Hell on Wheels: Season 3

| August 11, 2014

I try to avoid jumping into series in the middle.  If I’m going to watch something, it’s going to be from the beginning.  However, I’ve been really impressed with AMC’s other original content with shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and The Walking Dead so I decided to give this one a shot.  Actually, I was hoping it would come early and I could catch up on the series before starting this third season, but it didn’t work out that way.  Fortunately, I found it pretty easy to adjust to the story of the third season.  I still want to go back and watch the two seasons leading up to these dozen or so episodes, but the show did an excellent job of drawing in an audience that was maybe not familiar with the story so far.

The show is a period drama, taking place shortly after The Civil War, at a time when the United States were struggling to unite.  Playing to that theme, construction has begun on the transcontinental railroad.  Season 3 starts with the main character Cullen (Anson Mount) hiding out in a deserted cabin, half insane, but he quickly picks himself up and gets a job as the railroad’s head engineer.  Thus, the series follows his misadventures trying to force people off their lands, get supplies from Indians who would just as soon kill him than look at him, and generally make a living.  Along for the ride is his partner, Elam (Common), who has to tolerate racism from all directions.  This isn’t helped by the fact that he’s in love with a white former prostitute who is having his baby, but at least it creates an interesting and unique dynamic within the show.

I was utterly fascinated by the historical aspect of this.  The time period makes the show feel like it’s set on an entirely different planet.  It has a number of great villain characters that pop up from episode to episode.  I gather that Doc (Colm Meaney; Star Trek: The Next Generation) has been a malevolent force in the first two seasons, and his hushed relationship with Cullen is really interesting to watch.  Doc begins this season with nothing, but through his own brilliance and savvy, conspires to build a town to manipulate the railroad’s construction.  He is infinitely adaptable and never loses his cool, which makes him all the creepier.  This isn’t to say that Cullen is our hero.  He’s willing to do whatever it takes to get his railroad built, and since he lives in a savage and lawless wasteland, this means trying his conscience on a weekly basis.  Elam is the closest we get to a moral compass, but in his willingness to follow Cullen, he steps into some pretty gray moral areas too.

Season 4 is airing now on AMC.  Special features here include A look back at seasons 2 and 3, behind the scenes featurettes, as well as episode specific featurettes.  Available now on DVD and Blu-ray from Entertainment One

About the Author:

Joe Ketchum Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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