Welcome back faithful Hell on Wheels fans! Last week, Bohannon returned to Truckee after a “final farewell” to Naomi and William. Durant had to suck it up and give Mickey shares in the Union Pacific. And then Mei ‘welcomed’ Cullen back in an unexpected way. Initially, it was hard to swallow, but once digested, it felt okay in my gut. A great discussion following my recap really helped, so thank you, readers!
HOWEVER, this week’s episode makes me queasy.
With that said, let’s get to it! On … whee!
Cullen stares a hole in the ceiling as Mei sleeps beside him. He looks pensive, per usual. His thoughts are a mystery, but then he hears the whistle of a steam engine. When it blows, it has his undivided attention.
Cullen goes to work. A mountain needs moving.
Collis Huntington is surprised to see him, but not angry. He knows Bohannon won’t rest until the Central Pacific wins the golden spike. He gives Cullen a tongue-lashing for being absent, but his bark is worse than his bite. He and Strobridge exchange glances. Both know Cullen has returned to his truest love.
Bohannon’s new plan involves nitroglycerine. Huntington is intrigued, but Strobridge tells Bohannon not to mess where he shouldn’t be messin’. He’s already ruined several crates of nitro due to zero understanding of its complicated chemistry. Bohannon is counting on Strobridge to make it work, but Strobridge isn’t keen. Unfortunately, Huntington’s in charge and has Cullen’s back. Progress … make it happen, no matter the cost.
Strobridge disagrees. When Cullen touts using the nitroglycerine, it’s made very clear that Strobridge doesn’t want to win the race badly enough to risk the lives of those running it. Undoubtedly, progress does not come without peril, but I’m in Strobridge’s court. I would have sucked as a railroad super. I’d still be stuck inside the Sierra Nevadas with a hammer and a chisel.
Strobridge can’t resist the ego boost that comes with knowing Bohannon, who depends on no one, desperately needs him now. He walks Cullen through the delicate process, but warns how easily things can go wrong. He punctuates this by lifting his eyepatch. He has seen the volatile nature of nitro up close.
“Every breath you take with this in your hand is a challenge to God.” These are Strobridge’s words to Cullen upon setting the first explosive, which is more delicate to the touch than a friggen snowflake. Don’t even look at it funny.
Inside the tunnel, Mei translates Strobridge’s directions on how to properly place the explosive.
Maggie, in bed with Durant, marvels at his allure … he “could charm the skin off a snake.” She’s right. He’s probably one of the most likeable assholes I’ve encountered in a series. Maggie Palmer is a smart woman, so I don’t feel too bad. Charisma is an honestly earned skill often practiced best by the dishonest.
He asks Maggie for her hand. He loves her. She’s the yin to his yang, only smarter. It’s perfect. He wants her and he needs her. Everything he does, as far as I’m concerned, is about his benefit in the end. Love or not.
She won’t think of it until the scheming ends. No more BS. He promises. BS.
A ruckus outside announces the pissed-off shareholders. Earlier, Durant called them the zebras that lions (or liars) eat all the time, but it appears he had them pegged all wrong. They’re gonna get their investment back no matter what it takes. Things just got real for Durant. He has two days before it “gets bloody.”
Maggie is clueless. Durant confesses he outspent himself on other endeavors in hopes of making more money … or at least to fund his current commitments. Regardless, he squandered and now he’s screwed. Time for a stupid plan.
Outside town, a mountain crumbles. The nitro works without casualties. Hole-y hell.
It’s friggen amazing compared to black powder — until they realize one of the charges hasn’t gone off. Blammo. Three Chinese workers lose their lives. Bohannon loses his confidence. Soon, Strobridge will lose his job.
Strobridge warned of this, but only progress matters. Safety’s not in the equation. Three Chinese workers are worth five inches of progress … more than they had with black powder. I cannot wrap my brain around this.
Bohannon orders they continue. Strobridge refuses. Huntington wants to win the race, so he questions Bohannon’s commitment. It’s unwavering. Huntington tells Bohannon to do what he must to make sh-t happen … even if it means firing Strobridge. I’m amazed Bohannon’s on board – or maybe I’m not.
Sometimes morals are no match for obsession.
Huntington says, “Can’t have Mozart and Chopin playing different tunes on the same piano.” I love the quote even though I hate its implications.
In Laramie, Eva reigns in her whores and wants desperately to do the same with the unruly white horse that knocks her on her ass when she gets too close. I love the symbolism, and know a little about horses. Eva, maybe it’s a good idea to put your energy into an animal … they might start out poorly behaved, but they can change with love. People – well, they’re a different story.
Case in point, Durant consults his reluctant new business partner. He is broke. He wants to kidnap himself. He expects Mickey to make it work so he can pay back his debt and save face. What? We all know it’s going to go badly, as it should.
Durant plans to involve Delany as a prop … a witness to the crime. Oh, man! Durant is an absolute jerk, but an excellent study. I’ve always been fascinated with how people justify the unjustifiable when their ass is on the line. The most ridiculous and dangerous ideas make perfect sense to the desperate.
