Hell On Wheels Season 5 Episode 11 recap: No-hannon

Hell on Wheels Durant Michelle Faye/AMC
Colm Meany as Thomas ‘Doc’ Durant - Hell on Wheels

Welcome back, Hell on Wheels fans.

Mr. B is not around this week, but Durant’s scheme and its costs require an entire episode. I’m happy it’s mostly over and done, though I’m certain of residuals. It was a nightmare from its inception, and the price paid for his egotistical stupidity far surpasses the $250,000 he so arrogantly expected. As I’ve said, I don’t hate the man. I’ve felt a lot more disdain over the past few episodes, but I still don’t hate him. If anything, I pity him. He’s weak. Money and power will always make the weak strong, but eventually the universe intervenes.

The next scene flashes us forward to New York. It’s 1885, so Durant lives through his shenanigans, but at a pawn shop, it’s evident he did not escape the universe. He’s bearded and shabby. He has a ring to sell … a priceless and rare beauty forged from the golden spike that connected two railroads and united a country. The shop keep doesn’t look impressed. In fact, he doesn’t even know what Durant is talking about. I find this strange, but I know people who’ve no idea what’s happening in the world even with the internet. Regardless, his history lesson earns him an extra three pennies for the ring.

He goes to a tailor and has a suit made. He’s must prepare for lunch with a very old Collis Huntington, and he can’t be seen as a waif. They talk about the old times and the great things they did for the country, and then Durant grabs the tab. Will he pawn his suit after lunch?

He walks into his meager dwelling and lights candles and a fire with a stick match. A cushy train car it’s not. He sits at a table and begins to write … his memoirs I’m guessing … and then, as the door to his humble abode blows open, snow whirls in, and he breathes his last. His pen drops to the floor, and after a lifetime of telling stories, his final (and perhaps most honest) will remain unfinished.

In Laramie, the body of poor Martin Delaney is hauled from the train car. Maggie watches in horror. Louise approaches her holding the ransom note and speaking, though her words are muffled. Maggie doesn’t hear her. She is distraught with worry. Where is Durant?

Mickey intervenes. The federal government is not to be involved. The note instructs they contact the Union Pacific board. Louise disagrees, but Mickey, now a shareholder, takes matters into his own hands. Eva looks on with suspicion. She’s got to be one of my favorite characters. She’s smart as a whip, but then again, she’s lived more lives than a cat.

Mickey, Johnny and Durant discuss the matters at hand. Johnny has screwed everything up, but he begs to differ. He thinks killing Delaney just sealed the deal. Well, he doesn’t think, so that idea doesn’t count. Mickey is frantic. Durant is not – they will control the situation from the inside.

Maggie feels responsible. She’s sick with guilt. She helped Durant make plenty of enemies. Mickey tries to reassure her that the board will pay the ransom and it will all be over. Moments later, Louise receives a telegraph from the board stating their unwillingness to pay. They’ve handed the matter over to the feds.

Enter Governor John Campbell and his army of heavies. Mickey, who remains a criminal in Campbell’s eyes no matter how many shares he holds in the Union Pacific, is unhappy to hear that the only ransom to be paid will be “swift justice.” Mickey storms off, and Campbell chews his cigar mighty satisfied with his grand entrance.

Eva offers Maggie everything she has saved, but Maggie knows that all of Laramie wouldn’t even put a dent in the ransom … and who in town would be willing to offer anything to save Durant’s ass when he’s done nothing but cheat them and use them for his own benefit?

Hell on Wheels Maggie
Chelah Horsdal as Maggie Palmer – Hell on Wheels Michelle Faye/AMC

Louise recounts the kidnapping. The man who shot Delaney was definitely Irish. This turns Mickey’s head. She suggests they look to Durant’s books to see who he owed. It might help them figure out who’d be motivated to hold him hostage. Mickey agrees to turn the books over to Campbell. I wonder if he believes it might lead the feds away for a while … at least long enough to save himself.

Knowing it’s only a matter of time before Campbell’s men, headed by and Indian tracker, will find them, Mickey insists they call it all off. Both think otherwise. Johnny suggests killing Durant – get rid of the witnesses. Mickey wants no more killing, but he warns Durant it best work out. After all Durant did drag him into it. No matter how hard he tries, Mickey just can’t get out from under his past. Mickey is another, despite all of his dirty deeds, I just can’t hate.

Campbell brings the railroad account books to Louise under government audit. It’s easy to tell feelings remain, at least on his part. He apologizes for Cheyenne, but she’s put it behind her, “where it belongs.” He “hopes she finds something.”

Campbell’s men do find the cabin where Durant and Johnny were holed up. Unfortunately, it is vacant – except for a tripwire that causes an explosion and kills a soldier in the process. Things just got uglier. Inside the burning cabin, the men find a note. $250,000, where to drop it, and reaffirmation of what will happen if they don’t. Campbell concedes to cough up the ransom, but instructs Major Bendix to follow Mickey. Johnny should have kept his Irish mouth shut.

Eva knows, and she goes to Mickey who tells her everything. She says the only way out of it, and the only way to make sure things don’t get worse, is to kill Johnny. Mickey refuses to kill his own kin, but I seem to remember him killing his brother a while back. But she’s right … she knows it, he knows it, and I know it. Someone should have killed Johnny a long time ago, just because.

Speaking of Johnny, he and Durant hide near a river. Johnny uses a stick to dig taters out of his ear. Durant takes the opportunity to insult him. He’s a gorilla, dropped numerous times on his head as a baby due to the slippery nature of his mother’s whiskey fingers. Bravo! Johnny was probably dropped plenty as a baby, but Durant is as stupid as Johnny if he believes he’s safe from a bad-tempered idiot’s bullet. The expression, “Shoot first, think later,” could well have originated with Johnny Shea.

