Hell on Wheels Series finale recap: Done

Hell on Wheels Michelle Faye/AMC

Well, Hellions – it’s been a long and bumpy ride, but we’ve arrived at our final destination. After five seasons of great TV, we have come to the end of Hell on Wheels.  The good-bye is bittersweet, for me. I will miss my Bohannon, but I am left with hope for the characters I’ve come to love, and I’m pleased nothing is tied up in a neat little bow. Fine work, AMC.

Durant and Huntington face each other on the tracks, taking jabs under their breaths as the crowd around them waits in silence. Durant provides the spike. They both grip the sledge that will soon drive it in. Neither will let go. Children to the end. Finally, Durant reminds Huntington of all the important people watching and smiles as he yanks the sledge free.

Cullen wakes up feeling the effects of the night before. He’s still clutching Mei’s note. He collects himself and heads out, but not to the celebration. He finds Mr. Lee sleeping, rousts him and Mei’s note is translated. It’s an address in China.

Back on the tracks, Durant gives another of his famously pompous speeches. When his hammer falls on that spike, a one word transmission will go out across the country –“Done.” I’m surprised that’s it! Based on his usual verbosity, “Done by Durant (stop) I win (stop)” would have been more suitable.

Cullen hits the saloon and demands whiskey. Mickey is not in the best of moods and thinks Cullen’s had enough. Psalms shows up and backs Cullen. Mickey greets him with even less enthusiasm, “Pipe down, ya traitor.” This isn’t received well, and an argument begins. The bar is full of hungover Irishmen, and they aren’t keen on the noisy back-and-forth. It isn’t long before it escalates and Mickey threatens to “throttle” the next person to ask him for a drink. Bohannon steps up. “Whiskey.” Mickey throws the first punch and the whole room explodes. The only ass not being kicked looks around for someone to oblige him. No one is out for blood, but with Mickey’s refusal to serve up the hair of the dog, they have to shake their hangovers somehow.

Outside, Durant plants the spike. I’m stunned by the immense pleasure he takes in winning because he didn’t by a long shot. I am certain a good chunk of onlookers are thinking the same. I know Louise is one of them. John Campbell walks through the celebrating crowd. He looks terribly happy, and he is, but it has nothing to do with the ceremony. He hands Durant a piece of paper and winks at Louise. Durant’s glory is short lived.

The good times continue in Mickey’s bar until a gunshot gets everyone’s attention. Campbell walks in like an angry dad, “What the hell is this all about?” Like naughty children, no one admits to anything, but they can’t keep a straight face. The room fills with laughter, but it’s just as short lived as Durant’s glory. Campbell has a piece of paper for Bohannon, too.

It’s a “request” from Congress. Cullen is to testify against Durant “on charges of bribery, fraud and corruption.” “Well, sh-t.”

Campbell and Cullen have a sit down. Cullen doesn’t want to go to Washington, but Campbell informs him that a cavalry escort will make sure he does. President Grant wants to address any and all shady doings connected to the railroad. Campbell reminds Cullen he’s not getting any younger, and he ought to consider how he’ll move forward now that the railroad is finished. Based on their conversation, I’m certain there’s a whole lot more to that subpoena from Washington. Congress could have subpoenaed just about anyone from either side to get their dirt. Bohannon is the least likely to give them what they want.

Durant buys out Mickey’s shares. He doesn’t need any more bad press than he’s going to get, so he wants all ties to Mickey severed – or maybe he is sincere when he says Mickey will end up broke and in jail if he doesn’t walk away. Maybe it’s both. Mickey takes his money and leaves with hopes Durant will hang.

Louise finds Eva hanging laundry. They chat for a minute, and Eva notices a gentleman in a suit. She thinks he’s a “john,” but he’s Louise’s editor. He’s very interested in Eva’s life story. Eva is skeptical, but Louise insists an opportunity like this will help her “write her own ticket.” Knowing her “business” will disappear with the railroad workers, Louise hopes to provide Eva with a respectable way to move on.

Huntington visits Bohannon. He wants Cullen to hurry it up with Congress and get himself back to San Francisco. He’s confident the Durant matter will be over quickly. Cullen doubts it and suggests Huntington prepare to be hauled in next. Huntington isn’t worried. He put his affairs in order last week with some gasoline and a match.

