This episode of Hell on wheels cleverly plays with themes of identity, especially when examined with traditional Western characters in mind. What is a savage? What is a heathen? What is this idea of the fair-haired maiden of the West?
Thomas Durant’s solitude and loneliness re-defines the role of the powerful capitalist in this episode of Hell on Wheels. We are finally witnesses to a different side of Durant, a more human character with an emotional past. His wife rejected his ambitious dream of going West, and stayed behind in New York while her husband seeks to satiate his hunger for progress. Later in the episode, he walks the settlers’ camp alone, then attends the Irish brothers’ makeshift picture show, again without company. What does this say about the villain? He’s changed as I’ve grown sympathetic to someone whose ideals are so twisted.
Joseph Blackman, the “saved” savage denies his past role of a member of his tribe, the band of his brother. In the scene, while cutting his hair he looks into the cracked mirror, a symbol his jagged sense of self. Even as a baptized Christian and “civilized” rescuer of Lily Bell, the fair-haired maiden of the West, he is subject to endless scorn and prejudice from the white settlers.
Again, Hell on Wheels plays with the idea of stereotypical characters and identity in the “old West”.