Hell On Wheels: A New Birth of Freedom

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It is naturally going to be a tough act for AMC to follow when introducing a new show, Hell On Wheels, to its already incredibly successful lineup with shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men. The juxtaposition of Breaking Bad and Man Men with Hell On Wheels seems to bring the shortcomings of Hell On Wheels into the limelight, especially when compared to the rich aesthetic, cinematic and narrative styles that move the stories forward and develop characters in AMC’s other shows. Therefore, I would argue that Hell On Wheels is not achieving the same level of success and intrigue that would keep viewers coming back for more, unlike those loyal followers of Breaking Bad and Mad Men. Perhaps Hell On Wheels still just needs more time, but I am afraid that I’ve already lost most of my patience for this show…

After our class discussions last week I approached episode three with the intent of focusing in on all things visual. Yet, even as I watched for visual hints of plot, narrative, and character development, I still felt that Hell On Wheels fell short. Although parts of this episode were especially beautiful, moving, and really transported the viewer into a sense of what the conditions of daily life in the 1860s would be, most of the dialogue got in the way. The dialogue seemed to do lots of telling and leave no opportunity for showing, which in my opinion took all potential power and intellectual stimulation away from the audience. The repetition of images, such as mud, dirt, and filth, I found to be a positive visual aspect that kept setting the scene and time period, however instances of repetitive dialogue, most notably with characters Elam, Cullen, and Durant, took away the audience’s credibility and replaced it with an overtly spoon-fed version. The opening scene with Cullen searching through Johnson’s things and coming across the photo of all the men involved in his wife’s murder was aesthetically pleasing at times, but overall seemed too overdone, too slow, and repetitive as if to make sure in cause the audience missed the first five opportunities to understand the plot we were given another five more chances to catch it…and all before the opening credits. The “western genre” involves drama, mystery, morality, and intensity, but Hell On Wheels is not providing many of the expectations I have (and want) of the genre; instead, it is fulfilling many gruesome stereotypes, especially when it comes to Native Americans, and does not allow for much prediction because it is all laid out for us.

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