He gives Cullen a ring – only four in the world – commemorative of the golden spike. It fits perfectly. This tickles Huntington. Bohannon is “a railroad man, through and through,” and Collis expects he’ll return from Washington ready to start a short line rail.

Cullen leaves for Washington with a lot on his mind.

Upon arrival, he grabs a newspaper and reads the headline, “Transcontinental Railroad Built on Bribery and Corruption.” A moment later, he’s greeted by one of Grant’s staff and invited to a gala at the White House. Galas aren’t his thing, but a personal invite from Grant means he’ll have to buck up. I hope he brought a suit … and soap.

He shows up looking like a very handsome fish out of water. The tux is nice, but I prefer his usual garb. He’s in a room full of strangers – oh, wait! Durant is there, too. He’s trolling for anything to help his defense. He reminds the politico he’s accosting, “We are all in this together,” but that’s no longer the case. Durant discovers he is now “poison” in Washington, and he’s “in it very much alone.” Everyone’s hands are filthy. Durant just happened to get caught with his in the coal bin (to the delight of the many he pissed off – and on).

After being buttonholed by a very forward bureaucrat’s wife, Cullen is “saved” by Colonel George Custer, who makes enough prying small talk to discover Cullen’s service with the Confederacy. For a moment, he looks disgusted, but recovers by making light of the charge at Bull Run as “one hell of a steeplechase.” Cullen grins at this because where he comes from, “an ass-whoopin’ amounts to more than a steeplechase.” I guess the ice is as broken as it’s going to get. Bohannon is soon surrounded by other soldiers interested to hear how he pulled off ten miles of track in one day.

Well over a century later, some people still dispute (with plenty of anger and conviction) which side really won the war, but here, only a short time after, a group of Union boys is chumming up with a Grey Coat … I knew this visit meant more than a testimony. Even Durant looks suspicious. President Grant joins the group and invites Bohannon into the kitchen for a chat.

Once in the kitchen, Grant hands Cullen a turkey wing and a cup of coffee (bourbon). Yep, the testimony is a ruse. Grant offers Cullen a job as Colonel in the 4th Cavalry. He’ll be Under Secretary of the Western Territories and protect the railroad from “all present threats.”

Bohannon says he’s probably not the man for the job. He won’t kill Indians. Like any good politician, Grant spins it that Cullen is smart enough to go about things in such a way as to keep their blood off his hands. Then there’s the issue of wearing Union blue, but Grant reminds him it’s “an American uniform.” The Civil War is over, and now Cullen is a soldier, “lost without a war to fight.” The country needs him. Grant asks him to think it over and scoots off to give a speech.

Cullen finds Durant alone and takes a minute to catch up. Durant bemoans his situation. Grant needs a scapegoat, so Doc’s his man. Maybe I’m wrong about the definition of scapegoat, but I think “unfairly blamed innocent” is in there somewhere. Cullen says he’s gotten out of worse, but I think they both know better. He admits he’s there to testify. Durant rolls his eyes and tells Cullen to say whatever he wants. It won’t matter.

He warns Cullen not to trust his new-found friends. They’re all a bunch of shysters who will celebrate him one day, “bleed him dry” the next, and finally “toss him out with yesterday’s newspapers.” Durant knows this up close and personal. Aside from Maggie Palmer, I think Cullen is the only other person who gets the real Durant. Once he’s said his piece, he leaves Cullen alone to chew on it.

Eva finds Mickey packing up. He’s thrilled to see her and gushes about their new life in San Fran, but she wants to cash out her percentage of the “business.” She knows that if they stick together, “it’s a matter of time before one of (them) devours” the other. She right and he knows it, but he hates it because he loves her. He gives her the money. She tries to say good-bye, but he can’t even look at her. It’s sad, but at the same time, they have both been freed from a future stuck in the past. The door is open, and though I know walking through will be difficult for both of them, I hope they’ll find the strength.

“Make friends with change. It’s the only thing you can count on.”

While Bohannon waits to meet with Grant, he ponders a portrait of President Lincoln. It’s a great scene. Lincoln united our nation – but through a very long and bloody battle – one that pitted brother against brother, left mothers without sons, wives without husbands, and children without fathers. It changed everything, and it began a long road of extreme pain and unrest for Cullen Bohannon. We see that portrait and think of a man who changed our lives for the better. I do not believe the same holds true for Cullen.

