Hell on Wheels Season 5 Episode 9 Recap: Return to the Garden

Has Cullen seen the last of his family?

Hell on Wheels Naomi Michelle Faye/AMC
Hell On Wheels — MacKenzie Porter as Naomi Bohannon -

Welcome back, HOW fans! Last week’s episode took a more personal turn than those that came before in Season 5. Perhaps, the showrunners want to end Hell on Wheels by taking us back to what it’s really all about. It’s not so much the importance of a transcontinental railroad that has pulled us into this series … it’s the people … the characters we have come to love and hate, or both.

I especially love the opening scene. Cullen cools himself down by a stream. On the other side, an Indian does the same. Their eyes meet, and while Bohannon is alert, it appears both are in a similar situation. Cullen sees a gaping hole in the Indian’s shoulder, and the Indian sees Cullen’s wound as well. Then he looks at Bohannon’s horse. Bohannon notes this, slowly replaces his hat, mounts the horse and rides off. There is no threat, only empathy and understanding. Each knows the end goal is survival. Cullen is fortunate to have the horse.

Cullen returns to the Hatches. His business is unfinished.

It’s only Naomi, William and Isaac now. Isaac is in the yard butchering chickens. William sits outside with him. When Cullen rides up, Isaac is less than thrilled. The poor boy loves Naomi, but now Bohannon has returned. He’s not just back to bring word of The Swede’s demise. It’s even worse when Naomi asks him to stay for supper.

Hell on Wheels Isaac
Toby Hemingway as Isaac Vinson Photo Credit: Michelle Faye/AMC

During supper, the conversation is tense. Then Isaac challenges Bohannon with terse words – offers him the last biscuit – says he’s getting the royal treatment with Naomi’s apple pie. Cullen doesn’t want to hear it, so he gets up to leave. Naomi insists he stay the night. He agrees to stay in the barn. He acknowledges William before he heads out, but William barely looks at his father. It stings.

Outside, Cullen prepares to bed down, but the horses are disturbed and like a reflex, Cullen is ready for the worst.

Instead, it’s Isaac. He’s come to apologize for his behavior at supper. He’s doing it for Naomi. He’s not sorry. And as much as I love my Bohannon, I’ve gotta side with Isaac on this one. Naomi might be Cullen’s wife and William his son, but he’s been busy. Isaac has been there. Is it even within Bohannon’s character to settle down for any reason? Is it even possible? As much as I’d like to see this series end with him at peace, I’m not expecting it. If it happens, I might be disappointed.

Back in Laramie, Durant is welcomed “home” by Eva. He scoffs at the notion of such a sh-t hole being home. He scoffs at everything. He’d scoff if he wasn’t welcomed home. Ah, Durant.

Eva says she’s not especially fond of Laramie, but she’s okay with the stability. To that, Durant replies “Ennui. There’s a certain dissatisfaction sets in when we think we get what we want.” Eva understands. So do I.

He notices a group of riled gentlemen. Eva shows him the newspaper. It headlines that a new hub is expected in Cheyenne. He smiles.

Inside the Palmer Hotel, the riled gentlemen want their money back from their investment in a Laramie hub. Durant listens outside as Maggie Palmer tries to reason with them. He comes to her defense – she merely passed on information she received from him. He offers to buy back their investment at an additional ten cents per acre “at the going rate.” It’s enough to keep the hounds at bay, even if they don’t believe him.

Chelah Horsdal as Maggie Palmer - Hell on Wheels
Hell On Wheels — Chelah Horsdal as Maggie Palmer Michelle Faye/AMC

Naomi is planting flowers on graves. Cullen approaches her. He wants to explain himself … how he looked for her … how he never stopped thinking about her and William … how he’s here now.

It’s not enough. It’s too late. She loves Isaac. She walks away quickly before he can see her tears.

He finds Isaac prepping the wagon to leave for safer territory — Salt Lake City. Cullen can help them be accepted back into the “good graces” of Brigham via news of the Swede. Isaac doesn’t want the help, but he’s going to take it. Cullen “ain’t askin’” to be of assistance. He’s going to make sure Naomi and William find safety.

