AMC's decision to air a two-part conclusion to Hell on Wheels' (mostly excellent) season finale in a single evening allowed for a fuller, more evenly paced story than most of the show's 45-minute installments have been able to provide. "Blood Moon" was pure and steady set-up, building a mood and clearly establishing each character's status so far in their respective journies, while "Blood Moon Rising" had the luxury of extra pages dedicated, basically, to knocking it all down. Both were satisfying for different reasons, and the combination strategically utilized everything great about Hell on Wheels: violence, tragedy, romance, existentialism, grimness, and historical stuff. All these elements wrapped up the loose ends then immediately laid the groundwork for a new, arguably more Hellish, direction for seasons to come (no official word yet on a renewal—fingers crossed).
Right from the get-go, a welcome time-jumping framing device let us know that some terrible, flaming fate had lain waste to the railroad town. Back to his disheveled self, Cullen Bohannon was questioned by a representative of the Senate Committee on Railroads who had received Durant's crooked ledger, as well as a letter from Lily Bell condemning the baron, in the mail. Just what in the heck happened to this place? "The White Spirit," muttered Bohannon, thousand-yard stare and all. If the man most skeptical of the Swede's fatalistic prophecies was quoting the lunatic's nickname, then clearly this all would not end well. Zipping back in time, Durant stumbled through town cuckoo for painkillers, Eva caught guff from the local whores about her baby's daddy, and Sean confronted Ruth about marriage—only to (yawn) be denied because of his Catholicism. So, business as usual in Hell. Also, don't you hate this romance? Ruth might be one of the frontier's first gold-diggers, and I am not talking about the forty-niners. Give us more of the McGinnes Bros. tussling and scheming and pining for their mom (next season)!
In their evil wooden lair, the dubious Durants plotted to coax Bohannon into explaining the wonky numbers to the railroad board, but as Thomas pointed out "Bohannon only thrives on narrow escapes from his own recklessness," and would likely not be receptive. If this was true, the sad outcome at the end of this finale would underline the next fundamental thing Bohannon needs to change about his nature (more on that later). Meanwhile Elam fussed and fretted about being tasked with that mystery murder from last episode (who I guessed was Lily because Bohannon's too valuable to the rails), in exchange for his house. If it was Lily that Durant wanted dead, she appeared to have an out when Hannah offered her a one-way ticket to New York and an introduction to a wealthy family, that she might become a governess (Downton Abbey on Wheels, anyone?). Either way, Lily had "liability" written all over her.
Really, there should be more tension built on things like heroes driving trains across bridges, and I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a huge grin on my beer-and-guac-smattered face during this scene. Plus some recognizable CGI, which was kind of a bummer because it took me out of the moment, but necessary because AMC was not going to shell out duckets for some prop bridge, obvs. Also, we got a handful of cool train-camera angles, and some of my favorite Cullen Bohannon facial expressions, mostly the "Oh shit!" one that always serves to ground his formally stoic sharpshooter self. It's okay, bud.
So as most of the town was watching the bridge crossing, Lily tip-toed into Durant's office and ganked the ledger from his safe (ah, that's how it made its way to the authorities...), but then Elam was skulking around too, eyeballing her mad hard. To be a little nit-pickey, it never once felt like Elam would go through with this murder. He's come too far as a mature individual to do something this corrupt and renew a rivalry with Bohannon in such an extreme a way. Anywho, running some more errands in town, Elam popped by Eva and her tent to offer her his home but she didn't want to hitch her wagon to someone who had jerked her around so much in the past and besides Toole was still fulfilling his husbandly duties. Bummer. Down by the bridge Durant offered Bohannon full partnership in the railroad, but Bohannon refused, saying that all his debts "were buried with Doc Whitehead." I took this to mean that without the medical expertise of Bohannon's friend, Durant would have never have made it as far as he did with his health. Good, yes! Cut those ties. Run away with Lily! Speaking of which, Lily rolled up to Toole and Bohannon's fire and wanted to use the ledger to take over the railroad with Bohannon. Bohannon wanted no part of it and even attempted to burn the book in order to save her life. He knew that Durant wanted her dead because that's what Bohannon himself would do if he were a ruthless man. The interaction was cut short by a Sioux scout and Bohannon sent Lily back to town with Toole.
But Lily is straight crafty, and the next day she got Elam to hang on to the book by complimenting the home he built for Eva. It was an awkward interaction mostly because Elam was still undecided about killing her and having a target that vulnerable (and blameless) must tug at the heartstrings. With the help of Joseph, Bohannon scouted over a thousand Sioux at a CGI tribal council, and Black Moon told him that they wanted everyone in town to die. In present times, we learned that the government sent a measly five recruits and a small cannon to aid in defense (classic government). Back in the past, Eva came over to set the record straight with Elam and was impressed and emotionally affected by all the hard work he had put in. Ultimately though, she intended on being Toole's wife and had come to say goodbye. Toole showed up looking for her, got the wrong impression, and killed himself. No! He was just becoming likable. Talk about terrible timing, bro. Meanwhile, Elam had a real "could give a shit" look on his face.
