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Hell on Wheels 01.03 | Image

November 21, 2011

As Daniel pointed out, the teaser sequence stood out from the rest of the episode in terms of the way it managed to used mimetic image material (although, one might be able to argue for video montage to be cast as a form of diegetic narration) to add a huge scope of content to the story that we see unfolding. The further desaturated, hazy cast given to this series of shots intermittently dispersed between Cullen looking at this photograph immediately give the distinct impression of thought. However, while most “flashback” sequences take on a sepia hue, here, we see a cyan-bluish cast over the thoughts. While we know the first execution has taken place, it might be a ploy by the cinematographers at foreshadowing what is to come. Conversely, if we are to assume that these are indeed memories, it’s a very curious story-telling devise. This isn’t Don Draper having a flashback to his childhood to help us understand his current character. These would be full plot elements, potentially fitting for an entire season, or at least an arc, that the writers are imagistically throwing out.

I was also struck by the way that characters were developed hugely through image in this episode. For example, Reverend Cole, towards the end of the episode, says much more during the funeral by the mere turning of his back to the audience while Durant cries for war to the workers. It not only reads as a dismissal by cole of the whole lot to whom he preaches, but also a more symbolic turning of the back of god on the entire town, an imagistic foreshadowing that things will only get worse.


It’s world television day today

November 21, 2011

Almost as good as Thanksgiving:

Hell on Wheels 01.02

November 14, 2011

If the pilot of “Hell on Wheels” was confusing for the number of started arcs, the second episode was even more so for the sheer number of beats within it that added little to no progress to those arcs. It felt more like a mid-season episode than one of the first of the series. For example, we have an established arc of Colin attempting to gain revenge for what happened to his wife. Yet, we spend most of his beats in the episode watching him break out of the ‘jail’ and running around the camp. Either the writers are trying to set up a massive amount of foreshadowing or were having a hard time figuring out how to logically put him inside the owner’s carriage. If it was the former case then the dialogue in the two beats (in the tent with the former slaves and with the priest) was a little too vague to really push the story forward. You get this “I don’t deserve redemption” moment with the priest that’s maybe trying to set him up as a tragic hero, but his recklessness in exacting his revenge in the first episode has more or less already established his lack of care for his own life.

With the slaves in the “when a man puts chains on you, you have to break free” beat, it’s also hard to determine any kind of arc-pattern. If they’re going for some archetypal script, we could see an arc, related to his new position as foreman in which success is brought to the railroad via Colin’s respect and report with the workers (i.e. he’s not your average ex-slave master, but is indeed a redemptive character). However, this too seems rather too archetypal for AMC.

I was also fairly confused by the storyline of the female character. She had a number of really brief beats that seemed to suggest a dramatic finish to her story-line within the episode. But it built up instead to an anticlimax with the Native America turned white-man-indian-whisperer or whoever that character ends up being.

I have to say that the story-structure did achieve a greater sense of intrigue at the end of the episode than did last week’s pilot. However, I’m tempted to attribute that intrigue more to an interest in how exactly they will achieve progress within the arcs in the plot rather than the arcs themselves.

Hell on Wheels | unbelievable

November 8, 2011

Hell on Wheels has all the parts and none of the execution. In typical AMC period-piece style, production values are high, color saturations are minimal, soft focus sets a calm over some great turmoil. Here, though, it was too much. Granted, the Western seems nearly an impossible genre to do without ringing major bells of contrivance, but it seems like they’ve taken it too far, tried too hard to make it look real and in the process made the whole premise unbelievable. Lilly Bell looks idyllic sitting on the hillside, but I’d venture to say there wasn’t a vast supply of make-up in the forward reaches of the frontier.

Form aside, the pilot’s content was also lackluster. It’s a given in pilot episodes that the report between actors won’t yet be strong and they may be ill practiced, but the dialogue itself and the characters should be strong. In this pilot, the both seemed altogether stereotypical.  You have a greedy lobbyist, an outlaw seeking revenge, a hardened alcoholic boss, a defiant black man, and a delicate but strong female. Seriously? This is the best they could come up with? If they had taken this in the direction of camp and overdid it, then, okay. Instead, it seems that they’re taking these characters quite seriously. The dialogue is full of clichés (the gruff whisper of a reprise “Were you in Meridian” is almost laughable), and the action: need we derive the probability of a gunshot triggering a battle worn, railroad trained horse to rear, and not only rear but do just so that its hoof comes squarely under the chin of a bystander?

That said, I would still give it another week, to see if these problems work themselves out, because the underlying premise has the potential to be interesting. But, I’m not holding my breath.