Durant pays a visit to Mickey … what a racket, that guy! Mayor, bar owner and “pimp” – one stop shop for business and pleasure. Durant wants bourbon and A LOT of Irish workers for the railroad. Mickey wants stock. He doesn’t want it to all be “liquor and whores.” He’s smarter than that. He’s tired of the rep. No stock, no Irishmen.

After drinking Mickey’s free bourbon, Durant runs into Psalms. He wants to sell back his deed for whatever he can get – he’s just as broke as the day he became a Freedman. Durant offers him a pittance to go away. Psalms, who busted his ass for Durant, and for nothing, is more than disgusted. Durant blames Psalms for taking the risk and refuses to even apologize. Psalms walks away, and Durant seems relieved. He sure is pissing a lot of people off, but par for the course. It’s what he does best.

On their journey, Isaac secures camp and Naomi tends to Cullen’s leg. It pains Isaac to watch, but it’s history he can’t make disappear. Later that night, Isaac confronts Bohannon after Naomi’s gone to bed. He’s been with her for about a year, when her people, riddled with smallpox, came to his in Salt Lake. He fell in love with her then, and he thought they were good. Cullen’s return has changed everything. The whole year disappears every time Naomi looks at Cullen.

Hell on Wheels Naomi
Hell On Wheels — MacKenzie Porter as Naomi Bohannon Michelle Faye/AMC

The conversation is cut short. Indians are nearby. They are watching and want to make sure the group knows it.

Back in “civilization,” superintendent Strobridge lowers himself down into one of the pits where the Chinese work to progress the Central Pacific. He wants them to get moving. He’s a complete dick about it. Mei translates, and the workers shake their heads in acknowledgement. I imagine she turned Strobridge’s words into something more tactful.

She asks if Bohannon will be back. Strobridge says nope – he’s found his family. Mei looks devastated. She goes to Chang – he owes her money – her dead father’s wages, as negotiated by Bohannon. She spends some on a place to sleep and an opium pipe. Chang still thinks she’s a he … so do the women who take care of Chang’s guests.

Camp is pulled up, and Cullen leads the way. He knows they’re surrounded, and he knows the Indians just want the riding horses. Isaac protests. Horses are valuable … but so are scalps. Cullen suggests they cut the horses loose and keep their scalps. It works. Isaac has no idea how smart he was to suck it up and let Bohannon join them.

One of Chang’s women takes Mei to bed. Chang notes it in his books … no doubt it will be taken from her father’s next wages. Once Mei is upstairs, the woman makes her move, but Mei stops her. She asks the woman to sing to her instead.

Hell On Wheels Chang
Hell on Wheels — Byron Mann as Chang Chris Large/AMC


Bohannon and the others make it to Salt Lake and Brigham. Mr. Young is not happy to see any of them, but Cullen tells him The Swede is hanged, and it changes his attitude. He welcomes Cullen in and allows for the “Hatchites” to hang around while their horses are fed and watered.

Inside, Cullen listens to Brigham’s holier than thou lecture, wanting nothing but assurance that Naomi, William and Isaac will be welcomed back into Mormon arms and kept safe. Young will let it happen, but not before verbally torturing Bohannon.

I have to get this out of my system so it never comes up again. Bear with me. Gregg Henry plays Brigham Young, and this guy has played a ton of characters, most of whom – in some shape or form – aren’t very nice. I love this actor for his assholiness, but I love him mostly for his role of Mayor Jack MacReady in Slither (2006). For some reason, I adore this movie. It’s a concept that’s been overdone, but whatever. Every time I see Brigham Young ‘pop’ up on my screen, all I want to do is give him a Mr. Pibb. If you’ve seen the movie, you know. If you haven’t, disregard my digression.

Okay, back to our scheduled program. Sorry. The whole time Brigham preaches to Bohannon about the gift of family … about how Bohannon’s ambition for the railroad is so important, he’s willing to return his ‘gifts’ to God … and God doesn’t save by “money, power or vanity,” but by love … I can’t stop rolling my eyes. What? Well then why did the Prophet get so pissed off about losing his damn terminus? Why does he treat Phineas like dirt? And why is he making the “Hatchites” squirm instead of welcoming them with open arms? He ought to be talking to a mirror.

