Imagery in Episode 3

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Upon reading Karen Lury’s “Image”, and her ideas surrounding the way in which the television image can dramatize, I immediately drew connections to the visual strategies found in Hell On Wheels. Lury, though here discussing soap operas, claims that “In the same way that knowledge of each character’s biography becomes important to the narrative richness of [a television show]…the repetition of key images and the revisiting of particular locations is also important to the development of sentiment and empathy by the viewer of the series” (8). Here, Lury is discussing the typical sets, images and designs found on television, those that lack a sort of visual richness due to television budgets as compared to the richness of film visuals. She claims that “despite the relative visual poverty” of the television image, because these images and sets are revisited so often throughout a television series, they compensate the viewer through a certain ‘time-richness’, being revisited by characters in the shown and thus helping to promote and develop emotional attachment and sentiment in the viewer.

Hell On Wheels is definitely no exception to Lury’s theory. As she goes on to claim that “incremental ‘natural’ changes” in the scenery help promote change in both the viewer and characters on screen, I could not help but draw connections to episode 3. Here, we are constantly returning to images of mud, rain and slop throughout the town and its outskirts. Though Hell On Wheels’ imagery is definitely not that of a typical television show in that it is quite visually rich, the same rules of repetition and revisiting in order to develop sentiment still apply. Before episode 3, I do not remember there being such a reliance on images of wet sloppiness. This change and the episode’s subsequent repetition of these images highlight the rising sentiment of the characters and the show on a whole that the situation in Hell On Wheels is getting darker and grimmer. Obviously the director is attempting to create a sense of poverty, gloom and despair in the audience, and the show is accomplishing such not only through the dialogue and acting, but through this new reliance on grey and dreary imagery. Plagued by murder, savage attacks, racism, debauchery and greed, the condition of the train town is spiraling downward and the environmentally imagery is reflecting such a trend.

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