Mickey has a sit-down with Campbell. He says he knows Johnny has Durant – he’s been gone since the kidnapping. Campbell is surprised that Mickey would rat on his own cousin. Mickey reminds Campbell Johnny’s violent impatience. He’d be smart to get going on the ransom before the hostage ends up dead. When Mickey walks away, Campbell doesn’t look surprised. He just looks more certain of Mickey’s involvement.

At the river, Mickey tells Johnny it’s time they go back to Ireland. “America’s an awful bitch.” With the money from the kidnapping, they could return to their homeland and run things. He tells Durant the feds will pay ransom. Of course they’ll pay for the country’s most consequential business man’s safe return. Eye-roll. Mickey muses, “It must be exhausting being so consequential.”

I knew last week that Louise would get it, and she does. Just as the money is being readied for drop off, she comes in with Durant’s books. He didn’t wire money to anyone. He didn’t sell any of his own property. He’s broke. And it wouldn’t be above him to ransom himself. Louise is certain Johnny didn’t kill her because he was following orders – orders from Durant. Maggie finds all of it preposterous, but Campbell doesn’t. He tells his men to pack up the money. They’re going to wait. Nothing Maggie says will change their minds.

Incensed, she leaves. Campbell instructs Bendix to fetch Mickey, but Mickey’s room is empty.

As they wait for the money, Durant suggests Johnny be killed – to tie up any loose ends. Mickey responds by clarifying just exactly what will happen once the money arrives. He and Johnny will be using it to return to Ireland. Durant can’t believe what he’s hearing, but he doesn’t have much time to complain. A rider approaches, only it’s not a soldier with the ransom. It’s Maggie. Johnny and Mickey pull up their masks.

She tosses a bag with $50,000 of her own money and pulls a rifle. She wants them to take the fifty and go. It’s not enough for Johnny. Even when Mickey and Durant both tell him to stop being a greedy Neanderthal, he refuses. Mickey tells him to listen for once. Maggie understands what’s happening. Johnny holds his gun on her, and during the bickering between cousins, Durant tries to save the day – or his ass – maybe both. Maggie is shot. Johnny aims next at Durant, but Mickey finally does what he’s been told to do all through the episode. He kills his cousin.

Maggie doesn’t make it either. She dies in Durant’s arms, but not before asking, “Why?” Ouch. Again, Durant is the center of so much pain, but now it is his own. I believe this makes the man we see at the beginning. To his public, he presents himself as the same worldly wealthy businessman, but he dies broke, unknown to most beyond the railroad, and completely alone. I don’t believe the door was opened by the wind as he passed, but rather the Devil himself come to collect.

Mickey drops Maggie’s money next to Durant. “All loose ends.”

Durant and Mickey tell their versions of what happened. Durant and Dandy Johnny Shea were waiting for the ransom when Maggie rode up with her money. Johnny took the money, shot Maggie and then took off. Mickey was out of town buying grapefruit. He can’t possibly guess where Johnny might have gone – most likely anywhere with liquor and whores – or the bottom of a river, perhaps. Both seem very relaxed as they tell their stories. Mickey even offers Bendix a grapefruit … they’re much better peeled.

Hell on Wheels Mickey
Phil Burke as Mickey McGinnes – Hell on Wheels Michelle Faye/AMC

We all know what really happened, and Campbell does, too. He asks Durant why Johnny spared him. Durant hasn’t a clue, but he’s free to go. Before he leaves, Campbell states he knows exactly what happened, even if he can’t prove it. He also tells Durant that Maggie sold her hotel to save him. I know those words will repeat themselves in Durant’s mind until his end.

He and Mickey pass on the street without a glance. Both look as if they’ve lost a part of themselves they’ll never get back.

Mickey finds Eva tending to her horse. He’s in tears. He killed his cousin. He killed his brother. He grabs her, but she resists. He releases her, embarrassed and apologetic. Eva cares for him, no matter what he’s done, so she ends up consoling him the best way she knows how, and when it’s over, she looks at him with sympathy and understanding.

Durant is consoled by a bottle of whiskey and his own reflection. His only visitor is an angry shareholder. Durant hands over their money without a word. The universe, however, has spoken.

Please, share comments! I’ve so enjoyed the discourse! I have some questions. Maybe you can share some insight.

  • What have your feelings been toward Durant? Let’s give him the eulogy he deserves (or doesn’t deserve)!
  • Do you think Campbell will stick around for further investigation, or were his final words to Durant punishment enough?
  • If Campbell does stick around, will he and Louise rekindle their romance?
  • What about Mickey and Eva?
  • The white horse has a reason. What do you think it is?

Sound off in the comments and follow me on Twitter@KimberlyThies1! I always tweet during episodes!



  1. Need help, please. My wife and I swear we saw Doc Durant get shot AND KILLED, in an opening scene…possibly a flashback scene…in one of the Season 5 late episodes. We talked about how disappointing that was, Doc being a main character however unlikable. We now have seen the final episode and of course Durant is very much alive, about to be scapegoated in Congress.

    Was this a “dream scene”? If the scene was there, can you please tell us what episode?

    Thanks for any help you can give,

    Bill and lInda Hungate

    • I believe this episode shows Doc’s true demise. I think it was important to highlight the fact that he royally screwed up and died broke and alone because of it. When Durant was kidnapped originally (his scheme), Delaney was shot and killed. Durant lived on to be miserable after his scheme led to all of the bloodshed, including Maggie’s at the end.

      Thank you for the comment! How did you feel about the finale?

Comments are closed.