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Hell on Wheels Recap: Whiplash

When we last left Cullen Bohannon and Elam Ferguson, TV’s newest mixed-race action duo, they were riding off into the sunset after effortlessly fighting off a group of idiots sent by The Swede to hunt them down. Where they were riding, we didn’t know. But back to Hell on Wheels didn’t seem like much of an option — after all, they’d just decimated a posse sent after them by the camp’s head of security.

Fast-forward to this week’s episode, which starts with a train crash, burnt bodies, and Bohannon and Elam arriving at the site of the crash while on their way back to Hell on Wheels. Of course.

The first person Bohannon sees is The Swede. The Swede sees him right back. They approach each other, guns raised and for some reason The Swede turns into The Frenchman and surrenders his weapon while begging for mercy. Bohannon shows him some by pistol-whipping him instead of shooting him. Then, in what I can only assume was for Elam’s benefit, Bohannon grabs a leather whip and starts lashing The Swede with it. The camera cuts to Elam and he’s smiling. Good for him. Every ex-slave should get to see at least one white man beat with a whip, even if the guy doing the beating is a former slave owner himself.

The real news of the day though is that train crash, caused by Cheyenne trouble-maker and Leslie Knope foe Pawnee Killer. Durant wants to respond to the attack swiftly and a blue-eyed former Union lieutenant has shown up to help him do that. He won’t be alone though. Durant wants Bohannon to go along to make sure the lieutenant doesn’t do anything stupid. And Joseph Black Moon has volunteered to show them the way to his father’s tribe, as long as the innocent are spared. Everyone agrees and goes home to pack their overnight bags.

Before Batman Bohannon will ride off though, he needs his Robin. So he tracks down Elam as he’s about to visit the brothel and asks him to join him. But why, Elam asks. Because you’re the only one I trust, Bohannon says. Okay, but first I need to go get some, Elam says. Okay, but “don’t stay too long just to impress me,” Bohannon jokes. Next week, expect the bromance to escalate even further when Bohannon and Elam drunkenly declare how much they love each other.

So Elam goes into the brothel and finds the whore with the face tattoo, whose name I’ve finally looked up (it’s Eva). Elam throws out the chubby white guy she’s tending to and then comes the surest confirmation yet that these two outcasts are in love — they get in a fight. Eva’s mad at Elam because he lives too dangerously. Elam’s mad at Eva because she doesn’t seem happy to see him. The fight ends, as all good ones do, with them doing it.

Fully released, Elam joins Bohannon and Joseph in what looks like a politically correct version of the Three Musketeers.  They team up with the lieutenant and his men to ride off to find the Cheyenne people. After a day of riding they call it a night, set up camp and Bohannon and blue eyes start talking about the war. Bohannon notices that the lieutenant is carrying a Confederate saber and asks him where he got it. Blue eyes tells a story about a Union victory at Antietam, which Bohannon calls Sharpsburg and I call a reason to visit Wikipedia and find out what all this is about. Turns out Bohannon was at that same battle, mowing down Union soldiers like Kentucky bluegrass. Since both survived, they decide to fight now and settle the score but killjoy Elam breaks them up and everyone just goes to sleep instead.

Meanwhile, back in HoW Lily has decided to move out of Durant’s fancy train car and into the muck below. She doesn’t want anyone thinking she’s “taken up with” Durant as Bohannon suggested to her earlier. As she’s packing her bags, Durant is surprised to see her leaving; he thought they were “together.” Lily says no and that she’s leaving. Durant says she’s been playing him like a fiddle all along and forces her to carry her own bags out of the car.  In the short term that’s bad for Lily—living in the mud is going to suck—but in the long term, it’s good—now she won’t have to see Durant naked.

As Lily sets up her new accommodations in the mud, she befriends Eva, who’s really turning out to be a hooker with a heart of gold. They go get a delicious lunch of slop and slimy meat in the town cafeteria, where they meet my new favorite character on the show, Deuce (“The ladies call me Deuce, cause I’ve got two.” So does most everyone else, Deuce.). Over lunch Eva tells Lily about watching Indians scalp her parents, bash her sister’s head in with a rock and then kidnap her. It’s gruesome and depressing but Eva isn’t affected at all. She just looks at Lily’s slop and says, “Are you going to eat that,” which immediately makes me think someone should make a supercut of TV and movie “Are you going to eat that”s. Here are a few to get someone started: Seinfeld, Dumb and Dumber, Family Guy. By the way, Lily’s not going to eat that.

With Bohannon out of the camp, The Swede decides to confirm his suspicions that the man’s a killer. He raids his stuff, turns up newspaper clippings that prove Bohannon has left a trail of bodies behind him. It’s all true and The Swede reports it to Durant, desperate to get rid of Bohannon. Durant doesn’t care. He tells The Swede to concentrate on work and suggests that if he doesn’t he’ll have to walk back to Sweden. All alone, The Swede sadly mutters that he’s from Norway. Give it to Christopher Heyerdahl once again for consistently being the only actor on this show who makes me think, “Wow, that guy’s good.”

Back around the campfire, Bohannon and crew are awoken by an alarm clock that plays a dying man’s screams. Wait, that’s an actual dying man’s screams! Quickly, the lieutenant realizes it’s one of his men, who is soon found with his throat slit and eyes cut from his head by Pawnee Killer himself. More importantly (to the story, not to the dead man’s family), their horses have been stolen, leaving them to pursue the Cheyenne tribe on foot. After Joseph walks everyone in circles and allows his family to escape, he finally leads the band to his father’s camp. It’s empty. Or at least it seems that way until a boy walks up and the lieutenant shoots him, breaking the promise he made to Joseph. Bohannon, Joseph and Elam turn their weapons on the lieutenant, which lasts all of three seconds before dozens of Cheyenne ride from the woods, weapons raised. The white men are outnumbered, out flanked and out matched. In almost all cases, I would say it’s time to start building coffins. But the superhero duo of Bohannon and Ferguson is among these white men and they’ve already proven themselves capable of dispatching any enemy that comes their way. Plus, there are two episodes left. They can’t die now.

Photo: Chris Large/AMC