Hell on Wheels Season 3 Premiere “Big Bad Wolf” and “Eminent Domain”
And, we’re back! It’s been a long wait for season three of Hell on Wheels, but it came in full throttle when it finally arrived. We kicked off with two tonally different episodes, but I get AMC’s decision to front-load the new timeslot. I’ll take them separately here.
First up, in “Big Bad Wolf,” we pick up during winter at the burned out camp, where it’s brutally frigid and iced over and Bohannon is being haunted by Doc as his last candle burns out. When Doc reaches out to touch him, he snaps to that this is not good and breaks out of his tent and goes down to the river to douse himself in cold water and shake the ghosts loose.
He fends off a wolf and then hikes back to camp to find that the only other resident who stayed behind with him (to guard the train, I guess) has frozen solid during a game of solitaire. Bohannon relieves him of his pipe and lights up and once fortified by the tobacco and clearer of mind, he chips the train out of the snow, fires it up, and gets the hell out of there.
When he arrives in Omaha (still in full Grizzly Adams garb), he sets out for Elam and Eva’s, where she’s due any day now. He tells Elam to come to New York with him, and when Elam is reluctant to leave because of the baby, Bohannon tells him he’s in a railroad town, and he’s the railroad boss, so come now or be gone when he returns. Elam surprisingly doesn’t take a swing at him and goes with Eva’s blessing as she reminds him of the big picture–birthing is a woman’s business, and baby or no baby, they need a job.
Elam questions Bohannon on his sanity and Bohannon doesn’t tell him he’s haunted, per se, but says he needs Elam for his personal security–waking and sleeping. Elam accuses him of losing his mind and Bohannon tells him that he’s actually more lucid than ever.
They board the train and when Elam is bounced to the colored car rather than accept Bohannon’s claim on him, Bohannon traipses down to the car and sits with him there. When they arrive in New York, they’re met at the train and Bohannon is told his job isn’t his job anymore. He demands to see a now-imprisoned Durant, who tells him he’s powerless to interfere and suggests that Bohannon’s lost his edge.
Bohannon takes Elam with him to the tailor and has both of them outfitted in proper suits (during which Bohannon hilariously uses finger gestures to explain to Elam what dressing right or left means) and then they drop in on the Union Pacific underwriters, where Elam is mistaken for Bohannon’s servant and Bohannon doesn’t correct the assumption. Once in the room with the bankers and senator, Bohannon makes the case for getting his job back, citing his progress under Durant and his ability to survive out in the wilds. Then he coats the table in maps and sketches to show them what he has in mind.
When he walks out with the job, Elam shoot shim down for the ruse, and they later come to blows about it back at the hotel after a run-in with the Irish labor boss under Durant when Bohannon tells Elam he is not his equal. They’re interrupted when a telegram arrives to tell Elam he’s a dad. Bohannon tells him to remember that moment.
Bohannon makes a stop at the church where he was married and talks to God a little bit about the things he’s done and left undone. He’s visited by the priest, who tells him to leave his guns outside. Bohannon tries to remind the man that he married him years earlier but the priest doesn’t recall him and Bohannon takes his leave.
Bohannon and Elam head back to Omaha but first Bohannon is visited by Mr. Huntington (Tim Guinee), the head of the competitor railroad, who clues Bohannon in that he’s being paid in stock because UP is broke. He makes Bohannon a better offer to come work for him from the West side of the track, but Bohannon says he’s bound to the word he gave UP.
When they arrive back in Omaha, the McGinnes brothers tell Bohannon that workers have started arriving unsolicited, and Bohannon tells them to get ready. Elam goes to see his family and Eva tells him they have a daughter.
Back in New York, we find out Durant was in cahoots with the UP boss via the man’s uncle and he’s livid that Bohannon is back in the job. He tells the senator to get cracking on the dismissal of his case, and when we next see him, he’s walking out a free man.
In Omaha, Bohannon surveys his train and workers and everybody packs up to disembark. Ruth stands at the front of the train to say a prayer and then they load up and pull out and Bohannon surveys the track.
