The writers of Hell on Wheels have never shied away from the violence of the post-Civil War West, and Sunday’s episode certainly lived up to its title. (If you’d like the full recap, there’s an illustrated retelling at TV.com.) The awesomely creepy Swede and the magnificently mad Reverend Cole stirred the pot, but the women of the camp set the violence in motion.
When we rejoined the denizens of Hell on Wheels at the beginning of the season, Lily Bell was working for the railroad, taking her late husband’s job as surveyor, and sharing Durant’s elegant railroad car. Eva, the one-time Indian captive turned prostitute, had married Mr. Toole and was doing her level best to be a respectable homemaker in the tiny but stationary railroad town which Durant had named for himself. Ruth, Cole’s daughter, was manipulating her crazy drunken father with whiskey, taking over the church, and sleeping with Joseph Black Moon.
And someone had murdered a prostitute.
The men, from Durant on down, considered this an inconsequential event, and the Swede, reduced to a position as the town’s garbage collector, carted the girl’s body off. But Lily, egged on by Eva (who had returned to Hell on Wheels with Mr. Toole after the Indians burned the fledgling town of Durant to the ground), paid the Swede to arrange a proper burial. And then she paid Elam Ferguson to find the man responsible, and kill him, thereby setting off a chain of events that ended in bloody retribution in the slaughterhouse.
It’s often said that women brought civilization to the West. Judging by what we’ve seen so far on Hell on Wheels, that didn’t always work as planned.
The first season of Hell on Wheels is now available on DVD, and I may have to add it to my growing collection of things I really want to watch again (I’ll put it on the shelf next to Mad Men). In spite of the violence, which almost made me turn off that first episode, I remain fascinated by the story, the characters, and the epic background.
WordPress tells me that a great many of my visitors drop by looking for background information about Eva and her tattooed face (see “More Hell on Wheels“). Eva, played by Australian actress Robin McLeavy, is clearly a popular character, and my search terms list shows every possible variation on “Eva the tattooed harlot.” What I would really love to know, though, is why thirty-four visitors in the last week have found their way here by searching for the term “Robin McLeavy feet.”