Hell on Wheels Season 5 Premiere "Chinatown" Review: Good to Be Back in Hell

Hell on Wheels S05E01: "Chinatown"

My favorite part of tonight's Hell on Wheels Season 5 premiere "Chinatown" was when The Swede knocked on Bohannon's bachelor shack door and Bohannon took one look then immediately slammed it shut and grabbed some guns. I react the same way to Girl Scouts! The late-in-the-hour meeting went about as well as you could expect given the pair's troubled history, namely with The Swede accusing Bohannon of being the literal Devil and the irascible railroad man hiring him right there on the spot. Oh, these two. Though we're entering Hell on Wheels' final ride, it seemed like just yesterday these two nemesiseseses were fussing and a'fueding like the roadrunner and coyote all up and down the transcontinental train tracks. Ah, memories!

But hey the past is the past, so let's talk about what's going on in the present: we found ourselves in Truckee, CA where Bohannon was head honcho under baron Cullis Huntington for the Central Pacific Railroad Co. His wife and child were banished from every Mormon settlement in the country, so Bohannon spent his days lonely among friends and coworkers just doing what Cullen do. His demons seemed securely tucked away for now, and after last season's resolve, Bohannon appeared energized throwing himself headlong into railroading. I say "for now," because we all know there's going to be some tests for Cullen that threaten to reduce the man to a solitary pile of rubble.


Luckily, there's a few new faces to help play out the morality saga that is Cullen Bohannon's every waking moment of life. For instance: there's James Strobridge, (Reg Rogers, The Americans) construction superintendent to the Central Pacific, and Tao (Tzi Ma, 24) the Psalms to Bohannon's new set of under-paid Chinese workers. Then there's John Chang (Byron Mann, Arrow), businessman who dealt in cheap labor, opium, and prostitution. Sometimes all three!

I don't know if it's the move to California or introduction of the Chinese, but this season seemed like the most shaken up yet and everything is better for it. For one, Chang operated as an amazing villain for Bohannon—another self-made man who seemed equally matched in cleverness. Don't get me wrong, the Swede will always be the number-one thorn in Bohannon's side, but he's become more lovable in his craziness than anything else. With Chang we got a man with a violent past fighting for the Taiping Rebellion under a leader who claimed to be the younger brother to Jesus Christ himself. But who was Bohannon to judge when he himself was party to atrocities such as Andersonville? 


No matter the villain, we all know how hard it was for the self-righteous Cullen to sit idly by while evil was committed upon the helpless. Such was his journey in these four seasons, learning that his purpose in life was to act as voice to the voiceless and sometimes build railroads. He may not have been great at making himself happy, but at least he could help others. That said it irked Bohannon even more on a dad-level that among the helplessly wage-denied Chinese was Fong (A. Zhou), the plucky son of Tao. After Ezra got burnt to death last season in Ruth's church, Cullen's likely on the hunt for some quality Bohannon Jr. surrogates and Fong fit the bill, what with his speak-his-mind attitude and willingness to work hard. 

Throughout this show's run I used to get routinely frustrated that Cullen kept finding himself in repetitive situations. Usually fighting to build a railroad while a bad guy made that tough, making some effort to create a home life, and helping out the helpless. But really, isn't life just mainly repetition of the same internal struggles played out in different external settings? I will have problems controlling myself around chili-cheese fries no matter the setting, and have carried the same beef with my older brother for nearly two decades for making fun of me that one time in front of Becky Alterman. To that end, Cullen Bohannon just is Cullen Bohannon, wherever you put him. He's always going to be a salt-of-the-Earth hero looking to do right by the world, and who sometimes gets exploded out of mines while the hope of family remains ever elusive.

Heck, at this point Cullen I think was more comfortable making a scene in a town square—any town square—than sitting in his own bed. I know what you're thinking though, where was Durant during all this? Why, back in Wyoming receiving sneaky-telegraphs from an employee for the Central Pacific. Seriously, his only screen time was dedicated to him basically shaking his fist and bloviating out a “consarnit Bohannon!”-type exclamation! Funny how the head of the Union Pacific went from devious villain to Boss Hog-type nuisance. Guess that's what happens to the people who oppose Bohannon. They either die or get defanged. I guess next week we'll see what's up with Mickey and Eva and Psalms.

Speaking of neutralized bad guys, I had a good chuckle at The Swede's haunted house of a prayer allegedly meant to bless their “loathsome gruel.” He's since sworn off Brigham Young as a false prophet, apparently, and is now living life as a prophet himself which—sure, I would expect nothing less from this guy. Remember when he used to kick it with Ruth's dad out in the muck piles? Now he's using the glory of the Almighty to stockpile guns for some reason, more on that later I guess. Really happy he had a dog friend though. Honestly, as a dog owner myself, I think 90% of the world's woes could be cured if everyone had a little cute animal to look after instead of focusing on ruining enemies. Try it, enemy-ruiners!  

