Watching Hell on Wheels

Hell on Wheels, Season 1Last year I got hooked on watching Hell on Wheels. Always attracted to period productions, I pulled up the couch for a watch. Nice. Gritty details. Good realism. Great effort was taken to ground the story threads. Engaging characters rounded out the scenery. Cullen Bohannon portrayed the flawed don’t-mind-me-I’m-just-here-to-shoot-someone leading man. Lily Bell offered a convincingly delicate but tough I-can-sew-up-my-own-wounds kind of leading lady. Durant presented the villain-in-chief, also sometimes likable, who everyone loves to hate. There’s even a whole cast of supporting characters which are quirky and fun and annoying. Good hand to be dealt. Season 1 was fun.

When season 2 rolled around I planted butt on the cushions, coffee mug in hand, and prepared to continue the ride. Uh. Hm, not so much. Things started out deep in character development, which seemed weird since they’d already managed to get through an entire season. Some newly introduced characters were intriguing. Several episodes were great, action-packed. Plot twists kept me guessing, but then the show stumbled. Hard. I’m not even sure when I lost interest but it happened. That dreaded moment when, had it been a book, I would have closed the cover and set it aside.

Hell on Wheels, Season 2

Despite my misgivings, I didn’t give up. There was a lot of character development but a lack of story movement. No sense of time. The rail crew is crossing the plains and it’s never winter. Have you been to the Dakotas in the winter? Snow. Lots of snow. Did I mention there’s snow? The episode where leading man and leading lady finally snuggled up was surprisingly tender and hopeful. Even though you knew it couldn’t last, right? Hope burned bright.

Then, alas, the show rapidly descended into the land of WTF?!

Don’t even get me started on the lunacy of the convoluted plot twists. When did the Swede go from being a vet with PTSD, to the Nordic version of the bogey man? Loki, my ass. Let me just say the utterly ridiculous representations of Native people, guys in buckskin charging across a train trestle as they carried olympic torches, provoked snorts of laughter. Please, somebody consult a tribal historian.

Anyhoo. Somehow the show, which offered such great promise, lost its way in season 2. By the finale, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the network didn’t renew. They did. Speculation was rife. I puzzled how the writers were going to recover from the ruins of the season, both in story line and lost characters.

Hell on Wheels, Season 3I still  want to like the show so I tuned in and to watch season 3. Unfortunately, by now my trust has been fractured and I’m skeptical they can keep me engaged. I don’t believe they can pull off a recovery. Bohannon’s motivations don’t ring true any longer. Worse yet, I keep waiting for the equivalent of a Dallas Shower Scene and that’ll really mark the end. You can’t willy nilly run amok killing off characters (and NOT killing off the ones that need to go) without alienating part of your audience. The end of season 2 managed to piss off everyone – even the railroad aficionados and Civil War buffs grumbled.

I want to be won over but my confidence level is low. So far season 3 isn’t delivering. C’mon Hell on Wheels, wow me. Coax me. Convince me. I want to be seduced. I’m ready.

Spoiler Alert – I probably should have noted that earlier.

For heaven’s sakes, can we leave them Irish boys alone for a while? I don’t need to see them kill off another hard-working fella that happened to get in their way. Eva continues to accept whatever attention Elam offers, never mind if it’s good for her or the baby. The man who took offense at everything and marched face-first into every battle, now can’t muster up a complaint even when the job he’s promised gets given to someone else. Poor Elam. The only new character with any interesting qualities is the crazy law enforcement guy who swiped Elam’s job…but the writers off him as soon as they get a chance. Lily is still dead. At least, so far. The Swede isn’t. In good daytime soap opera fashion, no corpse = not dead.


At least the tattoo is right.

So, let me test my understanding here: *taking a deep breath*

In season 1 Bohannon shows up, hell-bent on seeking revenge for the murder of his wife and son. Check. Got it. More power to you, shoot someone else. I got your back. Oops. Killed that innocent soldier, eh? You bad. Uh oh. Wallow in the guilt ’cause you took it too far. Nevermind, here comes the hot blonde.

In season 2, everyone’s getting steamy with each other. The only people not getting laid is the whiny Irish brother who wants the preacher’s daughter (who apparently wants anybody but him). The Swede whacks Lily and leaps off a trestle to disappear downstream. Check. Bohannon loses his mind from grief – albeit in a calm and focused manner.

In season 3, Bohannon has managed to winter over (yay, there’s snow for a change) while the only other person in town froze to death. Still not sure what he’s been eating for five months, but whatever. It snows like the dickens out there in the central Plains. Good news is, he’s all over the need to seek revenge for the dead wife and child. He’s also apparently over his angst for the lamented Lily Bell, since he proceeds to try to hump the daughter (or maybe it’s the fourth wife?) of the Mormon guy he’s about to evict. Okay, I get it. A man has needs (insert eye roll). We don’t really know what Bohannon’s are because he’s too busy being stoic. His sudden burning desire to complete the railroad has supplanted the previously mentioned needs for vengeance and lost love. Really? I don’t buy it.

steam trainWith the Swede’s return (insert eye roll), I foresee  a show with a dim future. Bummer, because the idea was stellar and the historical setting was convincing enough – except for the olympic torch thing, that one we’re still snickering about. Want to weigh in and tell me how I got it all wrong? Can you convince me I missed something that will make it all right? Please?

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