Has it really been nearly six years since I first began watching AMC’s Hell on Wheels?
There was plenty that initially drew me in. A Southern-loner protagonist, multitude of Irish characters, and an Old West vibe driven by the steam-powered machinery of the great railroad race that marked the latter half of 19th century America.
Hell on Wheels was much more than that, though, wasn’t it?
It was a perpetually gritty, dark, and often somber affair- but one which was increasingly difficult to turn away from due primarily to the slow, survivalist simmer that was the main character, Cullen Bohannon, played so ably by Tennessee-raised, Anson Mount, and an equally strong and well-developed supporting cast.
Bohannon’s life was hell, and so when life took him to life brought him to the railroad, it became hell on wheels. At the show’s outset, he had already lost everything, and as the season progressed, what little he acquired, namely in relationships with others, would be lost and lost again at a pace that would make a Game of Thrones fan wince.
And yet, Bohannon endured – much like America after its deadliest war and the years that followed that terrible conflict. Cullen Bohannon is himself the human embodiment of that Civil War trauma, a living breathing mass of seething scar tissue, quick with a gun, blade, or fist, but also housed within a constantly conflicted sense of right and wrong.
Again, so much like the America that created him.
I love a good Western, and Hell on Wheels was just that.
Here’s one of my favorite season finales, the Season Two conclusion that was a near-perfect mix of song and imagery showing Bohannon once again coming to terms with the loss of someone he had come to care for, and his ongoing struggle to keep hold of whatever is left of himself as he forges on, one track at a time, just as we all must do, until time runs out…
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