Episode Title: "Jamais Je Ne T'oublierai"
Writer: Jami O'Brien
Director: Alex Zakrzewski
Previously on "Hell on Wheels":
Former Confederate soldier turned transcontinental railroad foreman, Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) rides out to twenty miles past Hell on Wheels until he catches up to the tree cutting party. Cullen gets the drop on the sentry and he demands to know where Sergeant Harper is. Of course, Cullen doesn't mention that Harper is the last of the men who killed his wife. The sentry informs Cullen that Harper took off on his horse going north. Soon enough, Cullen gets close enough that he spots Harper in the distance and he calls out his name. Harper responds by firing on Cullen. The two former soldiers exchange fire, with Harper managing to fatally wound Cullen's horse.
With the chase over, Cullen has no choice but to put his steed out of its misery. Back at Hell on Wheels, Lily Bell (Dominique McElligott) kneels before the makeshift grave of her husband, Robert as the men of the camp watch with amazement. Thomas "Doc" Durant (Colm Meaney) approaches her to say that her ordeal is over and he expresses shock that she made it to Hell on Wheels alone. As he leads her away, she mentions that Cullen escorted her there. Later, Cullen makes it back to Hell on Wheels just in time to break up a fight between Elam Ferguson (Common) and Mr. Toole (Duncan Ollerenshaw).
Elam inquires as to whether Cullen killed Harper and Cullen replies that he blames Elam for his escape, reasoning that if Cullen had gotten the name out of Johnson before died, Harper wouldn't have had time to escape. In Durant's private railcar, Lily bathes herself and she is informed that Cullen did not claim the reward for her return. Durant offers to give the reward to him, but Lily insists that there is someone else who deserves it more. Thus, Lily gets dressed and endures the taunts of whores as she goes to visit Joseph Black Moon (Eddie Spears) at the church.
Joseph refuses the reward at first, but Reverend Cole (Tom Noonan) reminds him that they could use the money for the church. Cole also inquires about the tales of Lily's supposed molestation by the Cheyenne warriors; which she readily admits was a fabrication of the press. But she refuses to set the record straight because she believes that Joseph's people deserve the consequences of killing her husband and their party. Later, Durant attempts to charm Lily over dinner and he inadvertently offends her by speaking ill of her husband. Durant quickly apologizes and gets her to rejoin him.
Later, Eva (Robin McLeavy) takes Elam aside and she essentially apologizes for mocking him before. She states that if her white customers found out that she slept with black men they would shun her. So, Eva beds Elam in private and they share stories about their respective experiences as slaves. Back in Durant's railcar, Lily gets Durant to admit that the loss of her husband's survey maps has devastated him. At the camp bar, Cullen runs afoul of Bolan (Ian Tracey), the man whose ear he shot off while defending Lily in the wild. Bolan draws a gun on Cullen, but the Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl) steps in the way and gets Bolan to back down.
In private, the Swede is conciliatory towards Cullen and he even offers Cullen a bribe if he looks the other way when the Swede's men rob part of the black powder shipment coming in the next day. Cullen laughs and then agrees if the Swede doubles the bribe. But instead of pocketing the bribe, Cullen gives it to an extremely young prostitute with no expectation of anything in return as he leaves her be. The next day, Elam finds a very hung over Cullen barely awake when he should be giving orders for the construction. Cullen angrily tells Elam that he isn't his master and to make his own decisions.
Meanwhile, the Swede's men proceed to take some of the black powder shipment for themselves. But somehow they accidentally ignite it. After an initial explosion, the Swede warns everyone away from the tracks. However, Cullen ignores the warning and he frees Bolan after finding the other man pinned close to the tracks. A second explosion sends them both of them off their feet. Later, Lily helps Cullen tend to an injured man before Cullen orders the rest of his uninjured workers to get back to work on the railroad.
"Hell on Wheels" deserves credit for slowly building up Cullen as a hero. As I've mentioned before, he's got the right mix of altruism and apathy. Maybe it's not that Cullen doesn't care about the people around him… maybe he just cares too deeply. It would be understandable if Cullen had simply left Bolan to die, knowing that the other man was likely to shoot him in the back at some point. And yet Cullen walked straight into danger either out of great bravery or he simply didn't care if he survived the experience. Either way, Lily Bell seemed to be quite taken the by the gesture. And for those of you keeping score at home, that's twice now that Lily has seen a more heroic side of Cullen. And I still think a relationship between those two characters is inevitable.
Speaking of inevitable relationships, Eva and Elam hooked up this week far more quickly than I expected. Their eventual pairing seemed obvious in the last episode after she seemed to regret mocking him in front of her other Johns. There are some interesting parallels between Eva and Elam in their shared experience of slavery. The only question I have about them is if their relationship can actually become serious… and what the consequences will be when the other men of Hell on Wheels figure out what's happening under their noses.
Oddly enough, the Swede is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters on this show. Part of his appeal is Christopher Heyerdahl's odd physicality in the role as well as his somewhat eccentric performance. But primarily it's the sense that the Swede is playing all sides against each other. He voices his suspicions of Cullen to Durant and then he turns around and bribes Cullen to look the other way while he steals from Durant's operation. Even so, the Swede doesn't seem to be an outright villain, he's just looking out for himself. That's kind of refreshing.
Less effective are the McGinness brothers, Sean (Ben Esler) and Mickey (Ben Esler); who seem to exist on "Hell on Wheels" primarily as comic relief. That would be fine if the antics of the brothers was funny. But their attempt to monitize peeping of the prositutes while they bathe seemed very "Porky's"… and not in a very effective way. I doubt that the brothers have a very important role on this series simply because nothing they've done so far has been compelling. It's almost as if the McGinness brothers exist in a completely separate series from the rest of the characters.
The majority of the characters are starting to grow on me and overall, the acting and writing are pretty good. But what "Hell on Wheels" needs more than anything else is a sense of direction. Once Cullen finally catches up with Harper, it's hard to see where the series could go. Cullen simply doesn't have a reason to keep on living once he gets his revenge. And if "Hell on Wheels" is going to stick around for multiple seasons, it has to give Cullen and the viewers some kind of lifeline beyond the revenge drama.
Crave Online Rating: 8 out of 10.