Episode Title: "Pride, Pomp and Circumstance"
Writer: Bruce Romans
Director: Michael Slovis
Previously on "Hell on Wheels":
At Hell on Wheels, Thomas "Doc" Durant (Colm Meaney) has mustered as much pomp and circumstance as he can for the arrival of Senator Jordan Crane (James D. Hopkin). As Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount), Lily Bell (Dominique McElligott), Elam Ferguson (Common) and others in the camp gather round, Senator Crane tells them that he is there to negotiate a peace with the Cheyenne, but he warns that the U.S. is prepared for war if no agreement is reached. At a private lunch with Crane and Durant, Lily needles Durant about her dead husband's missing survey maps while presumably seeking greater leverage on Durant for an eventual deal. Crane also tells them that the rival Central Pacific Railroad has already produced 40 miles of track coming from California.
At the bar, Reverend Cole (Tom Noonan) approaches Cullen about keeping his men in line while the Cheyenne are in Hell on Wheels and Cullen agrees to see to it personally. Later, Cullen takes Elam aside and tells him to also keep his men inline. Elam jokes that Cullen doesn't want another fight with him, but Cullen tells him about the peppered hand wraps and accuses him of cheating. Elam is taken aback and denies the accusation before inviting Cullen to pursue a rematch any time. Elsewhere, the Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl) tips off Crane that Durant used $147,000 of Union Pacific's funds to purchase railroad stock for himself. And in return, the Swede asks only for information on Sgt. Frank Harper; who happens to be the man who killed Cullen's wife.
Soon, Chief Many Horses (Wes Studi) and several members of his tribe arrive at Hell on Wheels. With Cole overseeing the negotiations, the Chief scoffs when Durant and Crane offer the tribe a "better way of life" and threaten the Cheyenne with war. In return, the Chief says that his people will slaughter their armies and he adds that Pawnee Killer (Gerald Auger) had a vision of himself slaying the train. Durant then offers the Chief a chance to make that dream a reality. At Cole's church, Joseph Black Moon (Eddie Spears) and Ruth (Kasha Kropinski) attempt to explain the tenants of Christianity to the visiting Cheyenne, whose response to the biblical story of Mary's virgin birth draws laughs from everyone.
When Lily goes to the church, she spots a Cheyenne woman wearing the hat of her late husband. In a fit of anger, she tries to reclaim it before Cullen pulls her away. She accuses Joseph of lying to her about the guilt of his people regarding the survey team attack and she goes off to tell Durant. Cullen attempts to dissuade her from doing so because it would mean the death of women and children, but he ultimately let's Lily make her own choice. During the setup for the race between Pawnee Killer and the train, the particularly racist Mr. Toole (Duncan Ollerenshaw) notices that Eva (Robin McLeavy) and Elam are staring at each other with open desire. Pawnee Killer gets an early lead on the train, but it ultimately bests him once it gets up to full speed. Later, Durant and Crane laugh at the humiliation of the Chief.
However, Crane also informs Durant that he knows all about his misappropriation of funds and that Durant no longer has any leverage over him. As he leaves, Crane tells Durant that he's finished. Later, Joseph and the woman with Robert's hat approach Lily to return it to her. Joseph explains that the Cheyenne woman lost her own husband to that attack and mentions that he was killed with his own arrow. Lily accepts the hat and keeps it to herself that she killed the woman's husband. Lily then places the hat on Robert's grave and retrieves the survey maps. She takes them to Durant and tells him to build the railroad to make sure that Robert's sacrifice wasn't in vain.
As the Chief prepares to lead his people out of Hell on Wheels, he warns his son, Joseph that the people he's living with are not good… but Joseph turns down his invitation to return to the tribe. At the bar, Mr. Toole tries to rally the workers to go slaughter the Cheyenne on their way home. Cullen stands in their way and he is soon joined by the Swede and Durant's men, who insist that the Cheyenne be allowed to leave without being harmed. Frustrated, Toole and his men look for Eva to take their aggression out on her. When she is nowhere to be found in the brothel, Toole leads them to Elam's tent immediately after he was intimate with Eva.
Outraged, Toole and his men beat up Elam and drag him away over Eva's protests.
Thus far, the Swede is by far the most intriguing character in "Hell on Wheels." I still can't quite get a read on him, but the Swede clearly has his own agenda… it's just not obvious what that agenda is.
I highly doubt that the Swede wants to find Frank Harper as a favor for Cullen, so he must have some previously unseen connection to Harper and possibly even to the murder of Cullen's wife. If that was the case, then the Swede would have had good reasons to see Cullen dead in the ground… and yet this episode marked the second time that the Swede had Cullen's back in a tense bar confrontation and kept the situation from escalating. On the surface, the Swede is Durant's most loyal enforcer, but he sold out Durant's dirty secret because he wants something from Harper.
Cullen has also really grown on me since the debut of the show and "Hell on Wheels" is actually less convincing when it tries to make Cullen appear less heroic. Cullen may not be very noble, but he's clearly the hero of this story. Cullen may claim not to care about what happens to the Cheyenne, but if that was the case than he wouldn't have agreed to keep them safe in Hell on Wheels or talked Lily out of a potentially dangerous situation. For whatever his reasons, those are the actions of a real hero.
Regarding Elam's cliffhanger, it's almost certainly going to be Cullen that saves him. There's no way that the show would ever allow Elam to be fatally lynched this early in the series because he's basically the co-leading character. The ongoing friction between Cullen and Elam is still fun to watch and Elam's taunts about the fight were pretty funny.
It was also amusing to see the Chief run circles around Durant and Crane's empty promises for land and everything that they need from their government. However, Crane and Durant both came off as cartoonish caricatures without any subtly or nuance. It seems like very lazy writing to simply portray them as uncomplicated men looking only to line their own pockets. That sentiment may be true to the times, but it's so overused in the genre that any change would be welcome.
There's an undercurrent of racism from Ruth that's only lightly touched upon during her conversation with Joseph, that seems like it should be explored in future episodes. It's hard to argue with the Chief when he says that the people of Hell on Wheels aren't good. By and large, they really aren't. Even Reverend Cole has feet of clay, despite a seemingly genuine desire to see peace between their peoples. But I'm not sure if the Chief should be throwing Cole's family problems in his face. Since the Cheyenne did murder the survey team, they're not exactly in a position to throw stones.
If "Hell on Wheels" is heading towards an open war with the Cheyenne, it could finally be the direction that the series needs. This show still has the potential to be a great series, it just hasn't arrived at that point yet.
Crave Online Rating: 8 out of 10.