Yet, he accepts the offer. Maybe he feels it’s the best he can do for the railroad. Maybe Grant’s words about soldiering hit a nerve. All I know is that he does it with reservation, even if he’s convinced himself. Dressed in his American blues, he looks at the mirror and sees a stranger.

At Durant’s Trial, Cullen testifies. His reply to each question is the same. “The Transcontinental Railroad could not have been built without Thomas Durant.” Even when threatened with contempt, he stands his ground. He’s not lying, and he is dismissed. Durant looks humbled.

Elsewhere, Eva starts to tell her story, but we know what’s going to happen when the editor seems more interested in her appearance than the actual details of her life. No one wants to hear it the way it happened. It’s all about glorification and happy endings. Well, real life isn’t about either, and the editor’s behavior is nauseating. As she speaks, he transforms her words into something the public will “eat up.” Louise sees what’s happening and tries to intervene. I think it’s to save Eva, though it might be to save the “story.” I don’t know what to make of anyone anymore.

Eva is uncomfortable in the clothes they’ve given her and asks to change. The editor insists she keep it on. It symbolizes a soul saved from a life of savagery. Savagery? She begins to understand. She’s being dressed up to be photographed and marketed. Her story will come, only it won’t be hers. She can’t do it. She removes the dress, and Louise tries to reason. “This is the best that you can hope for!” It’s harsh, and the second the words leave her lips, Louise looks horrified, but she is forgiven. Eva hugs her hard and exits in her undergarments. She’s “done whoring.”

Bohannon is with Custer. Shooting practice. Admiring his marksmanship, Custer confirms Bohannon’s worries. His new position just makes him a killer with the President’s seal of approval. He’s not having it. He empties his gun and walks away … for good.

He goes to church. He wants to confess, but he can’t. How could he possibly start? There is just too much to say. He tearfully thanks the priest and leaves.

Congress finds Doc guilty as charged, and he does nothing to speak against this, but he does speak … and it is epic. I hang on every word. He compares reality to history. He knows what the history books will say about him, but he doesn’t care because he lived the reality. He says Americans needed a dream, and he gave them one with the Transcontinental. “History is written in man’s soul, and the truth is carved in steel across this nation.” He was an integral part, and if he has to be the patsy for every dirty dealing that made the dream come true, so be it. Not one of the men sitting before him is clean.

As he speaks, the characters we’ve come to love move on with their lives. Eva, smiling like I’ve never seen her smile, hops on her wild pony who finally seems to understand. She rides off into a beautiful sunset – her future burns as brightly. Mickey is wounded, but he’ll be OK – I see it in his eyes – he will be better than OK. He has learned a lifetime of lessons. Cullen folds the uniform and leaves Washington. He catches a train to San Francisco, but instead of meeting up with Huntington, who will continue on with the short rail, he boards a ship. Even if the railroad ring and army uniform fit perfectly, he’s outgrown his country. I’m sure he’s going to Mei, but his destination doesn’t matter. He is finally a free man.

My love to every talented individual who made this series possible. Thank you.

So, fellow Hellions – what did you think? Sound off in the comments! I’ll miss you all, but hope for a great discussion! Let’s chat!

29 Comments

  1. OK, so maybe I missed it somewhere, but I need to know who got each of those “only four rings like it in the world”? Huntington has one, Durant had one, Bohannon Got one…so who got number four?

  2. great summary to an epic show- just wish the finale was longer and more in depth to what happened to the characters- so sad it ended -was wonderful and fantastic ending

    • Thank you for your comment, Jan. So much happened at once during the last three minutes – I tried to capture the important parts while leaving it open enough so viewers could imagine their “own” endings for their favorite characters. I liked it that nothing was set in stone (or steel) for Eva, Mickey and Cullen. In “my” ending, Eva went back to her Mojave sister, Cullen went to Mei, and Mickey went on to do something he could be proud of doing. We know that Huntington continued with the RR and that Durant kept up appearances to the best of his ability until he died broke and alone. I hope that Louise learned something about being a better journalist – not that she wasn’t amazing to begin with, but that people’s lives and experiences are more than just interpretations in a newspaper or book – it sort of goes with what Durant said at the end about how history is just a subjective account written by someone who didn’t actually experience it. I do hope the ending of the series left you feeling the same kind of excitement and passion for the futures of the characters we came to love over five outstanding seasons. Thanks again for your input!