That said, Cullen's going to need all the help he can get making it in Truckee, what with his boss in cahoots with Chang, the ever-growing demands of laying track over rough and tough terrain, and the lonesomeness that besets a man under so much pressure. If there's one dude who can handle it, it's this guy. Much like a train making the same stops back and forth across the land, our man Bohannon kept chugging right along hardy and stalwart, taking the nation where it needed to be.    

What did you think of "Chinatown"?

Comments (37)
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Jul 26, 2015
Such a great show. Great story telling.
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Jul 26, 2015
Were there hogs in there somewhere? Gotta have hogs.
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Jul 24, 2015
guess you don't want to fuck with Chang! and Gundersen creeping on Bohannon haha
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Jul 21, 2015
FINALLY back on! I have only 2 wishes. 1) this final season brings "deserving" closure to ALL characters (i.e. Swede) and does not end with me screaming "Noooooo" at the television, 2) that Anson Mount lands somewhere else on my television so I can continue to get my fix of that Clint "man with no name" Eastwood I'm-going-to-kill-you-later stare that Mr. Mount does so well!!!
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Jul 20, 2015
Where gentlemen and heathens dare to tread. Great to have HoW back. Reg Rogers appearing is a welcome touch - he was excellent in Jesse Stone.
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Staff
Jul 20, 2015
Reg Rogers seems to be the go-to guy for friendly swagger
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Jul 20, 2015
Love that its back on, here's to hoping we see more of the Bad-A Cullen that we all know and love. I never understand why Cullen doesn't just shoot the Chang and the Swede in the face when he is first threatened by them lol
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Jul 20, 2015
Maybe because he'd be hanged like a certain 'little lady'. And we'd miss out on some teeth grinding as Cullen calls the (none) Swede, the Swede!
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Staff
Jul 20, 2015
Also this.
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Staff
Jul 20, 2015
Ha ha, then there'd be no show! Besides, Cullen has learned to be more a gentleman than that...for now.
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Jul 20, 2015
I'm glad they've introduced the element of the Chinese workers -- touched on in the past but only briefly -- as a major story arc. The rampant abuse of Chinese labor is a fact that goes largely unmentioned, or not at all cared about at any rate, in literature of the time and related specifically to the railroads built in the US and Canada. And I agree that it adds an interesting element, not just giving credit, and in particular introduces a great new villain.

I also like the opening sequence because it quite easily sets up the ultimate struggle for Bohannen this season, and the picture of the house on the mountainside with the family is how things are going to end for this railroad man, and the show. That, or it'll end with him imagining it again when all is lost and he's about to die. One of the two.
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Jul 20, 2015
Good point - I could see Cullen sacrificing himself for the good of the railroad, then have a "Gladiator" death where he sees a vision of his peace to come. Agreed on the element of Chinese workers, not only is it important as a historical acknowledgement, but it gives former slave-owner Bohannon a chance to right some of those slave-owning wrongs in his past.
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Jul 20, 2015
I don't necessarily mean a gladiator-like death, although that's possible, too... I just meant one of sheer hopelessness -- where he sees that vision again of the family that could have been as he lay dying, and then with the vision at the beginning of this episode he sees it slip away and in its stead he sees a wasted life, a burnt up railroad (when the two companies collide), and everything he loves having been lost.

