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Hell on Wheels S03E09: "Fathers and Sins"

Howdy there, pardners. [Squats down at your campfire.] Now, I hate to be a dead rat in the town water, but seems to me t'were a time when Cullen Bohannon was just another handsome AMC anti-hero. A slave-owning, Confederate soldier with a dead family, on a path of impassioned vengeance, and self-destructing in the process. On the one hand he was a cool gunslinger, but on the other he was also questionably edgy for owning slaves. The inherent obstacle with all anti-heroes is that the more engaging part is usually the half of them that can't offer any stability, and at some point they end up on one side of the moral spectrum. Half the time they’re all, I’m way bad and stuff and then the other half, they’re like, but see I got some good in me too, and we watch because we’re like, That’s like my regular life, but with more exciting details. “Fathers & Sins” opened slow, by teasing the kind of boring destiny that could await Cullen once he becomes too mature for reckless shootouts and dangerous business politics, then yanked it all away in a satisfying reminder of past transgressions.

I’m just going to put this out there: Ruth as a character is super boring because of her piety, and she only becomes interesting when she partakes in some vice. That's because there's more variety to her personality in those moments. Otherwise, she's like a robot with one steady point of view. So it was fun to see Louise play with her commitment to God. Sean died in your church and you suspect Mickey might have had a vested interest in his brother's murder? Great, sounds like five more scenes of you weeping behind a curtain, clutching a Holy Bible so hard your fingers all touch.

Man, there’s certainly a spot for her in a setting as proudly immoral as Hell on Wheels, but the trouble is we never see her effect on the people who need it (the "sinful" railroad workers/Dutch after his scrape with the Mormons?). And the prospect of she and Cullen ever getting married would be a HUGE “no-no.” I seriously hope the writers know this. I hope that all the talk in the beginning of the episode with Psalms nudging Cullen toward Ruth was just that: talk. Sure, Ezra could use a mommy, but Cullen marrying Ruth after the two having barely any kind of connection to each other (certainly no comparison to Lily Bell) would be jolting, even if it did further explore a new side of the chief railroad engineer.

I’ve stated in the past that I really dig Cullen’s relationship with Ezra, if for no other reason than we get to see him pass on his hard-won macho lessons to a boy who’s already seen a lot more violence than someone that young should have. Generally in Westerns, heroes fight for a stable home, then they get there and they rest. They don’t continue being gunfighters and also head up a household. They become Michael Landon in Little House on the Prairie. They become "Pa." Well, they do unless they happen to be a Mormon on this show.

Yeesh, these dudes don’t let up. I’m probably in the minority here, but I personally enjoy the fact that Mormons are part of an antagonizing force this season because of government interference. It’s a unique factor, and as a religion born within the United States, certainly worthy of attention. Who is right here? I mean, Cullen did hang one of theirs, but that’s more on the dad for not 'fessing up to the crime he committed. And none of this would have happened if Lady America didn’t demand her range war-starting railroad. 

And what a range war! Long coats, bandanas, and a hilariously stinking drunk Elam (who sobered up real quick—must be that cowboy coffee) all played the part in this week's excellent mini-western shootout scenario. Guys rolling off roofs. Common had to have done the best inebriated acting I’ve seen in a long time. Good job! It certainly was no revelation that the Mormon dad was behind all this, but at least it gave way to the most exciting scene of the hour. Everyone all barricaded in Maggie Palmer's hotel upon Cullen’s arrival was pure glee, what with cocked rifles (with names!), someone dragged under a horse cart, and Durant nonchalantly blasting that dude sneaking up on Cullen. For a split second I kind of wished they were all fighting zombies, but that’s another show.

And so, with Elam taking on the responsibilities of the railroad in Cullen’s absence, the episode ended with a stirring speech, before touching base with some of the other characters back in town we don’t care that much about. Like, Louise Ellison took two steps off the train and then worded up that concierge/former snake oil salesman, just to keep Eva in a warm bed. Don't get me wrong, this turn is real interesting, but it would have been SO GOOD earlier in the season. It would have given Louise Ellison something to do other than seek out hot scoops. There’s only one more episode to explore the idea of same-sex relationships in the Old West, and definitely not in any thorough way, given the implied focus on Cullen's fate (note: any time the director of photography chooses to frame you in a hangman's noose, it's a bad sign). 

My worry for this season is that looking back, it seems like the whole thing has served as setup for a new direction, and a lot of times the setup is nowhere near as fun as the execution. I mean, think of where we were by this time last year: The entire town of Hell on Wheels was under attack, and Lily Bell was about to get murdered. Cullen just now seems to be opening up, and it'll be fun to see him return to his dark nature while maintaining a higher station in life. I hope that, come October (when Season 3 was announced last year), AMC recognizes this and bets on the future of Hell.


– Lots of God/religion references in this show overall. What is its main message about spirituality?

– Do you miss Sean?

– Dutch is so good. I think Dutch is my favorite new character this season. Not a question. 

– Who is your favorite new character this season? Have they been used effectively?

– Is there a big death coming in this last episode? 

– What is your favorite element of this show?

– What'd you think of "Fathers and Sins"?

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 11/22/2014

Season 4 : Episode 13

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