Hell on Wheels "Thirteen Steps" Review: The Whole Ruth and Nothing But the Ruth

Hell on Wheels S04E12: "Thirteen Steps"


I feel silly for even asking this, but has anyone here ever been hanged before? Was it like how Ruth's went down? Was the hangman all gentlemanly? Did he have his boy in tow, and did that boy have a top hat and a boy ponytail? I only wonder because television has a history of exaggerating real life for the sake of entertainment. And because the point-of-view shot of Ruth's untimely demise was my favorite moment of “Thirteen Steps,” not because I wanted her dead, but because of the emotional impact delivered via simple visuals. The excellent penultimate episode in what's been yet another uneven season of Hell on Wheels (which the show now delivers so regularly that maybe “uneven” seasons are technically “even” ones?), was entirely dedicated to the wanted church lady's unwanted life, and benefited from focusing on her final moments.

Yes my dearies, Ruth Cole ultimately found herself dancing the hangman's waltz (dying). No one thought it was right, and the law gave her every possible chance to escape her fate. Yet and still, the heavily righteous Ruth saw herself as a guilty individual, refusing meatball pleas that would get her out of all this, refusing pardons offered up by Governor Campbell himself, even refusing a straight-up jailbreak set into motion by Cullen himself. Anyway you sliced it, this woman wanted to die.

So as all things pertain to Cullen in this town, it was up to the railman to talk her out of it, or at least to keep her company during what had to be the world's saddest sleepover. First he tried scaring her by describing a hanging he'd witnessed in D.C. He specified that the sentence was read to the accused with a conversational tone—and it was this sort of mundane detail that made "Thirteen Steps" all the more chilling. The constant hammering of Ruth's gallows being built carried on through the night, while Cullen and Ruth shared some nonchalant human moments that were simultaneously heartbreaking in their tragic context. Tales of falling in horse shit and Cullen enjoying one of maybe four laughs in as many seasons of Hell seemed like they might be enough to shake Ruth out of her death wish, but like most pre-capital punishment heart-to-hearts, things got really real pretty fast and not in the good way.


The conversation shifted to Ruth's feelings for Cullen and how depressed she was when he came back with Naomi and a baby this season. Ruth chided herself for not being more overt with Cullen and asked him if he loved her. He did—in a fashion—but it was apparent that his feelings weren't of the romantic persuasion. More like an "I love being around you" sort of deal. Can't fault a man for being honest, I guess. The whole thing was pretty messed up, especially when Ruth admitted that she'd stayed in town at Cullen's urging, and if he pretended to be interested in the church lady to save her life, what kind of sham would that become? Answer: one that would end in tears.

I mean, it's a shame that Ruth couldn't just see the value of living beyond the death of Ezra, but it was a different time filled with less options. Like if I lived in the Hell on Wheels days, instead of shouting at strangers on the internet for $3.50 and some wet coupons to Rite-Aid (my current stipend), my only available paths in life would be something like separating muck from manure or dancing for whiskey shots. Wait, that's not all that different from my current life... #YOLO!

Anyway, her parting words about family being the braver choice were debatable as general advice—but on a show that's always had family at its center (Cullen's was murdered and that sent him on his path of revenge, plus every relationship he's ever had seems to be "playing house”), they were pretty much marching orders for the railman. Go figure out your family stuff, Cullen! You only have two half-length seasons left to do it in!

The hangman's kid (hangboy?) further reminded us of how everyone's got loved ones, and I'm sure his little ponytailed presence didn't do any favors for the grieving Ruth. But Ruth dying wasn't ALL that "Thirteen Steps" had to offer. Durant was a buddy again to Cullen, advising him to be with Ruth in her hour of need. Mickey and Dandy Johnny Shea threatened Governor Campbell. And Louise Ellison WAS GOING TO PRINT HER STORY. Also life went on for the last part of the hour, as Cullen got his steam contraption to work and then promptly quit the railroad (sure Cullen, we've heard that one before!).

Okay, yeah basically the whole episode was about Ruth going to be with the Lord. I said last week that I'd be mad if Hell on Wheels killed Ruth off just as she was becoming awesome, and I still am a little miffed that Kasha Kropinski had to wait this long to carry the show, but hey she did awesome and I'm sure she has a bright future. 

