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Hell on Wheels S03E07: "Cholera"

Water has a history with the Western and, well, life itself. Without it, humans die, and how many cowboys can you picture stuck in the sun, all chapped lips, stumbling for a drop of refreshment from this basic ingredient for survival? This season of Hell on Wheels has benefitted from simplified storylines, with some main obstacle to the railroad—like some stubborn homesteaders or the hunt for a missing baby—coloring more intimate ones among characters. "Cholera" tapped into this successful trend to present yet another enjoyably focused episode this season. Quite simply, the climate had turned hot, critters sought relief in the water supply, died, and yielded bad water. It was a little weird, a little wholesome, and as is often the case with Hell on Wheels, nice and dark.  

First, I'd like to draw attention to a constant, yet perhaps overlooked (at least on my part) element of the show: the notion of craftsmanship. The crude glass bottles, fresh-looking wood, and tactile fabrics of yore are some of the reasons we watch Hell on Wheels, even if there aren't whole episodes dedicated to the subject. We’re essentially watching the birth of transcontinental industry, so every manufactured item that pops up on screen—whether it be a floral-print tent curtain or a pepper box revolver—reminds us of how the efforts of this railroad ultimately affect the common consumer. Or maybe have cholera. Of the brain.  

Whether Durant is making power moves or squirming like a fat, slimy toad to escape one, he’s one of TV's most interesting characters to watch. There’s not a lot of humor in this show, aside from Cullen’s tough justice. Usually we’re witnessing stoic decisions or awesome violence, so Durant’s machinations and boisterous manner of speaking serve to add comedy while keeping things tragic. He even made getting day drunk after the impulse murder of a senator seem alluring. Beats leaking out of both ends! Stumbling, muttering drunk, Colm Meaney did an excellent job of silently expressing his way through the episode’s best scene, in no small part due to Mickey. Give this McGinnes bro a bigger plot already! Did his monologue about magic and the queasiness of murder not convince? I say, did it not convince?  

Cullen may have escaped the wrath of high society last episode, but he found himself subject to a more basic foe on his journey to rescue the village. It looks like Ezra did escape the Swede after all—and, I might add, turned quite feral in the process. Seeing Cullen battle nature in the form of thirst and sickness was reminiscent of this season’s opening winter scene. Cullen being the one out of everyone in Hell on Wheels to search for a solution reaffirms his role as leader into the unknown, and takes the story of this railroad-building to a mythic level. If he dies, so does the town, and society is denied progress. Time and time again, our hero is reminded of that. 

Okay, I understand why Eva would send her baby away from the heat and rat-water, but still, seeing her do this made me pretty angry. Did she not think for a second how this sort of thing would make Elam feel? If she cares about him as much as she says she does, then I can’t imagine her pulling this kind of stunt behind his back. Who cares if she drew a little-chin tattoo on a little baby’s little chin and chanted? Or that Declan's a hunk with a good copper job? She'd better have an excellent explanation for her behavior, and it better not be "because the writers wanted to create drama for the sake of creating drama." I could maybe see her citing motherhood and the drive to protect her child against all else, and this sort of thing was certainly done back then, but still, Elam’s going to be pisssssed.  

Was a time when I thought the Swede had fulfilled his arc with Hell on Wheels, what with his burning down the town and killing Cullen’s love interest. But he’s too good a villain to kill off, and watching him continue to be insane outside of the context of Cullen’s development makes him just the representative of evil in this world. That Gundersen is basically just a bad destructive force opens up the world to a more fable-like level (huh, kind of like Cullen's heroic hunt for water). There are psychopathic monsters in every time and setting. Always monsters looking to do ill-will. Always family-killers who take on the identities of Mormon Bishops because, well that’s just an interesting story development. Good show, hellions!  


– Do you appreciate Cullen and Ruth's occasional faith discussion?

– Will Mickey and Sean truly never interact again?

– How will Sean's relationship with Durant change following this murder?

– What is the Swede planning?

– Is Cullen going to be a good dad to that boy?

– Did you make the connection between the water-pumping and diarrhea? 

– Are you keeping up with Louise Ellison's column?

– What did you think of "Cholera"?

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 7/25/2015

Season 5 : Episode 2

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Season 5 : Episode 3

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