Monday, November 7, 2011

NEW SHOW: Hell on Wheels

by Amy K. Bredemeyer

When considering the many new shows of the Fall season, I chose Hell on Wheels partly for its historical setting. Regardless of how fabricated the actual story would be, I thought that the clothing, language, attitudes, and setting might be fascinating. The first episode was largely confusing. I struggled to determine characters' names, was surprised at the number of deaths shown in the pilot, and was genuinely amused that I was struggling to figure out what was going on in a couple of scenes. Maybe part of the problem is that, in the past, Westerns have never particularly interested me. But, I'm not alone, either. Many other critics are not fans of the show, and one even believes that it's AMC's worst drama yet. It did, however, open to a very large audience. Perhaps time will tell... but I'm already a bit wary.

Hell on Wheels "Pilot" (S01E01): It's 1865. Lincoln has died, the war is over, and we're starting in Washington, DC. A guy went into a church for confession, but the gentleman sitting in the priest's spot kills him because he knows about "Meridian." The killer is none other than Cullen, a Confederate soldier whose Northern wife was killed by Union soldiers... for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. [that sucks.] Cullen owned five slaves, two of them women. At his wife's insistence, he gave them freedom the year before the war started, but kept them on and paid them as workers. [admirable to a certain point.] He heads west to work on the railroad, and is hired to be the "walking boss" of the gut crew, since he owned slaves previously and the men he oversees are black.

Elsewhere, a surveyor and his woman are on the move, headed toward Indian Territory. He is ill though, so she will not be returning to Chicago as once planned. [well this can't be good news...] We see Indians infiltrate their campground, killing multiple people. The surveying couple take off for the woods, carrying the maps. They're followed, and the guy's coughing gives them away. [dang. too bad...] After being wounded, the girl kills the Indian, who took her husband's life. [whoa. The whole thing was a bit brutal...] The girl is still out there, in the middle of nowhere, with the maps.

Also going on... Thomas Durant ("Doc") wants to build the railroad while paying himself with government subsidies. To make sure this happens, he bribes another guy, with both shares and the threat of building around the guy's Nebraska property otherwise. [renegotiation sucks.] As he heads west on a separate train, he is presented with a mapped plan for the tracks. Because the government will pay $16,000 per mile, Thomas wants the track to squiggle a bit, making it longer... even though the land is flat and there's no reason not to build it straight. So, he fires the original architect and replaces him with a bystander. [that was random. But they needed to get that piece of information in there somehow. Also, not a big fan of the font they're using for captions.] A telegraph comes through... Robert Bell, the surveyor, is dead. This causes the folks on the train to head immediately to "Hell on Wheels." [I imagine next week's episode will begin with their arrival to the area...]

  Chris Large/AMC
While Cullen is out and about, the black men sing a cadence as they work. One man is kicked in the face by a horse (controlled by the one-handed guy who hired Cullen), as punishment for drinking water while he should have been working. [the guy may have been out of order, but he's lucky his friend helped him... it seriously looked like he was going to have a heat stroke!] Cullen tells the guy's friend not to retaliate. [it's kinda clear that he will... he's sharpening a blade...] When Cullen talks to his boss that night, he gets a gun pulled on him when he mentions "Meridian." Looks like the guy was behind it... but he also states that killing the woman wasn't his idea to kill... she was strangled by a sergeant and then hung. Colin didn't know about the sergeant, but before he could find out more, the friend of the horse-kicked guy kills him. [very Sweeney Todd with the sweeping of the blade across the neck. Too bad Cullen's lead died so soon, though. But, I didn't like the guy anyway.]
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