Hell On Wheels: Season 3 Ends

I’ve seen some mixed reviews of last night’s Hell on Wheels season 3 finale.  It certainly wasn’t the slam-bang, burn-the-place-down episode we saw at the end of season 2.  I was a bit surprised at how quietly (for the most part) it ended, but not disappointed.  If you haven’t seen the episode, and plan to, here’s the warning:  There Will Be Spoilers.

Cullen Bohannon:  Cullen was ready to fight his Mormon captors, and the Swede, to the death–until he realized that Naomi, the Mormon girl he tumbled in the barn early in the season, was carrying his child.  He offered to marry her and stay (as a near-slave) at least “until the child is born and the crops are in the ground.”  This didn’t sit well with Naomi’s father, despite the fact that Naomi was now virtually untouchable among the Mormons, but it apparently struck the Swede, now known as Bishop Dutson, as sweet revenge.  Naomi refused to accuse Cullen of rape, and made a point of telling him so before there was any talk of marriage.  “We’ll work this out together,” Cullen tells Naomi.  Of course the Swede may have other ideas.

Thomas Durant:  Delighted by Cullen’s unexplained absence when General Grant and the Credit Mobilier men arrive, Durant once again claimed control of the railroad.  His series of “toasts” to Bohannon offended the group, but there’s no one else to do the job.

Elam Ferguson:  And here’s the real cliffhanger.  Over Eva’s objections, loyal Elam armed himself to the teeth and set out to rescue Cullen from the Mormons.  He shot his way (remember early on when Cullen taught Elam to fire a gun?) through a war party of Indians and reached a vantage point over the Mormon fort.  But while he scoped out the situation, his horse broke loose, frightened off by an enormous and angry bear.  When his gun jammed, Elam pulled out a knife.  At episode’s end, the camera pans over the dead bear to Elam, lying motionless and bloody a few feet away.  I’m not convinced.  If the Swede could survive that drop into the river, surely Elam will rise again.

The Swede:  Gunderson, Anderson, and now Dutson, the Swede (who reminds us now and then that he’s actually Norwegian) seems to be indestructible.  Now he’s ruling the roost at the Mormon fort as Bishop Dutson, mild-mannered (for the most part) man of God.  We could almost believe he’s changed, if we hadn’t watched him murder Ezra’s parents.  He makes perhaps the most telling speech of the episode, saying to Cullen that if he believes he (Cullen) has changed over time, he has to be willing to accept change in others.

And the ladies:  I’ve always been a fan of the women on this show.  No one has quite filled the central role played by Lily Bell in the first two seasons, but I still follow their stories with interest.  As season 3 concludes, we see Ruth (who will be crushed to learn of Cullen’s marriage) riding into Cheyenne with young Ezra (will he one day expose the truth about “Bishop Dutson”?) at her side and the wooden church steeple perched in the back of her wagon.  She spots Eva wandering the street, proclaiming that Elam is dead; Eva knows because she felt his spirit pass by.  Meanwhile Louise Ellison, the New York journalist (to whom Durant has offered the editorship of the yet-to-be-started Cheyenne daily newspaper) and Maggie Palmer, the hotel owner who takes no guff from Durant, sit deep in conversation over a drink at the hotel.  Tough, independent women making their own way on the frontier.

AMC has not yet made an announcement regarding a fourth season for Hell On Wheels.  I hope the announcement of a renewal comes soon.  I want to know what happens next, and I don’t want to have to make it up myself.

Note:  On November 14, AMC announced its renewal of Hell on Wheels for a fourth season next summer, expanding from ten to thirteen episodes.

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