I doubt it'll end that way, but with other episodes ending like that (ie. the death of his best friend and him being devastating), you never know.
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Jul 20, 2015
Fair enough I see what you mean. I think our man Bohannon deserves SOME kind of high-end for all the sacrifice he's made. The series has been so generous with ruining everything in his life, it would almost feel like a surprising plot twist to give Cullen something good.
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Jul 21, 2015
I agree completely, and I hope it's the former of my predictions and not the latter. If it were just regular scriptwriters I would think a happy ending is in store, but doesn't he also co-produce the show and direct a lot of it? Anyway, I think we're going to see a satisfactory ending.
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Jul 20, 2015
Collis not Cullis.
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Jul 20, 2015
Great to be back in Bohannon-land. A good start to the new chapter. Chang is a nice addition and having the Swede working on the same railroad will be extremely interesting. It's probably better for Bohannon to have The Swede next to him where he can keep an eye on him than to have him lurking unseen somewhere. They hinted at a possible uprising by the Chinese workers and The Swede has all those guns......and we all know from the Indian uprising earlier, that he instigated, how much he likes chaos. How long before Chang and The Swede team up?
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Jul 20, 2015
I guess there's no telling what kind of scheme the Swede might try and pull on Cullen. I mean he did say he thinks he's being tested by "The Devil," so it could only be a matter of time before that cuckoo bird tries something dastardly.
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Jul 19, 2015
nemesiseseses
This review was worth reading if only for that word.
I laughed so much I droped from my seat. Thank you for that.
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Jul 20, 2015
It's a tough one! Thanks for reading, enjoy'd this show since the beginning.
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Jul 19, 2015
Kinda disappointed to see no Psalms or Robin Mcleavy.
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Jul 20, 2015
Here's betting they'll show up next week.
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Jul 19, 2015
So glad this show is back. Very excited for the new season and can't wait to see where its headed. I'm still hoping that at some point in the feud with the Swede, the amazing Christopher Heyerdahl, he does kill him for murdering Lily Bell. (Ok so maybe I just really still miss Dominique McElligott who is lumbering around on that dumpster fire 'Astronaut Wives' this summer.) Glad to get Bohannan going with another railway and can't wait to see what the old crew back at Union Pacific is up to next week. Really hope Cullen's family is safe and he gets better news soon. Anson Mount was really great in this episode and really enjoyed the addition of Byron Mann as a new foil for our boy Bohannan.
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Jul 19, 2015
Ahh, I understand the aggression toward the Swede, but maybe Bohannon would be the bigger man by moving past his revenge demons. I'm sure justice will find The Swede sooner or later.
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Jul 19, 2015
I really don't want the Swede gone :) I love Heyerdahl. one of those many great Canadian character actors on television, and have always found the Swede to be my favorite Heyerdahl role of the many he's had. Here's hoping you are reviewing the whole season! Thanks Mr. Sandoval
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Jul 20, 2015
I'd sure like to! Yes, The Swede is SO good. It's not easy to make a likable villain, but Heyerdahl does it effortlessly
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Jul 19, 2015
Also... I have to say it was fantastic for AMC to show the Hell on Wheels marathon yesterday, all 13 episodes of season 4 leading up to the season 5 premier last night. Thanks AMC !

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Jul 20, 2015
They take care of their Hellions
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Jul 19, 2015
It was great to see Cullen Bohannon again, always look forward to this show. Good to have some new characters. another different location, and I really do like Chang but the scene with Bohannon riding past Chang, each giving the other THAT look (you know that “don't mess with me” look) makes me miss John Campbell chewing on his cigar giving Bohannon one of those looks. Is Jake Weber off the show now? Damn. He was one of the reasons I hung around last season and kept watching. (I know he's been on Tyrant).

It was always funny as hell to see Durant and Campbell trading barbs and wrestling in the mud. I am really going to miss those two. Colm Meany had a few scenes to set up “the race,” so hopefully they'll at least keep him on the show.
Killing off church lady Ruth last season reminded me of how pissed I was when they killed off Lily Bell so I almost gave up and stopped watching. But I just have to watch to see how they wrap things up.

I was surprised that they didn't even give a little hint where Naomi is... maybe that will be the big reveal for the end of the series, they can't have Cullen find her too soon (but this show is unpredictable, maybe they'll kill her off!). Cullen might finally get his happy ending and will reunite with his “family” (I think I prefer him without a family to tell you the truth). But won't he ever finally retaliate against those that killed his wife Mary and their son? I hope the writers haven't forgotten about that. And if I remember correctly, Cullen still does not know that it was Swede who strangled Lily Bell? I guess they are saving that for the end too.

I do love the Swede and was so thrilled to see him knock on Bohannon's door! Christopher Heyerdahl never ceases to amaze me, such a good actor... and absolutely terrifying!

Good to have this show back and sad to see it all come to an end next year.

More+
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Jul 20, 2015
Yeah once they killed off Lily Bell the show never offered up a suitable replacement of a love interest in my opinion for Cullen. Not that he needs one, but his character seems to want a family. I was kind of mad at Ruth's death because she just turned bad ass, then they hanged her.
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Jul 19, 2015
Really, you get your hndgun out and hold it - cocked and ready to shoot - at girl scouts? Admittedly as a European I might not fully get US customs concerning gun use, but shouldn't you better leave off Western shows for a while?!
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Jul 19, 2015
Just joshin'
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Jul 19, 2015
Good on AMC for giving us one last season and hopefully some closure for Bohannon. I want him to find his wife and child.
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Jul 19, 2015
In case you didn't know Eric 10301 this is season 5 part 1 which consists of 7 episodes.Part 2 will air next summer I believe.
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Jul 20, 2015
Bitter-sweet. Happy it'll be around for two-ish more years, but bummed each installment will be short.
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Jul 20, 2015
If the episodes are finished they should not be split into two seasons.
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Jul 20, 2015
Think they do it to ease yearly production costs.
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