While Hell on Wheels still feels like a far cry from brilliance, I give its writers and the powers that be at AMC their due — episode two was leagues more cohesive and coherent than the pilot. Its forty four minutes or so were understandably exposition heavy, but for all intents and purposes, the episode was dominated by a new antagonist: The Swede. Durant was reestablished as a driven cut-throat businessman, manipulating the press and even getting his own hands dirty through his disrespect of the dead. Yet, as epitomized by his decision to ultimately hire Cullen as his new foreman, everything he does can be justified by his understanding of right and wrong. You may not like him or agree with his methods, but he deserves some degree of respect for being willing to adapt with higher interests in mind. By contrast, The Swede is just a yes-man: a mercenary who seems all too pleased to work out the problems from his own past on stand-ins at present. As someone who actually interacts with the commoners and residents of Hell on Wheels, it would appear as though Cullen has finally met his match. Both men are murderers, but Cullen is glamorized, even amusingly returning for his hat as he escapes from his makeshift prison cell. Ultimately, both men now report directly to Durant, so it will be interesting to see how egos (and pistols) collide in the coming episodes.
Episode Two: Finally, “Story Matters Here”
The episode also introduced new elements of subplot, as the B and C stories were expanded through flashback, and through the eyes of Lily. I’m not sure that I like the message being sent to viewers that wild Native Americans are savages while their domesticated and reformed counterparts (or brothers) are good. Apparently, a past history of scalping doesn’t make you a bad person. Yet, the cat and mouse game introduced could have some compelling elements, especially as the brothers are pitted against one another. While it’s unlikely that they’ll ever reach the epic level seen between LOST‘s Jacob and Esau, the potential still exists for a rich conflict. Maybe a self-sacrifice for the sake of Lily, or a gradual change of heart for one of the brothers? Time will tell. Speaking of time (and LOST), we now bear witness to flashbacks. I wonder, will we gradually get pieces of the puzzle, ultimately leading up to Cullen’s memory of Meridian? This story still has its flaws, but it finally feels like a semblance of a story.