Moment of Goodness: Tao Brokers a Deal in Hell on Wheels, “Struck”
Bohannon has always been a man of few, but powerful words, and he’s met his match in Tao, with whom he’s struck an uneasy alliance to help protect Mei from being discovered. When Chang tries to incite rebellion in the wake of his assault last week, and is successful in doing so, Bohannon turns to Tao to help get the men back to work, but Tao won’t break with Chang.
Mei weighs in and Tao, fearful of repercussions, silences her, but he takes her words to heart, and when Chang turns to guns as a resolution to secure food for the Chinese, Tao finally comes forward, offering Bohannon a compromise, tied to all the Chinese have forfeited in coming to America and, in some cases, dying there.
He beckons Bohannon to the Chinese graveyard, full of wooden markers and anchored by a ceremonial bowl burning incense. Tao explains to him what it means that they’re buried across the world from their families.
“These men came to Gold Mountain to provide for the families in Guandong. In China, it’s tradition for a man’s family to look after his grave. We provide our loved one with food, money, and everything he might need in the afterlife. Bu if there’s no one to care for him, he wanders as a ngor gui–hungry ghost–forever.
He points to one of the graves, someone Bohannon likely does not remember.
That’s Yao Pak Na. He’s got a wife and four children in Yiunping. So, as long he’s here, they will never be able to care for him. If living Chinese can’t have the same respect as white men, maybe the dead can.”
He looks around him, at this strange place halfway across the world, emotional but resolute. Bohannon starts to understand.
“Honor the ones who gave their lives for your road, I think they will go back to work.”
Bohannon lets that sink in, and he agrees to a deal–Huntington will ship the bodies of the Chinese back to their families, and the Chinese will peacefully resume their work. Chang’s demands remain unmet.
As the coffins are exhumed and loaded on the train, Bohannon and Tao nod in silent agreement. It’s a small, but powerful concession, but Bohannon realizes how very important it is for these once proud men who are so very far from home. And it tells Tao he can trust this man regarding his daughter’s safety.
Tzi Ma has worked for a long time, and I’m so glad he’s part of this season. He’s so good here as a man who’s beaten, and nearly broken, but not quite yet surrendered. He and Anson Mount are well-matched as two characters who say so much but rarely speak out loud.
Hell on Wheels airs Saturdays at 9/8c on AMC.
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