Hell On Wheels: Big Bad Wolf/Eminent Domain, Review

News Robert Bernstein
8/11/2013 at 5:07PM

With a new showrunner comes a new direction for the show, but is it the right one?

Like the rebuilding of the Hell On Wheels showrunners, the season 3 premiere felt like a rebuilding in many ways: a rebuilding of the characters' attitudes, a rebuilding of the crew to help build the railroad, and a rebuilding of the general tone of the show.

The first thing that sparks interest in the season 3 premiere is the drastically changed appearance of Cullen Bohannan (Anson Mount). All in one episode, Bohannan goes from an unkempt caveman-wrapped-in-pelts, to a well-dressed businessman of the north, and then back to the season 2 Bohannan we were used to. The change in appearance, alone, draws viewers into the opening scene (which was fantastic, by the way), and makes the viewer instantly care about Bohannan.

It's not just Bohannan's appearance that has gone through a change, it appears. Bohannan's mindset has gone from being set on vengeance to caring about nothing else but building the railroad. It's obvious that Bohannan is now more focused than ever on being the first to complete the railroad, and it's likely due to Lily's heartbreaking death at the end of season 2 (I'm sure that somewhere in the next couple of episodes, John Wirth will create some scene in which Bohannan spills his heart out about the subject). But what might not be so obvious is the similarities between the news reporter and Lily. It's no mystery that a love interest for Bohannan is going to come along at some point, but is this news reporter that made her debut in the season 3 premiere likely to be Bohannan's next love interest?

The change in tone of the show is also apparent in the new attitude of Elam Ferguson (Common). His change in attitude has gone from last season's angry, repressed man to mildly annoyed but understanding in the season 3 premiere. It is possible that Elam's new baby girl may have softened him up, but for the show's survival, I'm hoping we see some angrier moments from Elam. I loved the scene with Elam and Bohannan getting new suits, especially when Elam asked why did he have to be a gentleman's gentleman instead of just a gentleman. And, it was interesting to hear the question, “Which side do you dress on?” (I dress to the left. You're welcome for that information).

I, like many others, would have liked to have seen the new sheriff and his excellent mustache stay around for the entirety of the season.  Unfortunately, we find out he was just inserted into the series to be a cheap set up for the young Mormon boy's death.

I'd also like to take a moment to thank AMC for not showing the hanging of the young boy.  At times, the network can take those sorts of things too far, but they got the point across to the viewers without having to use shock value. Kudos, AMC.

I am a little disappointed that the two-hour Hell on Wheels season 3 premiere didn't contain any sign or mention of the Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl), the man that escaped his own execution at the end of the season 2 finale. Without the Swede, viewers are left without a truly villainous antagonist. It appears as though the writers are attempting to make Thomas Durant (Colm Meaney) the main villain, but Durant isn't evil, he's just greedy. There was something deeply disturbed in the mind of The Swede, and without him or the preacher from last season, we have yet to see a dark enough villain to bring the show back to where it left out in season 2.

In order for the show to catch on this season, episode 3 is going to have to really come out of the gates with a bang. With Hell on Wheelsthird season only being 10 episodes, episode 3 is going to play a crucial role for setting up the rest of the season. Hopefully, the show will be able to get some legs under it and we'll see a fourth season of the show next summer.

Don't get me wrong; I thoroughly enjoyed the season 3 premiere (although I was greatly disappointed that I had to wait an extra week for it). Usually, it's an unfortunate thing to see a show move to Saturday night, as most Saturday night shows are doomed (can you think of a successful Saturday night show)? But, I don't think this will be the case with Hell on Wheels, as moving away from the flooded Sunday night TV schedule will probably help it survive for at least another season.

Den of Geek Rating: 3.5 out of 5