I made the disastrous decision to read a few reviews of the Hell on Wheels pilot before I went and actually watched the show. Mostly all the reviews told me the same things: the plot was derivative, the acting was spotty, and the whole thing was just generally boring. Well, now that I’ve seen the show, I agree with all of it. The Hell on Wheels pilot bored me. If I didn’t have to watch it for class I wouldn’t have watched it all. I love Westerns, but I have a very low threshold for bad Westerns. That’s not to say that Hell on Wheels was Bad (with a capitol B), it just wasn’t good. It was muddled. It tried to weave together many different plot lines that seem wholly independent. The best shows can pull this off in a way that makes the viewer care about how and why the plot lines need to be entertwined, but I found myself asking, again and again throughout the pilot, why? Why should I care? Why does any of this matter? It was a question I couldn’t answer.
This isn’t to say the production values on the show were any short of amazing. Hell on Wheels did an excellent job in drawing me into the period in which it’s set. Maybe It’s just because 1860’s America wasn’t that long ago, but it all seemed very real to me. The set pieces, the characters all seemed like they could be quite possible. I’m unsure as to why AMC decided to mute the colors on the show so heavily though. It adds very little. The show isn’t a flashback… Were colors simply less bright 150 years ago? It’s a silly decision that screams to me that the show is trying to take itself too seriously in ways that add nothing but superficiality.
A comment on the last scene of the pilot. I don’t remember his name (not a good thing), but when O’Brien from Star Trek started pontificating about zebras to no one in particular, I felt that Hell on Wheels had jumped the shark. Which is an awful feeling to have about a show’s first episode. This is not a crazy man we’re talking about here, just a greedy one. He didn’t have a crazy soliloquy into nothingness, he had a one sided argument with two empty chairs. He was trying to convince the chairs of what he was saying. Why would he do this? What was the point of this soliloquy other than allowing O’Brien from Star Trek to rave on and on for five minutes? And what was the point of inter cutting random scenes of the other characters into the raving? What O’Brien from Star Trek was saying had nothing to do with the other characters. It was just… weird. I honestly don’t understand the point of it all beyond the show jumping up and down screaming “look at me! I have interesting things to say! Look look!” No thank you.