In the end, Brigham agrees to Cullen’s request. Cullen tells Naomi that her marriage to Isaac will be blessed the very next Sunday. He does this with regret, but knows it’s best.

Psalms talks to his men. Yeah, The Fat Man, Durant, sold them a steaming pile, but they still have their jobs. He says what’s gone is gone, but they still have hope with the railroad. If they keep working, they’ll recover – they won’t be beaten by the Devil.

Durant is pissed. He needs men since Young pulled out the Mormon workers. The prisons won’t do business with him anymore, so he can forget getting help from more Freedmen. Looks like Mickey is his only hope.

Hell on Wheels Durant
Hell on Wheels — Colm Meaney as Thomas ‘Doc’ Durant Chris Large/AMC

He starts pitching a fit, but Maggie shuts him up with a kiss. She knows their schemes and scams have brought them to this point, so all the pissing and moaning in the world isn’t going to undo what’s been done. They’ll have to work with their few remaining options. Durant knows she’s right and takes 400 shares of stock to Mickey.

Durant makes sure to inform Mickey the stock doesn’t mean “steaks and red wine.” Ownership comes with “responsibilities.” All business is dirty in one way or another, and Mickey’s hands have been dirty for so long, he’s not likely to wipe them clean with those 400 shares. He looks disappointed to hear this (which so tickles Durant), but he wants his stock and promises 1000 Irish workers by week’s end.

Having made certain of Naomi and William’s safety in Brigham Young’s community, Bohannon readies himself to leave. The whole situation is tearing him up. He knows he’ll likely never see either again. Isaac thanks him and walks away.

With tears in his eyes, Cullen tells William to grow up humble – to always be a good man – the most sincere words from father to son. His heart is so broken, but leaving is the best thing he can do for his boy.

He rides off and doesn’t look back.

In Laramie, Mei gives some of her mother’s belongings to the woman who sang to her the night before. The woman thanks her and calls her “little sister.” Mei looks surprised. The woman whispers, “You can fool fifteen thousand men, but you can’t fool a whore.”

Moments later, a broken Bohannon rides slowly back into town. His presence is noticed by all … especially Mei. She is the first to visit him once he’s settled in. The two say almost nothing before she disrobes and stands before him. I’m a little shocked and have no idea where this is going, but then he stands up and kisses her. Now I’m a lot shocked. It goes further than a kiss. It’s the last thing I expect.

I’ve got so many questions!

  • Will Brigham really keep the Hatches safe in his community?
  • Is Mei’s secret safe with Chang’s whore?
  • Has Cullen seen the last of his family?
  • What’s Eva’s connection to the white horse?
  • How do you feel about the last scene?

Sound off in the comments and follow me @KimberlyThies1. Chat me up during episodes!


  1. I don’t card who he ends up with as long as he is not left a lonesome shell of a man, which I don’t think will happen since he is so sexy,or killed. I love this series and Anson Mount is a heck of a good actor. I’d watch for years if they would keep it going but I do like that they are putting all the storylines to rest.

    • I’m not sure how I’d like to see things end at this point. I know I’d be really disappointed with his death, but I’d be even more disappointed if the ending didn’t fit the rest of the series. I don’t want them to wrap up with an out of place, hurried ending to leave viewers with warm fuzzies. I’d like it to end on a happy note for Cullen, but if it doesn’t work with the rest of the story, I’d rather be devastated than duped. And I’m with you! If it was somehow possible to keep HOW going, I’d watch for years, too.

  2. I was so, so disappointed that him and Naomi and little William didn’t ride off together. For some reason, their story line really made me happy. I want more than anything for Cullen to settle down and find happiness, comfort, and peace with a family, outside of the railroad.

    • Yeah, he deserves happiness after all he’s been through, but he just can’t overcome his demons. Maybe you will have your wish when the series ends. He can’t keep running from stability. What will he do when the railroad is finished?

  3. Do you think it might have a been a vision of what he’d like even though he knows he can’t? Love to hear more of your thoughts going forward!