Adding to this, Bohannon and Mei fiddle with the nitro. Mei recognizes the danger. Cullen bars the door and rips off her pants. Again, I question their relationship. Is he testing the stability of the nitro at his own expense (which isn’t unlike him) and taking Mei along for the “ride”? Is he so high on the certainty that his plan will work that he risks her life in the process, or does the idea of conquering yet another foe just turn him on? She goes with it, and later she does it again. I think it’s because she’d rather die loving him than anything else. The way he treats her during their risky interlude makes me believe none of it has to do with her.
Is Mei really his truest love personified? The only difference I see in Cullen’s past “love” interests and Mei is her total organic connection to the railroad. How could she deny him his passion?
In a more sublime setting, Strobridge fishes with his kids. His very bright daughter, Janie, asks why fish fight when they’re hooked. He explains it’s their “job” to get away.” She wonders why they’d do that if it only means the hook will become more deeply embedded, ensuring they will be dinner.
Bohannon pays a visit … he just wants Strobridge to concede.
Janie is happy to see him. Later, he’ll teach her one of life’s harder lessons.
Bohannon warns Strobridge of the repercussions that will accompany noncompliance … that they’ve used nitro several times with no casualties. Strobridge says it’s only a matter of time, and he won’t be one of them. His family is more important than a paycheck.
Family. Someone has to provide, but at what expense?
Delany is drinking up a storm at Mickey’s bar. Louise Ellison sits down to chat, as reporters often do. She asks about Durant and the angry land speculators. Delany doesn’t care about that. He hands her a letter. His wife is filing for divorce on the grounds of abandonment. The railroad claims another.
Louise tells him to go home to his wife. He says Durant needs him. She says Durant doesn’t even respect him. This is so very true.
Maggie attempts to earn honest money to help Durant with his “situation,” but he assures her he’s got it handled … no scheming … he then asks one of his minions to fetch Delany.
Mickey enlists his cousin, Johnny, who we all know is up for any opportunity to be a badass, to carry out the Durant nap. Without doubt, these “best laid plans” will soon go awry. Mickey emphasizes, “No one dies.”
Strobridge plays with his children while supper is being set. Cocky though he be, he is a lovely man. Bohannon and Huntington roll up. Strobridge is thanked for his services, instructed to vacate his railroad car home, and offered tickets out of Truckee. This comes from Huntington of course, but Bohannon stands in agreeance. Strobridge says they’ll do fine vacating on their own. He then looks at Bohannon and says, “I was your only friend.” These words sting, but Bohannon is a fish fighting a hook to no avail.
Janie now looks at Bohannon quite differently. He is terribly ashamed, but the possessed aren’t in control. A demon shovels the coal that runs their engine. He is so much better than this, but it’s not the first time I’ve seen him derail. I love him, but I haven’t liked him much this episode.
He does redeem himself, to some extent. He’s got a live charge in the wall of the tunnel, and he doesn’t know what to do with it. He humbles himself enough to ride out to Strobridge for advice. It’s not what he wants to hear. The only option is to find “two Jakes” he won’t miss to plant another nearby and blow both.
Cullen decides to do it himself, but can’t pull it off. Of course, Mei shows up to help. He says no, but without much conviction. Of course it goes well. A dim ray of light permeates the dust created by the explosion. They’ve beaten the mountain.
Off to procure fake funds, Durant and Delany relax in a train car. There’s a knock at the door. Durant, who is all smiles, says they don’t need anything, thinking it’s one of his staff checking in. Well, it ain’t. It’s Louise. Delany mentioned the trip to New York in his drunken stupor earlier, and of course “enquiring minds” always want to know. Well, sh-t.
Durant desperately tries to get her the hell out of there, but she refuses until he spills the information she’s after. She’s still in the car when the “kidnapping” takes place. Johnny, not expecting the extra company, has a bit of a meltdown. He knows what he has to do and that he’s absolutely not to kill anyone.
Unfortunately, he’s not very bright and his coping skills suck. He kills Delany, who tries to come to the aid of his lying, disrespectful boss. Now I kind of hate Durant. Louise is next in line, but Durant insists, “I’m the one you want!” She is spared, but she is also smart, and the shenanigans seem quite staged. She’s shaken, but maybe once she settles down, she’ll replay it in her head and smell a rat. I’m anxious to see how it pans out.
In an empty train car that was home to the Strobridge family only hours before, Cullen finds a lone bottle of “spirits.” He takes it to Mei. He needs some comfort. He’s lost every person in his life because of how he’s chosen to live it. All he has left is scars. This speaks volumes. She’s still there.
She shows him a box her father gave her. They’d leave Truckee once the box was emptied. The last of its contents has remained for two years … since Cullen left to find himself, his family, his conscience, whatever. One item remains in that box. She’s never taken it out. Cullen is touched, but for how long?
Chang shows up with her father’s wages. Bohannon abruptly leaves under the guise of Bossman. Chang looks like he might know better.
Please continue with the excellent comments! What do you think of this episode? For those of you who embraced the pairing of Cullen and Mei last week, what’s your stance now? Has Cullen’s speech to his son become nothing more than hypocritical irony?
Let’s talk about it! Sound off in the comments and join me on Twitter @KimberlyThies1
New episodes of Hell on Wheels Season 5 premiere Saturdays at 9/8CT on AMC.