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Hell on Wheels “Viva La Mexico” 

Photo credit: AMC

One of the advantages of coming late to the party for Hell on Wheels is that I didn’t have to wait long at all for season two. And wow was it a doozy. I’m being held hostage by my DISH contract, so I watched it online thanks to the good folks at AMC who streamed it live. If I bif something because I didn’t have the luxury of captions, please yell at me in the comments.

We pick up fairly soon, but undetermined exactly how long, after the events of the season finale. The town of Hell on Wheels is even more ragingly squalid for the regular folks but Lily and Durant seem to actually have four walls to call home, and there’s a proper restaurant for them to dine in. For the workers and the ladies who service them, though, it continues to be a tent city.

Elam is still crew boss, although the crew isn’t actually getting many tracks laid, and the Swede has been demoted to sanitation—collecting chamber pots and disposing of the dead, which he’s eerily complacent about. Reverend Cole has fallen completely down the bottle while his daughter Ruth carries on with his protege Joseph in the next room. And Lily seems to have resigned herself to being Durant’s consort in an impeccable scene where she visibly shudders as she comes to his quarters after dark. So, while it’s not quite hell in a hand basket for everybody, it’s close.

And what of Cullen? Well, he’s running with a gang of thieves who’ve taken to robbing Durant’s payroll from the train every week. We find this out in a supreme moment of “what the…?” when a group of masked men besiege the train, steal the cash, slap folks around, and dehood themselves once back on their horses. And there among them is Cullen, worn, weary, and apparently, way the hell up a creek after killing an innocent man in the season finale. We find out soon enough he’s thrown in with this group (led by another Sanctuary alumni, who’s also on Falling Skies this summer, Ryan Robbins, awesome!) to get himself to Mexico.

Elam is enlisted by Durant to defend the payroll, and makes a pit stop first in the new town of Durant, where he has his heart stomped when he finds out Eva is now Mrs. Toole. Then he goes on his way to confront the train robbers and is reunited–while each of them is on the business end of the other’s gun–with Cullen. Cullen manages to get off the train with Elam’s help and then has to explain to his cronies why he didn’t kill him.

Cullen’s one ally in the group, a doctor from his pre-criminal days, tells him to get the hell out of dodge. (We also learn that the insult to injury about him losing his family is that their graves were later robbed). On the next train robbery, Cullen intervenes against one of his cohorts who threatens a young boy and his mom and then gets locked up by the law (they get somehow get the jump on him but we don’t learn what becomes of the rest of the crew).

In chains again, in a bookend to last season where he was cuffed and in a quandary, Cullen watches as the guy in the next cell ends up in front of a firing squad with the likelihood that he’s next (although we know that’s not really going to happen).

Back in Hell on Wheels, someone has killed one of the girls and the Irish brothers offer up their services as security for a cut of the profits. Elam goes to Durant and asks for, and is given, Swede’s old job of town law enforcement. He’s also completely alone now without Eva or Cullen or his track crew.

It’s a dark start to the second season with a bit of mischievous streak as we know that Cullen isn’t threatened this early on, but series star Anson Mount certainly sells it that Cullen is just rolling with it as each thing happens. If there’s actually a plan in play (beyond Mexico), I’m not sure Cullen knows what that is yet.

The only scene I was left wondering about was one with Cole and Ruth where she brings him a bottle of hooch, even though he’s clearly productive and working on sermons again without it, and leaves it for him as a quiet threat because she knows he can’t resist it . There’s something very menacing about her that I think we’re just starting to see. Never trust the quiet ones.

Hell on Wheels is back on the schedule for the rest of the summer and through the fall at 9 pm/8c on AMC. If you missed the premiere, it’s online for a limited time.

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