As chief engineer of the Union Pacific, Cullen Bohannon’s current troubles can pretty much be traced back to his decision way back when to work the rails for the sake of revenge. At some point along the way this chance at a new transcontinental life took priority over vengeance, and the ex-soldier seemed to have left his murderous past behind him, only to be torn down once more by the world’s ugliness. More obsessed than ever, it’s debatable whether or not Cullen’s involvement with the train enterprise has yielded more pleasure than woe, to the point where walking away from it all seems like a better option than dealing with the machinations and accusations of those who would do him wrong. This week’s "One Less Mule" gave Bohannon’s fixation new life, in an episode that started off slow with a revisit to familiar conflict but then gained momentum by presenting our hero a path toward atonement.
But first, the thing we all knew was coming, came (sort of): Considering the Swede’s quality time with Ezra, talk of wearing his dad’s hat, and sinister Book of Mormon readings, it was only a matter of time before Thor Gundersen made a move involving the loss of life and creepily saying "Ehhhh!" The assumption was that he’d become the kid’s father, but who knew he’d slaughter himself a whole family? And during a baptism no less! Way to misinterpret the doctrine, Brother.
The Swede killing the Mormons in the midst of a ritual that's normally meant to clean away one’s moral misdeeds paralleled Cullen’s trial, as well as Durant's efforts to reinstitute historic sins. Using the spiritual water ceremony as a means to commit murder is pretty damn evil, and recalled comparisons between the Swede’s affinity for ending lives and Cullen's. The difference is that, regardless of how many men he’s buried, Cullen still seems to have a good reason, even if at times the law disagrees, whereas the Swede is just a certified psycho.
The kangaroo court scenes were a nice way to remind us of all our regular townsfolk (always happy to see Mick doing well for himself), but I got antsy with so much dialogue being delivered by seated people whose every word further condemned Cullen. But maybe this was the point. The more Durant clucked his tongue and grandstanded in front of an out-of-his-element Cullen, the more I wanted to see some good ol’ fashioned street justice go down. Were this Season 1, we might have seen just that. Instead, the train engineer demonstrated maturity by deciding to play by the rules of professional society men, even if it meant losing his job. Cullen refused to sign Credit Mobilier's statement, kept his honor, and blew off some steam with the realization that his days on the rails might be as good as over. Cullen is usually so intense and stoic (less so in this season, but more in previous ones) that any time he can crack a smile does the heart well, even if it occurs in the spirit of not giving an eff. I got fired y'all, let's get DRUNK! What’s cozier than the two-step in a saloon full of friendly faces? For a moment—just a moment—this seemed like the kind of regular, pressure-free life that might make Cullen happiest.
Of course, the chief engineer is cut out for greater things than frivolous folk dances. Plus what kind of show would we have if, God forbid, Cullen Bohannon ever got to be happy? This man thrives on woe, either being burdened by it or getting tough in spite of it. In sharing cigars with the general in charge of soldiers who killed his family—and receiving the guy's personal endorsement—Cullen showed that his days of bitter vengeance are behind him, but not his days of murder. "Killing ain’t something anyone’s born to," he admitted, "it’s something you learn, and you’re the one who has to live with it when it’s done." Yes, later that day he drunkenly killed that Prescott fellow in cold blood, but he offered the gunman an out, and the exchange was as emotionless as the episode-opening mule-shooting. He’s atoned for his sins and made peace with the fact that every once and a while a body’s going to drop, because that's who he is. Cullen will do what he can to change, but from this point forward, any reminder of his messy past is just another petty obstacle blocking Cullen's path fulfillment.
– Will Elam and Eva’s wedding plans get screwed up?
– Are YOU happy that Cullen doesn’t really have a love interest?
– How will Louise Ellison's sexuality come into play?
– Will Cullen have to keep killing people connected to his past?
– What will make Bohannon happiest?
– What did you think of "One Less Mule"?