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Hell on Wheels: Immoral Mathematics

November 15, 2011

I think “Immoral Mathematics” was a success. Hell on Wheels is about a period in time when America was beginning to embrace and cultivate upon Manifest Destiny and the classic capitalistic spirit. Needless to say, before divulging into more titillating hyper-focuses upon character relationships, plot twists, heroines, villains, etc., Hell on Wheels had an enormous stage to build. That said, I think the writers behind this show got a little overly zealous in the pilot and tried to jam a million different things down the viewers’ throats (and judging by the umbrella opinion of my classmates on the pilot, the viewers’ weren’t having it). Thankfully, this second episode didn’t spread itself so thin and, instead, focused mainly on one issue—the effects and aftermath of the murder of Daniel Johnson.

The episode begins with an interaction between the big-bellied Durant and a photographer who is covering the Native American attack on the railroad camp. As Durant stabs a few more arrows into a couple of cadavers in the surrounding area to amplify the brutality of the attack, he is further established as the stereotypical fat, greedy American who wants to capitalize on American expansion into the west by further villainizing the Native Americans. Do I think this character is necessary to capture the essence of the time period? Of course. However, did this cartoonish character evoke the same fear and creepiness that “The Swede” did? No way. If there is one thing that AMC is excellent at, it is developing a villain. Similar to Gus Fring in AMC’s Breaking Bad, the Swede is calm, collected yet sure to be ruthless and cold-blooded beneath his strategic guise.

Bohannon’s character as the protagonist among chaos evolved significantly throughout this episode. His tough demeanor and growing relationship with Elam (Common) make him a personable yet seemingly authentic character. His gambit to take a position of authority at the railroad camp has left him in a position to execute his personal vendettas and continue developing the substance of his character.

To sum it up, I think this episode was a strong signifier that Hell on Wheels is going places and taking a turn for the good and the better.



November 8, 2011

To describe the show in one word, mediocre. It is nothing more than I expected from a western AMC series, but at the same time, I’d probably watch the whole season and have a decent time doing so. This wouldn’t be because I’m hooked to the plot and dying to see what happens next but more because I have faith that AMC wouldn’t air a show that didn’t at least have some substantial/entertaining moments.

The intro is horrible. (I know, abrupt change of tone from the first paragraph, but it’s true.) It’s as if the show is trying so hard to make the plot and setting clear that it has severely dumbed it down in the process. The initial church confessional scene is intended to provoke an “OMG, didn’t see that coming” type reaction. However, this scene has been overplayed so many times in the past that it seems like recycled, laziness (Boondock Saints, Machete, etc). The show may as well have started with, “The Civil War is over. Here’s depressed soldier A. Oh, no, someone has a personal vendetta towards depressed soldier A and possibly others, and now this man with a vendetta is going to go kick some ass and get some revenge. Scene 2: Manifest Destiny, let’s expand. The “Indians” are savages, bla, bla. Let’s capitalize on this because I’m immoral and trying to ball out”. Reading a text book about American history would provide similar clarity. An addicting television show, in my opinion, leaves the viewer at least somewhat in the dark and allows room for interpretation and curiosity. This show doesn’t do that. However, this could also be a reason why I want to watch the second episode now. This show is simple and mindless—a great one to put on and have a strong drink after a long day.

I like some of the score a lot. It may be somewhat knocked off from Deadwood, but it entertained me. I thought the costumes and scenery seemed a bit too contrived/cheesy. It felt somewhat like a section of Disney world—too Hollywood.

There is some funny, cute banter such as the train scene conversation between Doc (the badass/out to kill yet moral type) and the two young men (“looking for their fortune”).

I had mixed feelings towards the Cheyanne tribe attack scene. Some of the imagery and cinematography is beautiful (i.e. when the scene switches from within the lovers in the tent to the Native Americans walking through the light, snow-covered bushes preparing to attack. The juxtaposition of the contrasting appearance of the scene within the tent to the tribe approaching really amplified the prettiness of this shot. In addition to the cinematography/imagery, I was somewhat drawn into this brief yet brutal attack scene. I may just be a sucker, but I felt the intensity of Lily Bell’s escape scene with Robert. Lily jumping on top of the Native American after being shot by the arrow and taking control over the situation added to her likability. She established herself as a tough chick. Once again, I may just be a sucker and have not been in a cynical mood when I watched this, but I’ll admit that I was able to empathize with Lily as she kissed Robert and fled the scene.

However, like I said, I had mixed feelings towards this Cheyanne tribe attack scene. I would have liked the show to have immersed me more deeply within the lovers’ relationship and personalities to develop an even stronger connection with them before everything went awry. Also, I’m sure the show will film through the lens of the tribe’s perspective, but like many old westerns, a Native American was turned into the villain within this first episode. I understand the rational third party perspective of the common ignorant portrayal that the show is probably going for, but regardless, it bothered me.