Now, in honor of the dearly departed, please enjoy Iron Maiden's gallows-centric hit, "Hallowed Be Thy Name."


What did you think of “Thirteen Steps”?


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Aug 16, 2015
Her death didn't fit the show.there is killing in every episode but when she's does it she gets hanged.this season sucked and I'm glad they are done after next season.it was a cheep death of a main character they did the same with common but at least his death kinda fit with the show.
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Nov 24, 2014
Great show. Ruth wanting death...pleading guilty to malice in killing Snow was a lie. It was revenge for his evil and justice and to stop him from killing no more. Snow would have been wanted dead or alive and charges never would have been filed either. But it is still a great show.... I knew Ruth loved Cullen.... all the girls do.

I did not like the actress change with Naomi's character and of course the character change.... the first Naomi would have been undying faithful to Cullen without the bad attitude.
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Nov 23, 2014
LOVE this show, just wish the ghost or unknown sister of Lillie Bell would come and sweep Cullen off his feet! He will never be happy with Naomi! Just end a show in some way that I like!
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Nov 19, 2014
RIP Ruth
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Nov 18, 2014
A great episode. A tour de force of acting by Kasha and a great tension filled job of directing. The "behind the hood" hanging was awesome. Cullen loved Ruth like a sister but of course she wanted more. If he hadn't knocked up Naomi I'm sure he would've used Ruth's love of him to save her life but being married he didn't have that option. So Cullens original wife was killed, Lilly was killed, and now Ruth is hanged. This doesn't bode well for Naomi.
It's a shame though that two of the most watchable characters on the show, Ruth and Snow, are now gone. Better get focused on the Swede. He's always worth watching.
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Nov 18, 2014
Not the best episode, but good. But; I really love this series, it's getting better and better.
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Nov 17, 2014
At one time (season 1) I thought this show had promise, but hanging a church lady for killing a known killer, the man who killed her son! Not buying it on my worst day... This show is just "off the rails" (get it?) and wasting a great cast.... too bad
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Mar 20, 2015
Nonsense. America hung more than 500 women before 1900, some as young as 12. There was almost certainly a case that mirrored this one. A women hung for avenging the death of her son.
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Nov 17, 2014
I &3 this show soooo much. Ruth's death ripped my heart out. And the hanging shown from her POV was masterful. Seeing her hanged would have been gratuitous. Feeling it as she saw it was just brutal. But I pretty much knew someone was going to be killed the moment Cullen put on the badge. The poor man is just cursed.
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Nov 17, 2014
This show has become quite fuckin retarted. I didn't even watch this episode. I quit last week. For good.

So basically, Ruth kills a KNOWN MURDERER, who was ARMED and threatening violence, who just burned her son alive, and she gets hanged????

BUT----
Some Irish twit rips out a cops eyeball, and he gets what? A beer??? Fuck this show. Fuck it to hell. (On wheels).
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Feb 02, 2015
Could not agree more! Plus the fact that Cullen is full of pride and I am not working for any carpetbagger, no one will talk crap to me or anyone I care about and now I am going to let a lovely church lady die for shooting someone that killed her son???!!! what?! I loved this show but killing of Elam then changing Cullen's character to the point of changing him completely and everything that he has fought for on throughout the whole show is just ridiculous. It is as though they have just wanted to cram in a quick ending. I get that he does not want to kill anymore but it would not change that he has a strong willed personality and fights for what he believes in. Now he is just a pussy!! and decided to work for the other team now too so does not even have loyalty to his name anymore. Such a shame as I really loved this show. Will not be watching it anymore. :(
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Feb 12, 2015
The killer who doesn't want to kill anymore storyline is soo played. Ahem... Blood Song& I'm looking at you.
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Nov 24, 2014
I understand what you are saying... but it's showing that life especially in the old west was not fair. Snow would have been wanted dead or alive... an animal like the Irish guy would have not lived very long. It's liberal writers trying to make everything all gray.... but it's still a good show.
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Nov 17, 2014
Louise Ellison better be careful, the stories in Cheyenne taking place in 'HoW' never end well for petite blondes.

