Throughout its run, Hell on Wheels has always been visually stunning. The special effects are more consistent feature films rather than cable television. Additionally, the set pieces often appear to be shot on location rather than a Hollywood set. This makes Hell on Wheels aesthetically pleasing and separates it from most television programs.
One of the more visually, emotional scenes occurs when a fellow worker confronts Elem and accuses him of wanting to be white. The camera follows a line of black workers as they shovel dirt from the ground. The diegetic sound of some 100 workers digging into the earth provides an added authenticity to the scene. With each passing dig, the viewer can see the escalating frustrations of the workers. Finally, tensions reach a boiling point when a worker puts down his tools and refuses to continue. Elem quickly confronts the man in a face-to-face stare down. In the background, an explosion occurs, followed by a large cloud of black smoke. This visual serves as a representation of the explosive anger that both men feel and epitomizes the potential for damage that might ensue. Here, the use of special effects adds another layer of richness to the story and helps establish the emotions of the scene.
Though Hell on Wheels remains a visual stunning program, the non-diegetic sound fails to add value to the program. As another blogger has stated, the soundtrack often feels like its playacting towards the audience’s emotions rather than to “an honest relationship with the story being accompanied.” I agree that the result can take the viewer out of the story and often feels like the show is trying too hard to generate emotions for it audience by using a soundtrack. Thus, I believe, that if the show could introduce a more realistic sound from the era, the result could be a stronger reaction to what is depicted in the scene.