  4. Yes I can see Naomi leaving Issac and be back at the end. It’s just sad that he at the moment has lost 2 wives and 2 sons. But the railroad has been important to him. And just to say, Naomi hasn’t followed her faith real well….meeting Cullen in the barn in the first place wasn’t too spiritual on her part.

    • Agreed, but as a person who constantly wrestles with the idea of organized religion, I don’t fault Naomi for her imprudence. Lust is deemed sinful, but what about love? For someone her age, maybe she had the two confused, but I DO believe she loves Bohannon. Sometimes love at first sight DOES happen. And Cullen, despite a sordid past, is a righteous man. Cullen’s situation is sad, but most of the choices he’s made have been selfless…other than the railroad, which is an obsession…but also something he’s driven to see through. I don’t know if Naomi will find him, but if she does, what will he have to offer? How do you see it pan out? I want to know what others think because I’m clueless at this point. I can come up with a hundred different scenarios, but I’m sure they’d all be wrong. I really want to know what others see for the end of HOW.

  5. The attraction of Mei for Cullen was obvious for a while, but I don’t believe Cullen feels the same toward her. However, after what he has just been thru the comfort she offers must feel good to him. But I am pretty sure it will turn badly for her…she has exposed herself too much.

    • I want him to find happiness. I so do. Whether or not he will remains to be seen…I can’t even guess at this point. One part of me thinks it might be too weird to wrap things up with a settle down resolution, but if it doesn’t, how will it wrap up? It better not be with Cullen dead. As far as Mei goes, that’s why I freaked out…it happened so quickly, though he didn’t have to go back to Truckee (which I screwed up in my darn blog). Maybe he went back for her. I don’t know!!! It’s too much all at once, and I’m afraid to even guess. I think we are going to be slapped hard for the next five weeks! Whatever happens, I hope it works. A bad ending to a fantastic series will kill me. Dexter really, REALLY ticked me off.


    • I am also happy now that I’ve had a chance to digest all that’s gone down in just two episodes, but I am worried about Mei!

    • It’s actually Chinese, which is why I picked it. For some reason, “ennui” didn’t even cross my mind. No idea why. As soon as I realized the error, I smacked my forehead. Sent a note to have it changed. 🙂

      • Thanks for reading, though! I appreciate it…and check me anytime you like. Did you enjoy the episode?

  7. I foresaw Cullen and Mei getting together after she risked her life to save him when they were sliding off that mountain and she cut the rope. Physically and intellectually, they are equals. I was thrilled to finally see them together.

    • You’re right. I saw the connection growing for a while. I guess I was just taken aback that it happened like it did, but I’m happy he returned. I’m fairly certain Mei’s secret won’t keep much longer, and without Bohannon, I can’t imagine the ugly she’d endure.

      • Thanks for clarifying. When you said you were shocked my thought was, “where have you been?” There had been a strong, mutual pull between them for a long time that Cullen had been resisting because of Naomi and his obligation to his family who he was trying to get back to. Now that his obligation to Naomi is fully resolved, he doesn’t have to resist Mei anymore. His surrender to her at the end felt very much like his surrender to Lilly in season 2. I believe he feels the same depth of passion for Mei that he did for Lilly but never really did for Naomi. Personally, I was not at all shocked it happened, only surprised and delighted that it happened so soon. I hope this time Cullen can have a happy ending.

        • I hope so, too. I’m worried about Mei. When she was talking to “Big Sister,” I saw Chang watching the exchange. I didn’t like the look on his face. I think he knows, and I think he’s going to do anything he can to stop paying out her father’s wages. If anything happens to her, I’ll lose my mind. Cullen deserves SOMETHING to go right. He said he was planning a house when he talked to Naomi. Maybe this will all end with him finally settling down. I find it hard to wrap my brain around right now because he was so awkward in the Mormon community, but the more I think about it, the more I like the idea of him finding peace and family – and it wouldn’t be a bad way for the series to end. Mei deserves happiness, too. She’s been through more than enough hell.

          • I have a feeling Cullen gets together with Naomi in the end because beginning at the first scene of the second half of Season 5, he was by a lakeside and a woman was up on the cliff and the little boy came running down to him

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