RIP Ruth. Kasha Kropinski did a wonderful job of bringing a heartbreaking end to her and to telling her sad story.
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Nov 17, 2014
With most of the characters that we care about gone, how can Hell on Wheels split its final season into two halves? What stories can you do with this few people left? I guess Joseph Smith makes Naomi his 40th wife and Cullen has to go thru the swede to get her back and that's going to fill up 14 episodes.
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Nov 17, 2014
Yes, Ruth wanted to die but, to Ruth, suicide is a sin, but not if judicially ordered. In her mind she could justify refusing a pardon.

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Nov 17, 2014
Ryan, very good review, thank you. I agree with you about the Ruth-Cullen romance angle, I think Cullen loved Ruth but don't believe he was really in love with her, though he definitely respected Ruth.

What I love most about the show is that it's so unpredictable.



















































































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Nov 17, 2014
I don't think an episode of any tv show has made me as angry as last night's Hell on Wheels, there was no need to kill Ruth, none whatsoever, i don't care about her characters sense of morals, they could easily have had her be talked round, just another senseless killing of a good character, Lilly Bell, Elam and now Ruth, senseless killings, i don't think i can be bothered with this show anymore.
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Feb 02, 2015
Could not agree more!
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Nov 17, 2014

I think this one actually fits the mood of the film better myself... Plus German Power Metal is great.
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Nov 17, 2014
They killed off Elam and now they've killed off the church lady. Why they did this is irrelevant.

This show has run of the rails. It used to be about the railroad and the people building it. Now is just some mud covered soap opera looking for a reason to exist. And that is getting tiresome.
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Nov 16, 2014
Ruth's refusal did make sense. Her beliefs were always part of the person she was. She made an interesting statement when told that the town needed her as preacher. How could she continue to be the town's preacher when she had killed. She refused to lie when she was asked to plea innocent, because she knew she was guilty of killing; in her eyes an unpardonable sin. That was her resolve from the beginning and she didn't change. To accept the pardon would have been totally against her beliefs and who she was. Anything else would have been totally out of character.
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Nov 17, 2014
God Love's A Winner! Just ask Moses!
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Nov 16, 2014
Plenty of preachers have killed. In the prison system there's lots of preachers who've commited all sorts of crimes. Ruth's father was a preacher who killed. If all have sinned and fall short of the grace of god, then there are no preachers without stain. No human beings without stain. All sins are equal in the eyes of god, Eye for an eye tooth for tooth, etc, etc, fire and brimstone, yada, yada, so on and so forth..
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Nov 17, 2014
I think Ruth's feeling that she needed to accept full culpability for shooting Sid was, in part, a reaction to her father being a killer. That was the importance of the Bleeding Kansas episode. It provided the context to understand why Ruth would not accept an out from what she felt was just punishment for the homicide. Ruth was not going to follow in her father's footsteps.
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Nov 17, 2014
I get what youre saying though.
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Nov 17, 2014
There were two killings here. There was a killer in both cases, and there was punishment in both cases, but no one punishes a hangman for delivering punishment to the wicked, and no one shouldve punished Ruth for her justifiable homicide. She said she had malice of intent, but if you're asked to throw the switch to execute a multiple child murderer, you might have malice of intent as well.
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Nov 16, 2014
It's not 2 half seasons. It's 1 season, split into 2 parts. Great review. It was a great episode.
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Nov 16, 2014
The show has lost its bearings by getting away from the main reason for the show, which is building the railroad. This season has bogged down with the Mormon, Elam, and struggles with the governor episodes.

The Mormon road should have never been taken and it is unbelievable that a governor would have showed up and taken on the biggest enterprise in the territory. In truth, The Wyoming territory was created because the railroad had left Nebraska and some type of government was needed for the railroad to continue westward. The real John Campbell was popular and re-appointed to a second term as governor.

