.
In more cosmopolilan New Orleans, Blassingame counted 29 white women in the 1880 census married to black men (out of a total population of 84,801 white women) and 176 white population men married to black women (out of total of 74,848 white a men).Blassingame Black New Orleans. pp. 206–7.pp. 240–41.
Aaron Gullickson’s examination of long-run trends in black/white intermarriage indicates that intermarriage patterns were responsive to the broader climate of race relations. The frequency of interracial unions declined after 1880 with the passage of Jim Crow laws in the South and segregation in the North, increased with the waning of these systems in the 1930s and 1940s, and increased rapidly in the post-civil rights era."

And that's only talking about the situation in the South, not outside of it, although I think it's still largely true that after about 1880, you're not going to find a lot of interracial marriages elsewhere either. (Do a word-search in the article for "interracial" for more discussion of it.)

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Sep 08, 2013
Did every girl have manicured eyebrows in that time period?

He's not over the dead. Necrophiliac maybe.

I hope she writes another article that will bury him. Might do that because he got what he wants and she didn't.

It's like Assassin's Creed. Ezio and Desmond. Past and present.

This isn't a family show. That's more of an end game.

Swede is the ultimate bad ass. I thought the transition from murdering families to killing mules was cool. It was powerful stuff.

Giving away the baby is stupid. The decision is based on imaginary thoughts and nonexistent reasons. I doubt this will happen.

The boy is dead. I saw his body at the end of the show.
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Sep 08, 2013
Great summary of the episode. Like the direction this series is taking.
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Sep 08, 2013
Glad he killed that family. It was fun watching them all die.
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Sep 08, 2013
Still can't believe that The Swede is back. I know people like to compare him to Loki because he mentioned the slippery Norse god to Bohannon, and could often be just as slippery, but come on, he jumped of a bridge last season! Are we really supposed to suspend that much belief to think he survived? And without even having a serious injury?

And it isn't like he is a villian that needs to be there the whole series. Durant can fill that position.

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Sep 08, 2013
Suspend no belief. It's real.
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Sep 08, 2013
The scene with Cullen and Grant was awesome. Other than that though I actually felt a little bored this week.
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Sep 08, 2013
Grant's incursion wasn't bad as red herrings go. His mustache was awful though. It looked like it came from Toys R Us.
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