Huh. Well. Technically that was the last episode of the season, but was it a season finale?
Much like its scrappy protagonist, AMC’s Western has managed to cheat death for at least three seasons + a switch to Saturday nights. This most recent 10-episode arc established a new direction for the world of railroad citizens, the nation, and most importantly, former rapscallion Cullen Bohannon. As the Union Pacific has become more established, so too has Hell on Wheels' infrastructure. There's more oversight from Washington, more town stability, and more maturity in the chief railroad engineer's perspective. But is this satisfying? Like, if this were the last Hell on Wheels season ever, would viewers be happy? Of course not. You can’t largely neglect the emotional devastation that Lily Bell's death must've had on Bohannon and exile a great villain like the Swede to the role of distant, looming threat, then say that Bohannon's moved past all this when for most of the season he's been focusing almost entirely on railroad business duties. As such, "Get Behind the Mule" worked fine as a standalone episode of Hell on Wheels, but struggled to wrap up the nine episodes that preceded it, opting instead to bet on the future.
I don’t know how the television business works, guys. I’m just a simple plumber. Like, behind the scenes, do the Hell on Wheels folks know that they are in good standing with AMC, and they're all "Cliffhanger duh, then the suits will have to give us another one duh"? Maybe. Let’s do a little review here: So Bohannon has married a Mormon girl and is working basically as a slave under the Swede, helping these pious fort-dwellers build a spur line. Elam might be dead at the paws of a grizzly. Ruth said "damn," and is caretaker of little Ezra (who could help undo the Swede’s schemes), while toastmaster Durant’s back in charge of the Union Pacific. Mickey’s gearing up to be a successful businessman and town mayor as Eva walks the streets in a daze, believing her lover to be dead. These are all cool machinations, but not endings where I come from (a.k.a. "a sewer in Central California").
We finally got that reunion between star-crossed haters, Bohannon and the Swede, or should I say, "Bishop Dutson." While I’ll never kick drama between these two out of bed, one thing I found pretty disappointing was the refusal to address in high detail the Swede’s death confirmation on Bohannon’s part. What we saw was a man falling off a bridge into some water, but why didn’t Bohannon trundle down to water’s edge and check? Perhaps the tide was too strong for him to make it down in time, but this small detail has always irked me. Like, was there a time when the Swede might not have returned, and the show runners needed a possible out? In any case, it was fun to see Bohannon’s eyes go wide at recognizing his old nemesis and attempt to give him the old Jesse Pinkman manacle treatment. Don't get me wrong, it's good these two are together again, but to what end? We don't have any more episodes to find out! Similarly, Bishop Dutson introduced an interesting comparison in their meeting of the minds: For Bohannon to believe that he himself has changed, he might have to accept that others can change, too. Only difference is that the Swede has changed like three times already, and I think there is a limit on personal change, which is "before 'changing' is just what that person does."
After last week, we knew that Bohannon’s trajectory was aimed somewhere near family territory, what with all his wholesome daddin’-out with Ezra and talk of marrying Ruth, so it was clever to force him into the world of a married man under undesirable circumstances. The Swede's decision to let Bohannon live made some sense, but I’m not sure the Swede even hates Bohannon that much anymore. His options seemed more like "Definitely kill this guy I hate so much" or "Eh, I don’t hate him that much. Whatever" and he chose the latter. Then again, neither knows the other’s connection to Ezra, which could stir up some fatherly conflict.
But see what I mean? There’s not another episode to explore these setups, and no word yet on whether a new season is on the way. Elam’s trip out to rescue Bohannon confirmed their friendship, which is always a heartwarming thing, but I don’t think he’s dead. He can’t be. He’s one of the most compelling characters on the show and deserves a much more extravagant sendoff than being a cliffhanger.
I guess what I’m trying to say overall is that there’s the kind of finale that hints at more story (like Elam not being killed via bear) while still presenting a theoretical conclusion to the whole deal, and then there's the kind of finale that leans so heavily on that hint of more story (like Elam definitely not being killed via bear) that no ending, not even a temporary one, really takes place. Just a lot of "Wait 'til you see what we got planned for next season." Guess we’ll have to cross our fingers in the meantime.
– What relevance do the characters "Ruth" and "Naomi" have to the bible story with characters of the same name?
– How will Durant run things now that he's back in power?
– Is Elam dead?
– What do you think of Mickey's ascent?
– Will Bohannon ditch out on his Mormon marriage?
– Will Bohannon join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints?
– What did you think of "Get Behind the Mule"?
AIRED ON 7/23/2016
Season 5 : Episode 14