On the subject of genre, ‘Hell on Wheels’ can be filed in the ‘Western’ folder without question. Judging from its pilot, the show delivers on everything audiences have come to expect with any story set on the frontier. We have a brooding-maverick-with-a-troubled-past protagonist Cullen Bohannen, a mean-and-greedy-and-fat railroad investor Doc Durant. Not to mention a full-on bloody Native American raid, complete with face and body paint, gutting, and scalping. Like many of my classmates, I came away from this episode almost offended by its staleness.
But I am hesitant to write off the show entirely by its first episode, because it did set up some elements that could prove interesting in the next few installments, particularly in regards to race and gender (totally offensive Native American raid aside). Elam is shaping up to be Cullen’s number one buddy in his quest to find his wife’s murderer. Lily came away from the raid with some *very important* maps. Both characters aren’t ones we usually see in the white male drunken gun-slinging sausage fest that characterize a typical Western, and it’s difficult to judge whether they will become major players in the primary plot line from just the pilot. But the possibility of it was probably the most compelling element of this first episode for me.
Like Jon said, I don’t think ‘Hell on Wheels’ is going to turn the Western on its side, but I do think it could be a very satisfying experience for those audiences who like Westerns already and come to the show to have their expectations met.