In the next hour, “Eminent Domain,” we’re back in camp proper and Bohannon is showing around a reporter, Louise Ellison (Jennifer Ferrin), highlighting the bunk cars he designed so the workers rest better and work better, and the different components of laying the track. Elam finds out he’s second in command at the police post to Dick Barlow (and the casting of Matthew Glave and the general bulls eye nature of the fella pretty much telegraph where the hour is going to go).
While Bohannon shows Louise around, two men ride up and deposit track mile markers at his feet and tell him to stay off their land. Bohannon rides out to see the man and breaks bread with him and his multi-wife family (and is otherwise occupied by either a daughter or sister-wife when he agrees to spend the night). The man’s son, who earlier suggested the railroad go around their land, catches Bohannon with the girl in the barn and Bohannon bolts before they’re truly busted.
The reporter walks around the camp in the dark and is mistaken for a whore and when she turns down a man’s advances she gets a black eye for her trouble. Bohannon realizes supplies are coming in short and Sean tells him it’s because Durant tied up their suppliers. Pretty quickly, we learn that he’s still in Durant’s pocket himself. And we see Durant trying to pitch the well-to-do on selling out their properties for tidy profit, and the only woman at the table, Maggie Palmer (Chelah Horsdal), calls him on his less-than-stellar reputation. So, it looks like he’s going to actively be meddling in things.
True to his word, Bohannon asks his surveyors to gauge going around the farm, but the soil samples come back poor. He goes to see Ruth and ask her whether the man would be inclined toward violence, and she tells him that the Mormon church isn’t recognized, and that they enslave their woman, so it’s possible he would be. With that in mind, Bohannon sends Elam and Dick out with a Writ of Eminent Domain telling them to vacate. After a breakfast together where they talk about their children (ding, ding, ding), they ride out and find the place boarded up. The man calls out to them to leave and Dick walks toward the house anyway and is dropped by a bullet to the stomach. Elam gets off a few shots and then his horse is killed.
Elam gets Dick out of there and rides him back into the camp and takes him to his and Eva’s tent. He asks her to help as the tent fills with people. She tells Louise to get onion soup from the hotel. She has him drink it and when she can smell it through the wound, she tells Elam he won’t live. The baby cries as all this goes down and she yells for someone to take her out but Dick asks to see her and Elam lays her on his chest and he smiles at her as he dies.
Bohannon summons the cavalry and they ride up to the farm with execution orders. The man and his family finally come out and then the man throws his son under the bus as the shooter and the son doesn’t protest. Bohannon presses him to finger his dad and he won’t, so they hang him. Then the man tells Bohannon he owes him a life. Bohannon rides out a bit and drops one of the mile markers in the dirt.
We heads back to camp and the reporter narrates (new feature there — not sure how I feel about a VO) her article about the camp and Bohannon and that he’s a good man for the railroad to be making a bet on.
And that’s our first two hours down. We’re only getting ten this season, so I kind of hate that it shortens the run, but if it drew more eyeballs in, then it’s a win.
The cast is as impeccable as ever. I love that Tim Guinee popped by, and if Twitter is any indication, we’ll see him again this season. Same for Horsdal, who was also on TV last night in a repeat of Motive (I enjoy her, and she works A LOT).
I liked that Mount got to play a wide range in the first two hours–maybe batsh-t crazy and on his own too long, then still also able to get it back and be in control when he needed to fight for his job, and actually be the boss again. We never revisited the ghost notion, so I’m not entirely clear whether he truly wanted Elam for protection or just for the class system ruse.
Kudos to Common for the scenes with Robin McLeavy and Glave. In the sweet scene when Elam sees his daughter for the first time, he’s equally concerned about how Eva fared on her own. Later, although Elam was pissed about being overlooked for the security job, he could appreciate that Dick was a good man, and he was congenial to him all the way up to his death. When he’s given the job after Dick’s death, he’s not so sure he wants it anymore.
I’m fine with the new reporter and indications are she is NOT set to replace Lily as a love interest, and it makes sense, historically speaking, to have someone from outside document what they’re doing.
I’m so glad we’re back! You can catch a repeat of the season premiere at 9 am/8c Saturday morning on AMC. The next new episode airs Saturday night at 9 pm/8c.
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