I guess when the competition has repeatedly harassed you with racial slurs, once drunkenly tried to hang you in a bar, and survived a murder attempt before killing himself on your front lawn, it's hard to find tears. In a stirring cross-cut montage, fellow Irishman Mickey administered Toole's funeral, mentioning that this town made people do terrible things, while Ruth baptized Sean, who promptly made things weird by trying to French kiss her. I'm no man of the cloth, but I don't think that's how baptism works. Later that night Ferguson visited Lily after some pressure from Durant, but she got the drop on him with Durant's own pepperbox gun. Smart lady—but there was still an air of frantic desperation to her rapidly dwindling plans. She offered him a deal to become head of security once the Durants were sent to Con College. Way to not die while also practicing savvy business sense! The next day the Swede made one hell of an entrance, all slathered in white with his chest burnt UP. In his trademark creepy way, he recounted being partially lit on fire in the area between his nipples and warned of the coming onslaught that would accompany the "Blood Moon." Bohannon didn't buy it, and insisted someone guard his long ass. Durant reached out to Lily about heading to New York one last time, and when she refused he called her a whore. In Old West speak she was all, "Well, if I'm that, then you're about to be defeated by a whore." The takeaway being that it is an insult to be bested by a prostitute.
Then the Swede got all Michael Myers from Halloween and slit his guard's throat, while the town hunkered down for the Blood Moon. With the women and children shipped out, we were treated to a solid 10 minutes or so of a nighttime battle with the Sioux. It was cool and awesome and rad with whoops and blasts and blood until the town was burnt to the ground. But within that time, Elam got to rescue Eva, and he hopefully made her forget all about Toole with his dauntless heroism. The next day, amid all the charred remains of the town, in the saddest scene in Hell on Wheels history, the Swede quietly surprised Lily and strangled her to death. Bohannon found herl, and carried her through a scorched town full of dead bodies. The scene represented Cullen Bohannon's specific "hell," but one relatable to everyone: losing a loved one to a damaged world. For the first time in a while this railroad town went from being a rough place to a mythically cursed setting. Maybe there is poison gold in the Earth. In the same ambling sequence Bohannon marched the Swede off to the bridge to be hanged. It was chilling how matter-of-fact Bohannon was on the walk to exact justice (like a dad going to retrieve his son's stolen bike or something), and how the Swede happily skipped along, then claimed the two rivals were now "consummated" in Lily's death. I'm guessing this means that since the Swede took away the life of someone so dear to Bohannon, the three were now tied to one another in memory. Unfortunately this final bit of vengeance slipped quite literally between Bohannon's fingers as the Swede leapt from the bridge and died in the river.
When all was said and done, the railroad committee offered Bohannon Durant's former role in continuing the railroad out West—perhaps the last thing he wants to do considering all the heartache and trouble it brought him. Then again if Bohannon maintains his attitude of comparing the railroad to a war, all these losses along the way are to be expected, and forging ahead would honor them as martyrs. Still, it's a cruel joke Bohannon's living out, what with his last two loves being brutally murdered by forces connected to the rise of his own nation. The more this show treats railroad life as an existential metaphor for human existence, the more it succeeds at rising above the limits of its premise. Overall Season 2 was quite satisfying and built off everything great in the previous one. Bohannon is slowly learning lessons and becoming the hero he's built to be, but a man can only handle so much heaping tragedy. With his fate more or less shackled to the rails (via the show's driving narrative), Bohannon's obligation to finish the line resembles every human's march of life: no turning back, unwanted losses along the way, and an end that either comes too soon, or not soon enough.
– What was your favorite moment of this season?
– What was your least favorite moment of this season?
– Who was your favorite character?
– Who was your least favorite character?
– Was it repetitive to kill Lily when Bohannon had already lost a love before, or does that make his world seem that much more hellish?
– How will the loss of Lily and his new appointment affect Bohannon?
– How will Mickey and Sean be affected by Sean's new faith?
– What themes were most present this season?
– How do you want next season to be different?
– What will become of Hannah and Thomas Durant?
– How will Elam and Bohannon's relationship change?
– What does it all mean?
Feel free to use the comments section to remember some of the characters who perished this season, including: The Swede, Reverend Cole, Mr. Toole, Doc Whitehead, Hawkins and his gang, Mr. Schmidt, Bauer the Butcher, some prostitutes, and who could forget, that one train guy who Reverend Cole stabbed with a cavalry sword