  3. I’m just so upset that you botched the last few minutes of what was for most of us, “Years” of investment into an incredible journey. You failed desperately to give Bohannon (Anson Mount) the justice he deserved to a remarkable achievement and a deeply moving historical story. It was a weekly must see! An a 5 star ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ achievement. It’s so sad that you didn’t feel the need to give the finally the time it deserved.
    You really need to go back and finish the job you started. Because its so obviously unfinished. Which isn’t fair to the Hell on Wheels fans staff or actor’s.

    • There is an ending. It’s a tech issue! My editor is out of town, but I’ll send her word. I am so sorry!

  4. “He goes to church. He wants to confess, but he can’t. How could he possibly start? There is just too much to say. He tearfully thanks the priest and leaves.”

    This is incorrect.. he realizes that everything he’s been through is what actually saved him.. and he thanks god.. then leaves.

  5. I read all of this just to get to the what? No ending! I can’t believe you just stopped? What the Hell on Wheels do you call this unfinished piece of ….? Certainly not “Done!” What a crappy and undeserved ending to a perfectly played historical masterpiece. Sad

    • Here it is – I copied and pasted from my original document. Again, I’m sorry for the glitch.

      Congress finds Doc guilty as charged, and he does nothing to speak against this, but he does speak … and it is epic. I hang on every word. He compares reality to history. He knows what the history books will say about him, but he doesn’t care because he lived the reality. He says Americans needed a dream, and he gave them one with the Transcontinental. “History is written in man’s soul, and the truth is carved in steel across this nation.” He was an integral part, and if he has to be the patsy for every dirty dealing that made the dream come true, so be it. Not one of the men sitting before him is clean.
      As he speaks, the characters we’ve come to love move on with their lives. Eva, smiling like I’ve never seen her smile, hops on her wild pony who finally seems to understand. She rides off into a beautiful sunset – her future burns as brightly. Mickey is wounded, but he’ll be OK – I see it in his eyes – he will be better than OK. He has learned a lifetime of lessons. Cullen folds the uniform and leaves Washington. He catches a train to San Francisco, but instead of meeting up with Huntington, who will continue on with the short rail, he boards a ship. Even if the railroad ring and army uniform fit perfectly, he’s outgrown his country. I’m sure he’s going to Mei, but his destination doesn’t matter. He is finally a free man.
      My love to every talented individual who made this series possible. Thank you.
      So, fellow Hellions – what did you think? Sound off in the comments! I’ll miss you all, but hope for a great discussion! Let’s chat!

    • What a stupid ending to a great beginning!!! The first seasons were so great, couldn’t wait for next episode! Should have ended it sooner.

      • Thanks for the comment, and I’m not being snarky when I ask this, but I am curious – how would you have preferred it to end? For a while, I thought it would be a bad idea to have him go to Mei at the end, but he changed so much over the last few episodes, I thought it worked. I am genuinely interested to know your thoughts.

    • I actually did, but there was a glitch and it didn’t post. I’m trying like crazy to get it fixed, but I don’t do the actual posting part, so I can’t go in and fix it myself. I have sent word and hope it will be fixed soon. I’m sorry!!!

    • Here – had to copy and paste from the original. 🙂
      Congress finds Doc guilty as charged, and he does nothing to speak against this, but he does speak … and it is epic. I hang on every word. He compares reality to history. He knows what the history books will say about him, but he doesn’t care because he lived the reality. He says Americans needed a dream, and he gave them one with the Transcontinental. “History is written in man’s soul, and the truth is carved in steel across this nation.” He was an integral part, and if he has to be the patsy for every dirty dealing that made the dream come true, so be it. Not one of the men sitting before him is clean.
      As he speaks, the characters we’ve come to love move on with their lives. Eva, smiling like I’ve never seen her smile, hops on her wild pony who finally seems to understand. She rides off into a beautiful sunset – her future burns as brightly. Mickey is wounded, but he’ll be OK – I see it in his eyes – he will be better than OK. He has learned a lifetime of lessons. Cullen folds the uniform and leaves Washington. He catches a train to San Francisco, but instead of meeting up with Huntington, who will continue on with the short rail, he boards a ship. Even if the railroad ring and army uniform fit perfectly, he’s outgrown his country. I’m sure he’s going to Mei, but his destination doesn’t matter. He is finally a free man.
      My love to every talented individual who made this series possible. Thank you.
      So, fellow Hellions – what did you think? Sound off in the comments! I’ll miss you all, but hope for a great discussion! Let’s chat!

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