Obviously the success of Hell On Wheels hinges on Cullen Bohannan (think I was calling him Collin last week–my bad), and consequently Teen Choice Award Nominee for Choice On Screen Chemistry with Britney Spears (as the AV Club likes to point out), Anson Mount. Right now though, Cullen is a walking talk box of gun slingin’ one-liners that range from gruff and snarky to gruff and serious. I’m not sure right now if the fault here should be placed on the writers–because I can excuse somewhat cliche dialog if a show does it with a wink, which Hell On Wheels seems to dabbling in–or Mount. Though right now I’m leaning towards Mount, who gave a pretty lackluster performance, especially in the scene with the pastor; though he was a tad better in that final scene with Durant.
Anywho, after the bloodbath that was the pilot, episode 2 was understandably a bit more plot/backstory driven. My big bone to pick is with Cullen’s filter-heavy, POV flashback, which felt much too heavy handed; I get that it was to introduce the needle point he finds in Johnson’s things at the end, but I hope in the future (if Mount can up his game) they reveal what exactly happen in Meridian through dialog. But this is a show about dealing with your past as the pilot hinted, which Sean And Mickey’s Mysterious Boston Incident, the actual introduction Joseph Back Moon, and, in my opinion, the now increasingly obvious fact that the pastor is the mysterious sergeant only served to heighten. Such a theme is compelling of course, but what’s interesting is how the past effects present action, not how the past effects present emotional states–and the latter drove this episode.
But, y’know, that’s how it goes. The beauty of television stories is that slow burn storytelling style, where at the end of the season you realize just how necessary those seemingly inconsequential episodes were. Granted, you can certainly craft more rewarding set-ups than this–but again, we’re only two episodes in and you can tell the creative team is still getting into the swing of things. (Not to mention the time between the writing/shooting of a pilot and the writing/shooting of the second episode is huge, which can cause the cast and crew to lose their footing a tad.) Here’s hoping things–like Mount’s acting chops–start to pick up next week.