I mean, the best part of Hell on Wheels' Season 4 premiere was obviously when Cullen helped his Mormon wife Naomi have a baby while his midwife mother-in-law sang all creepy like, and then the Bishop burst in and shouted in tongues. Bringing a life into this world is already very chaotic, what with the lamaze and various fluids spilling hither and thither, not to mention the high-level feels involved between the parties who created the child. Imagine your dear wife is giving birth, and the two of you are clutching hands all meaningful like, and then your religious leader is in there babbling away about literally God knows what. But “The Elusive Eden” wasn’t all about baby-making, so let’s check in with the various inhabitants of Hell on Wheels and see what they’re up to as we steam ahead into Season 4.
“Whoever you are, you better shoot to kill.”
Cullen’s been biding his time at the Mormon Fort Smith, kind of being held captive but also kind of doing the honorable thing as a man and sticking around for his baby. Life’s not so great for him at the moment; the former farmer/soldier/railman spends his days doing manual labor and receiving the cold shoulder from most everyone. Turns out Mormon dads hate it when you hang their sons AND knock up their daughters. No wonder he was seeking out information on the comings and goings of Cheyenne! However, his instinct to hightail it is tempered by a concern for Naomi and his child. Should Cullen leave, his seasoned nemesis Bishop "The Swede" Dutson would be free to influence Cullen’s own flesh and blood however the psychopath sees fit. On top of that, the child would be raised as a secret—presented as Naomi's brother—and Cullen's legacy would be swept under the table. It’s all in keeping Cullen's character struggle between chasing that elusive railroad and settling down with the consequences of his choices. And in the meantime, he’s game to toy with the Swede’s head, showing us he's still got a mischievous streak.
Assuming the identity of the real Bishop Dutson last season, the Swede is living pretty high on the Mormon hog over at Fort Smith. He’s dramatic enough that he's been able to convince his whole congregation that he speaks to God, and the whole congregation is faithful enough to do his bidding. Also he’s very good about walking around with his hands clasped behind his back, like a thoughtful man of the cloth. Only Cullen knows his secret, but admitting that would make the Swede's whole identity assumption fall apart. These Mormons aren't the forgiving kind, either.
The Swede is quite obsessed with keeping Cullen captive under the pretense of salvation, while also insinuating himself into Cullen’s newly formed family. He’s kind of like one of those annoying types who picks up on something you may want and then gets it for himself as a way of mental one-upsmanship. Something about this guy just loves getting inside Cullen’s head and ruining his happiness. I think he’s just a lonely hater.
“The eyes of the world are upon me as I stand on the verge of ruin.”
After reclaiming a power position on the Union Pacific, Durant’s right back to equal parts scheming and screwing up. He started things off by sinking a train and his ambition into the Crow River then held a sham auction in cahoots with Mayor Mickey McGinnes in order to drum up some cash. Proud as ever, he’s not willing to give up his control of the railroad, even as the federal government prepares to send over some new bosses. He also lost an ally in Maggie Palmer, the richest woman in Cheyenne, who saw right through Durant’s schemes and booted him out of her hotel. Thomas Durant is nothing if not a conniver who routinely surprises with a cockroach-esque will to thrive. But he also needs to watch out for his chief railroad engineer’s wife, who suspects him of killing her father.
“All women are whores by nature, supposing except for me mum.”
As a mayor, this guy makes Rob Ford look like a girl scout. After killing his own brother to cover up a gainful murder for Durant, Mickey’s now got his American dream of power and wealth, part of which he’s using to take pity on Eva. Mostly he wants Eva to turn tricks again, and he seemed genuinely affected when Durant’s ex-business partner called him a “flunky.” He may have legitimacy on the outside, but Mickey’s got a ways to go if he wants to shake off the shady tendencies that got him where he is today. Much like Cullen had to step up his gentlemanliness at one point, Mickey can start by keeping his wandering Irish hands out of Eva’s bathwater.
“It’s either this or go back to whoring.”
The former prostitute and ex-wife of Elam spent her time in the muck still reeling from giving away Elam’s baby and his love. Now working as a sort of whorehouse maid to Mayor Mickey’s brothel, she suffered what I think we can assume was a sexual assault among the whore-linens from a large town brute, reminding us all of how unsettled this settlement still is. So mainly she’s having a terrible time on her own, heartbroken in the absence of Elam—who we last saw left for dead following a real bear of a bear attack.
"I know how much that railroad means to you."
No, your eyes aren't going bad, the part of Naomi has been taken over by Mackenzie Porter, following schedule conflicts with former Naomi portrayer Siobhan Williams. A pawn in a game of Mormon Power Chess, Naomi seems curious as to the life Cullen could give her outside of the compound walls. She's still aware, of course, that her husband married her to save his own skin—but she has yet to see the side of Cullen we know, the one that's sacrificing and heroic. Either way, stepping into Cullen's family puts her at risk with the Swede, who is always dead-set on messing up any kind of happiness his nemesis Cullen might find, and with a Snidely Whiplash level of dedication.
“Mistakes were made, but order was restored.”
Speaking of mustachioed characters, carpetbagger John Campbell (Jake Weber, Medium) comes highly recommended from Ulysses S. Grant. He's been appointed as provisional governor to Cheyenne along with his shifty cronies, and following some sort of mess in Atlanta—where it was implied he got a tad too ruthless—this firm-spoken gentleman seems pretty confident that his ominous methods will establish a line of power directly to the federal government. Will he team up with Durant? Will he be stabbed in the train yards? Only time will tell!
And that about does it for the good kindly folks of Hell on Wheels as we embark on another season. What were your favorite parts of "The Elusive Eden"? What plots are you most excited to see take shape? Who will win in this Game of Railroads?
AIRED ON 2/2/2017
Season 16 : Episode 16