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Hell on Wheels S03E08: "It Happened in Boston"

Well, true to the episode's title, we learned just what allegedly "Happened in Boston," an hour that found nearly every character occupied with very Old West-y activities: Oh you know, trading a mute boy to a fort for workers, getting drunk because your ex-prostitute lover gave your baby to New York. Also, "muck." You know, those sorts of things. The sum of all these parts made up one of my favorite types of Hell on Wheels episodes, where most of the action going on isn’t necessarily that threatening. Cullen got to spend time with Durant, Elam went on a non-lethal drunken tear, Eva set to finding work, and then out of nowhere, Sean caught a belly full of hot lead.    

Remember way back in the day when Sean and Mick were two Oi-rish lads just trying to find their way in this, the new America? Remember when they mentioned Boston, all like, "not again—just like Boston"? They had to leave for some undisclosed shady reason, and this week we learned that reason (according to Mickey, at least), and it involved the deaths of a shopkeeper’s daughter and a schoolteacher. While I was shocked to see Sean get killed by his own brother, I didn’t feel all that bad about the decision. Seeing Sean act all nervous ever since things bottomed out with Ruth has been zero fun in terms of television viewership. Maybe he didn't deserve death, but it says a lot that, in the moment of his murder, I was immediately relieved I'd never have to see his panicked eyes dart back and forth ever again.

It’s no fault of actor Ben Esler, who’s done a phenomenal job playing the dramatic cards dealt to him, and who was very fun to watch in the character's ambitious, non-obsessive days. Now, the question remains: Was Mickey really more involved with these murders than he’s let on? I mean, yes—there was the accomplice business, and we’ve seen the two commit murder together in the slaughterhouse—but maybe Sean was the sidekick throughout all this grisliness. In which case, I’m bummed it had to come to this between family members, but happy that the more dangerous McGinnes brother was left behind to deal with Durant.  

Eva telling Elam her baby news had the expected effect. The latter got pissed, grabbed his lady-friend by her dress collar, and tossed her right out of his tent/life. She landed on her rump, bounced twice, then skidded to a stop. Next, the chief of railroad "po-leese" cleared his schedule and did what any reasonable person would do when you find out your lover gave your baby to New York: got drunk all day long on top of a two-story sleeper train. Remember when Elam used to get drunk all the time on Corn Whiskey? Maybe his problem will come back. Even though this kid wasn't biologically his, I understand Elam's reaction. That baby was part of his future, part of his home. Part of his plan to be a man. And being a "man" back in the Old West was like the best thing you could do with yourself. Of course he'd be enraged.  

Meanwhile Eva trundled around town looking for work in Mickey’s brothel, and Mickey very smartly refused her services on the grounds that Elam would probably hassle him about it. Beneath his scraggly head of hair, Mick's got himself a pimp's heart, so he sent her off with some cash money. That pimp's heart was so bountiful that he even poured some free whiskey for Elam—which, hell, the more liquor Elam buys, the better, so it was a very good scheming business move, that. The main turn in this plot happened at the end of the episode, when Eva wound up in bed with Louise Ellison, freshly healed from her cholera and looking, I guess, to bed down with a warm body for the night. The slow pull out to an empty liquor bottle on the nightstand implied that some sort of revelry went down, but who knows if she merely offered Eva her bed, or the two were intimate. Who knows? 

Cullen’s relationship with Ezra is actually one of my favorite of the series so far. Seeing Cullen take on the responsibilities of the professional world has leveled him out some already, but his interaction with a kid shows us the softer side of a very rough man, and lets us witness the type of hard-parenting that went on back then. Carry this saddle, boy! Don’t draw your knife on churchfolk! Plus let’s not forget that along with a wife, he did lose a son back during the war. So technically, any attachment he forms with this kid can act as another element of healing that the Swede could brutally take away, for whatever cockamamie reasons. Heck, I thought he was going to come face-to-face with his old nemesis at the Mormon fort. But then, that’s probably what the next two episodes are for. 

So all in all, it was a relatively bloodless day in the sleepy railroad town of Hell on Wheels, unless your name was Sean McGinnes. In that case, R.I.P. bro!  The town will miss your scheming ways! 


– Is Mickey the real mastermind?

– Does Cullis Huntington respect Cullen Bohannon?

– What sort of relationship does Cullen share with Ezra?

– Should Elam be be able to get over the fact that the baby was probably biologically a "Toole."

– Do Durant's contemporaries respect him at all?

– Did white Chinese people like Scoggins really exist back in the day?