Hell on Wheels represents the tenth plus show that has been cancelled in the past four years while it is still popular (AMC has quite a track record with killing off its more popular shows along with splitting the last year into two 1/2 years of episodes) and it has turned me off becoming interested in new shows only to be disappointed when they are cancelled after 60 or so episodes. That output is roughly 2 1/2 years on the major networks (22 a year) and most of the ten shows could have continued to the 100 episode mark that represents when shows begin to run out of ideas.
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Nov 17, 2014
Although I don't like a good show to end, I rather have it end in time. They could easily keep on milking the cow, but we all know what will happen to the quality. I believe it to be the better choice to get to an end while they are still great. (which is not the same then cancelling a show)
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Nov 16, 2014
sorry but that couldn't be further from the truth

Cullen loved Ruth in a major romantic way and near the end of season 3, you saw him having a family with Ezra and Ruth with him being leader of the railroad, he was even working towards it. But Cullen is honorable and at this point, he can't possibly be with Ruth without betraying Naomi (even though they aren't married and only has a kid by her with which she even rather live with her own family instead). He is just duty bound to Naomi which is why he honestly doesn't know if he even loves her but the fact that she had his son also is weighing on his mind and further prevents him from being with Ruth which is what he really wanted.

The romance between Cullen and Naomi is completely forced, the actors have no chemistry together, season 3's scene with cullen and naomi showed no opportunity for real sex as they got caught right when they were starting and the father is still walking around unscathed after murdering his son and letting him hang. Hell on Wheels writers really shot themselves in the foot with a lot of these changes and the death of Elam really killed this show. While still phenomenal tv, im not surprised the next season is the last, Killing Ruth was excessive.
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Nov 17, 2014
I have to agree with you. I think there was more chemistry with the first actress that played Naomi than this replacement who I mostly think sucks. I have never been convinced that they actually had sex and that the baby is really his since they got walked in on but no one listens to me about that.

I understand the actor that played Elam wanted to leave so he had to go, but really it seems like the show kills off THE BEST characters and keeps the lackluster ones. I have no idea what to expect in the future and in fact may not even watch it.
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Nov 16, 2014
At first I thought I'd be disappointed in the show if she ended up hanging. For most of Television history these scenarios ended with a last second save, but for the last decade or so the predictable ending has generally been a sad one and so I hated to see Hell on Wheels be so cliche. However, when she refused that last pardon I was done with her and hoped she suffered. If Cullen really wanted to save her he should have borrowed a noose and strung her up in her cell for a minute or so. I doubt she would have been so stubborn after that.

Ultimately her refusal to accept a pardon just didn't make any sense. It wasn't like she felt shooting him was was a sin or even unlawful. Her dying wasn't sloppy necessarily but how she got there was.

The hangman is actually pretty historically accurate. I'm not sure a professional was always called in, or that many of them cared whether or not the condemned suffered, but the good ones knew what they were doing.
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Nov 16, 2014
I quit on the show when they so stupidly killed of Elam. Sure the actor wanting to leave wasn't their decision. But in former times shows ran for decades with the same actors and there wasn't such jumpiness. And they could have given him a much better out.

But this here just gets laughable. Do they kill a major character now every 3 episodes or what? Seems when writers don't have anything interesting to tell they stage the death of someone in the cast. And again done so terribly bad. Why not show her not being able to avoid the death sentence? Why no insanity defence? And how dumb and childish. They threaten the govenor they will kill him if she dies. Bohannon destroys the gallows. And she still just gets hanged? You know what guys? Good riddance. You made one of the most promising settings in TV shows these days a laughing stock.

And besides...where is the sex? Just like a lot of TV shows viewers get drawn in with hot woman (and men) have great arousing sex scenes. But only in the first few episodes or the first season. After that its over. Worst kind of cock teasing ever. Do those actresses have clauses in their contract which make sex scenes especially expensive? And yes. Sex scenes are entertainment too even outside of porn.
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Nov 16, 2014
Ultimately her refusal to accept a pardon just didn't make any sense.

Good episode, but I agree the refusal made no sense. She couldve said "I'm going to be with Ezra" or anything, but they just gave you a series of confused facial expressions. Oh well, OK then Ruth. Bye.
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Nov 16, 2014
That was just so sad.
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Nov 16, 2014
RIP Ruth, you will be missed.
As a fellow South African , i enjoyed watching her on screen,
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