Moment of Sadness: Chang Orchestrates a Murder in Hell on Wheels “Elixir of Life”
In the closing moments of “Struck,” Stagecoach Mary found the bodies of the men driven out of Truckee for assaulting Chang and killing his valet. Earlier in the episode, we’d seen a group gathered in his parlor pulling tiles out of a bag, and it’s one of those tiles Mary finds on a body. So we were already on notice that Chang will handle his own sh-t if the proper channels fail him. In short, we were warned.
And Bohannon knows this. He learns the men never made it to their destination, but he doesn’t yet know they were murdered. He knows enough not to trust Chang, and warns him off of falling into liege with The Swede. He knows enough to warn Tao to be careful because Chang is dangerous, and Tao says he’s not afraid.
But apparently Bohannon doesn’t mistrust Chang enough to realize that when he finally sets him loose on The Swede, it’s a distraction so he can handle his latest problem–the seemingly imminent defection of Chinese labor loyalties due in large part to what he sees as Tao’s betrayal. And for that, Tao will pay.
But first, Chang lays it on as thick as humanly possible. He throws a traditional Chinese festival and feast. He toasts Tao and Bohannon for their resolution to the strike, which pleases Tao but surprises Bohannon, because he’s just taken payroll away from him. The fireworks begin and an earlier conversation with Chang where he declined any knowledge of The Swede’s dealings is replaced with an “urgent” request to meet, and this time, Chang freely comes clear that he’s been selling The Swede guns–a lot of guns.
This of course unleashes Bohannon, and he races over to confront The Swede, where he finds…no guns. The Swede correctly throws it back at him that this was a merely a ruse to steer him away from Chang, who is perhaps the bigger enemy. Then the penny finally drops and Bohannon hauls ass back to town, a rifle in each hand, but he’s too late.
A moment earlier, we see a convivial Chang and Tao at the dinner, side by side, when the lost leader character of the episode, a snake oil salesman peddling the titular potion, wanders into the party and asks for Tao. Tao responds with a smile and confirms his identity, and then the man shoots him twice, before exchanging a look with Chang and walking out. Mei rushes over to him as he bleeds out on the floor, and a satisfied Chang is unmoved.
Bohannon bursts in and calls Chang out for it, and Chang quietly, with brimming satisfaction at besting him, tells him it was a white man, and the only witnesses were Chinese.
Going forward, we’ll have to see which rage burns hotter for Bohannon. We know from Chang’s scars that he’s a survivor, but not many have survived Bohannon (see: Snow, Sidney, all of season 1). I do want to see Bohannon and Chang throw down, though (maybe like this?), because while Byron Mann and Anson Mount have proven they’re very interesting scene partners when they say very little, now I want Bohannon to wipe the floor with him.
Midway through the episode, Tao warms Bohannon to leave Mei alone because their friendship is stirring dangerous waters if she is discovered. Bohannon begs off that there’s nothing there, but he later realizes that even if there’s not for him, there might be for her, and it’s an inappropriate friendship because the ramifications for her can be deadly. And now he has to comfort her, and I’m guessing, keep her from avenging her father, which I have no doubt she will do. I just hope it’s not at the expense of her own life.
I’m bummed that Tzi Ma is out already, but I’m really glad he got to come play.
Hell on Wheels airs Saturdays at 9/8c on AMC. You can catch this episode again throughout the week, and online at AMC.
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