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 7/23/2016

Season 5 : Episode 14

Comments (22)
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Best show on TV! Why they moved it to Saturday, I don't know, but it's really geering up to an awesome last two episodes. So glad to have a show with lots going on that's not about cops or zombies.
I am 100% convinced it was Mickey who killed the women in Boston. When Sean begins confessing to Ruth he says my mother told me to look after my brother, then he says "my brother Mickey, who everyone loves, let me tell you who he really is?", then BOOM!
Mickey was always the problem child but slowly their roles had reversed. Sean was sketchy and manic towards the end but no ruthless killer. I thought that last line in particular made it clear that Sean was about to reveal Mickey as the killer and himself as the accomplice
Yeah, definitely. This was what I took out of that scene, too.
Sean was always suspect to me, especially his weird behavior towards women. But, I have to admit, it came as a shock to me that he was a serial-killer from Boston. Mick, as a good Irish brother, just cleaned up behind him and that included a cop kill. So no, Mick's not THE REAL mastermind. He carved himself a nice piece out of Hell on Wheels and all the time he knew his brother to be a tickin' time-bomb. Of course the fact that Sean was either a) tell everyone about the muders or b) kill another girl he likes helped Mick making a quick and lasting decision.
– Did white Chinese people like Scoggins really exist back in the day?
I don't know. I was mildly surprised by that, but weren't a lot of people from the states shanghaied back in the days?
– Is Mickey the real mastermind?
Q.Does Cullis Huntington respect Cullen Bohannon?
A. He seems to respect Bohannon. I guess we'll find out.
Q. What sort of relationship does Cullen share with Ezra?
A. One like an uncle shares with a nephew. They both hate the Swede.
Q. Should Elam be be able to get over the fact that the baby was probably biologically a "Toole."
A. Elam was led to believe the baby was his and he came to love that baby despite any and all doubts he may have had. How could things have turned out differently with ambivalent Eva hiding her true emotions?
Q. Did white Chinese people like Scoggins really exist back in the day?
A. Of course they did. They exist today. Black Chinese too.
I have a feeling that Ezra will be the end of the Swede. Bohannon wont kill him, the Mormons will!
Most of the stuff about the Mormons has implied how violent they are. Once they find out who the Swede really is, they wont let him live.
I thought Eva would be getting a job as a medic at some point (they need one) and the empty bottle was just to show that she was drowning her sorrows as well as Elam.
I feel badly for both Eva and Elam. The thing is, I think the show's been trying to look at Eva's actions as driven by 19th century post-partum depression, i.e. a time period in which the disorder was poorly understood, and tended to be even more poorly treated (it was starting to be recognized as a disorder in the 1850s, but I'm betting that it hadn't become universally known or taken seriously, and women of the day, if they recognized it in themselves at all, and chose to talk about it, which was a big "if", were as likely to be regarded as "insane" as to be given electro-shock therapy for it). So perhaps Eva's actions (all of them) might make sense if they were put in that context, but she and Elam probably lack the ability to diagnose what's going on with her, or take it seriously. Which makes things tragic.

And yet, I still reacted to Eva's "Remember that I gave you a choice" with, "No, honey, you really didn't." She acted unilaterally to give away the baby. She didn't treat Elam as a partner, didn't try to convince him it was the right thing to do beforehand, and did it in a way that ensured that Toole and the baby were long gone before Elam would find out. She took choices AWAY from him. Sure, there are probably deeper psychological reasons for doing that, but I was disappointed to see her fooling herself over it.

Meanwhile, with the McGinnes brothers... it was tough to come to a conclusion, but, I'm going to go with the idea that it really was Sean who killed the girls in Boston, and it was Mickey who killed a policeman to help cover things up. I'll admit, I'm fuzzy on my recollections of Season 1, and the clues dropped then; and it's entirely possible that the new writers and showrunner have just decided to interpret things differently now than the original creators meant at the outset. But I keep coming back to how squirrelly Sean was last season, when Ruth rejected him. There was an episode in particular where Sean confronted her late at night and got all up in his face, and I remember people being critical of his attitude and actions at the time -- he was too physically pressing, and way too "look at all I did for you, now you owe me sex/marriage".

It's the memory of that, and his squirrelliness in his final moments here (urgent that Ruth MUST listen to him, grabbing her) that called that back to me, and made me think, yeah... the show's been sort of telling us for a while that, as you point out, when Sean doesn't get what he wants, especially if he thinks he "deserves" it, he loses control. It's easy to imagine him going a bit further and killing some women, based on what we've seen. It's different from portraying him as a deliberate murderer; it makes him something much more frightening, a Nice Guy (tm) who goes too far. I think Mickey might have been accurate when he said that he may have saved Ruth's life.


Cullen and Ruth... no. Please, no. I like the "he can go to her and talk" relationship, but please, no more than that.

I was fine with him going to her to let her cry on his shoulder; who else does she have? But, there are things about Ruth that I do hold against her. I think she's trying her best, but I also think she's narrow-minded and kind of selfish. I don't hold Sean against her, but I do think she mishandled Blackmoon. That was her chance at happiness and she couldn't bring herself to be truly Christian enough (even by her own definition) to accept it. I don't think she could really handle all the aspects of what makes Bohannon who he is.

Finally, I really enjoy Cullen's interactions with Ezra. It's just that I kept saying, "Kid, please don't die" throughout the episode. Mostly, I'll be shocked if the kid makes it out of this season alive. The only hope I have is that even the show realizes that killing him off would be too obvious. I just don't know if the show cares whether it's too obvious or not. So yeah, I worry. I'd prefer it if Ezra simply chooses to go with the Mormons in the end.
Meant to add...

Scoggins? Sure. Although not explicitly mentioned, it seems likely that Scoggins is meant to be half-Chinese, half-white. If he was born in Peking, as he says, then his father might be an ambassador or merchant. He may consider himself Chinese, but it also seems telling that he's in America, working for the railroad, rather than still in China.
Mickey made numerous comments to Sean about having to always bail him out of trouble, so I'm thinking the accomplice part of it was Mick having to clean up after him and dispose of those girls. This idea was lent credence by him knowing exactly what to do when Durant killed his friend. Mick took control of the situation and knew exactly what to do. I have no doubt that Mickey really did save Ruth's life. Sean wasn't intending to harm her, he just couldn't control himself when things didn't go his way.

RE: Eva and Louise, Eva really had this sad look on her face like something had gone down that she wasn't very proud of, but then again she was fully dressed - and that's like a half hour just to do and undo all of those corset straps and such - so maybe she was still upset about Elam throwing her out on her keister.
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