Mr. Swede and his black hat

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Finally, Hell on Wheels has redeemed itself. But, only a little bit.

The character of Mr. Thomas Durant has really exploded into this heartless showman, who, with unwavering avarice, will do anything to get his way (and his money). Durant represents the imperialist ideals of manifest destiny. He is the only character who wears a white hat, which in the tradition of Hollywood Westerns signifies the “good guy”. Even though, he is so clearly the villain. This is a testament to the white supremacist traditions of past Western films. Creepy Mr. Swede, the Norwegian is another allusion to traditional Hollywood westerns as clearly embodies the villain in the black hat (and black cloak). Cullen’s hat is also black signifying his role as the anti-hero. Cullen is the self-proclaimed rebellious Rebel, who is not your traditional, heroic Western cowboy (even though he so totally is). In the escape scene, when Cullen seeks temporary refuge in the pastor’s tent (unbeknownst to him) he defiantly tells the priest, “I ain’t no St. Peter”. Here, his identity as the misunderstood anti-hero is expressed.

Durant’s diatribe about the fair-haired maiden of the West, representing civilization is another allusion to Classic Western themes, which I think was really clever. In this episode of Hell and Wheels the writers are explicitly making connections with past representations of the American West, which I think makes the themes of the show more visible and easier to navigate. With the pilot episode, I really didn’t care about the characters and their development (I still don’t care that much, actually), but with the release of the second I feel more inclined to follow the the uneasy, unspoken alliance between Cullen and Elam. The scene in which Elam, the black former slave releasing Cullen’s shackles, was somewhat evocative and a nice symbolic touch.

 

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