[Warning: spoilers for the episode.]
What a lovely, quiet, thoughtful episode, and one that is surely the calm before next week’s storm of a finale (season/mid-season, you decide). “Hungry Ghosts” splits focus between Bohannon and Mei going to San Francisco, Durant and Maggie plotting against the surprise arrival of Brigham Young, and Louise falling ill during her holistic abortion.
We begin immediately after last week’s assassination of Tao, as Bohannon has to pull a raging Mei away from Chang. He hauls her back to her tent and stays with her while she sobs. The next morning he tells Chang to pay Fong in full for what Tao was owed, and when Chang hesitates, Bohannon subtly threatens him that he wants an affirmative response so he can leave with a clean shirt. Chang says yes, and Mei says she doesn’t want the money but Bohannon says to take it anyway.
She builds her father’s coffin and decides she will escort it back to China. Bohannon boards the same train to seek a replacement for Tao, and Storbridge hilariously gives him a shopping list. They don’t get far when their train is interrupted by a damaged bridge, so Bohannon sets out on horse and Mei asks him to take her, too, and he says no, until he sees her struggling to get the coffin off the train and out of the heat.
He caves and procures horses and a wagon and they set out, coming across Stagecoach Mary, with whom they barter for bacon, and she warns them that the river is rough ahead. Two guesses how that’s going to go. Because Bohannon is Bohannon, he insists on trying to cross it instead of going around, so, of course they, the horses, the carriage, and the coffin end up in the drink. He drags Mei out of the water and she insists on walking until she finds the body, and she does.
Together she and Bohannon dig the grave, until she’s exhausted and he makes her sit down and be a daughter, not a son. They talk about being able to bury their loved ones vs. not, and she tells him they couldn’t bury her mother and she worries her ghost was lost and hungry and now her father’s ghost will be too. Bohannon quietly suggests, “Maybe they’ll find each other.”
She changes into her mother’s dress and they walk down to the river with two lanterns as she sings. She lights the candles, one for her father, so his ghost can find his way home, and one for the ghosts of those Bohannon buried and those he could not. She sets them on the water on the water and explains the significance, “When the light goes out, they will be home.” They sit down side by side on the bank of the river as night falls and watch the lights float downstream.
When they get back to camp, she suggests he sleep in the tent because it’s tool cold and he does. They lie down back to back and she thanks him for his help. He confesses that he lost his wife and son. She says she’s sorry and calls him bossman. He tells her it’s Cullen. She softly repeats it and then blows out the candle. The next morning, he’s slept soundly and late, and they decide to head back into Truckee. He tells Storbridge that Fong is the new translator.
In Laramie, Brigham Young comes calling on Durant because he’s owed half a million dollars. Durant tells Maggie and she doesn’t see the issue because they more than have it. Durant’s resolute he doesn’t want t pay him, so Maggie suggests they redirect Young’s concerns and show him the Central Pacific map, which reveals that he’s been duped–there are no plans for the terminus of the line in SLC.
Young rages when Durant says he won’t put one there either unless Young leaves the men on the line until the completion. Young says no, and pulls all his men. News of that gets to Truckee and Young the Younger (who surprisingly does not have two black eyes from the head-butt with the rifle last week) is thrilled, but it’s all over The Swede’s face that this is an unexpected wrinkle.
Louise is antsy when she finds out Young is in town so she gets out of bed to go interview him and Eva warns that she could take ill any minute. Louise goes anyway, and gets enough for a story from Young before she collapses and Eva finds her and nurses her back, while Louise is mortified it’s come to this. When she’s recovered and leaving, she gently kisses a startled Eva and tells her she’s an angel. “No one has ever cared for me like you. Not even my own mother.” Eva lets that sink in.
It’s her second soul-rocking conversation of the episode. Earlier, when Brigham Young (Gregg Henry is so good here, and then I get sniffly because I miss The Killing again) spots her outside the brothel, he asks her if she knows him. She comes down off the porch and tells him yes, that she thought she’d spend her life worshipping him and listening to him at Temple. She tells him she was kidnapped when they were on their way to SLC, and that nobody would want her after she was marked. They move closer to each other as they talk.
“I thought I’d spend my whole life spittin’ distance from you.”
“You would have been very welcome in Zion, child.”
“Instead I got this marked up face–a little bit of Indian magic–and a brothel full of whores.”
“You’re still Mormon. It’s never too late to return to the fold and be forgiven, my child. Heavenly Father’s loving embrace awaits us all. We have only to accept it. I will pray for you.”
He turns and leaves her, and she’s rattled in a way we haven’t seen in a while.
Louise writes her piece that Durant has been spinning tales for multiple parties about the railroad, so when Bohannon and Mei reach Truckee, Storbridge tells him to get to SLC for a meeting with the president. Off he goes, and Mei smiles as he leaves, and then turns serious, realizing that the last couple of days were an exception.
I loved that the show didn’t go there with Bohannon and Mei, that he still heard Tao’s words about maintaining propriety. He kept her safe, he honored her wishes, and he opened himself up, but he never crossed a line. I liked that we slowed way down with moments of quiet–after the sequence of falling into the river.
I was a scoche disappointed that was telegraphed as soon as Mary said it, but I’m OK with where it took the story. I loved that for just a brief moment, Mei was allowed to be herself again. In the depth of such sadness for her loss, she could be Mei with Bohannon. She could grieve as a daughter, with all her traditions intact, and Bohannon respected that. Such nice work from both Angie Zhou, as she changed from Fong to Mei and back again, and Anson Mount, who got to slow Bohannon down for a moment.
I like that we’re revisiting Eva’s core. We’ve seen her actions this season, but haven’t really spent time in her head. Robin McLeavy is so good, and she and Jennifer Ferrin are awesome together. I welcome those moments, and I do love her friendship with Louise. And this kiss came from a much different place than when Eva kissed Louise a few seasons back because she thought that was what Louise wanted, and she didn’t know to just be a friend with no strings involved.
Hell on Wheels marathons episodes 1-6 beginning at 9:30 am/8:30c Saturday ahead of the finale Saturday night at 9/8c. Check back next week for a preview of the finale.
“Hungry Ghosts” repeats throughout the week, and online at AMC.com. In case you missed it, our exclusive interview with Tzi Ma is here.
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