This Hell on Wheels review contains some spoilers.
Hell on Wheels Season 5 Episode 12
When most things appeared certain between Cullen and Mei, their situation worsened after Chang discovered and sought to exploit her secret for his professional and financial gains.
Chang has always wanted to sit at the adult table, however he’s not built for executive decisions and their consequences. He’s similar to Mickey McGinnis, only with tailored suits, fragrance and hair pomade to differentiate. Physical abuse, maiming, and murder are preferable rather than artful negotiations and compromise.
A flashback to his unpolished beginnings in Guangzhou, China, 1863, Chang was manipulative and an opportunist wanting to suckle at the teat of General Lee of the Sze Yup organization. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to secure passage to San Francisco and out West. He tricked Wai-Ling’s father into giving her to him for marriage, her next destination unknown. Before he came to appreciate daily baths, he looked like an unwashed drifter.
It was in San Francisco that Chang realized modifying his outward appearance might work in his favor. There would be no soul-searching and adapting to his new country and surroundings. He was a ruffian and pimp enamored of the sound of his slightly-accented English speaking voice. He convinced General Lee to put him in charge of a combination opium den and brothel, with his new bride as his highest earner. Chang was cruel early on, breaking one of his wife’s legs as punishment for her attempted murder.
Chang lived in a world of his own. He daydreamed of fame and notoriety within the hierarchy of Sze Yup that might have pushed him up the ranks to a more powerful position, and his name in print alongside white businessmen.
Cullen tried to play into Chang’s greed, but the negotiations for Mei’s freedom didn’t go as wanted. Bohannon had to think fast and get his paramour out of town on the next stagecoach and train to Cheyenne. Unfortunate for him, Stagecoach Mary double-crossed him for a sack of coins. He shifted into his familiar rescue mode and galloped to Washoe, Nevada, for a counterattack. Mei and Cullen survived the saloon standoff. Chang wasn’t so lucky. Cullen was fed up with his practiced silver tongue and put him out of his misery.
On their return to Truckee, Mei forgave Wai-Ling, offered her money to escape the brothel in hopes of her starting a new life back in China. A major issue with indentured servants and sex workers is misplaced loyalty after they’ve been stripped of their worth. If only Big Sister remembered that her father believed she had value, if only to increase her asking price for marriage. She didn’t, and looked paralyzed at the idea of leaving the whorehouse before the next pimp arrived.
After the dust settled, Cullen and Mei consummated their love again. Her joy was short-lived with the arrival of General Lee and his Sze Yup entourage seeking name of the white assassin responsible for Chang’s death. Bohannon held his nerve and diverted attention to a white phantom killer previously in town with a few corpses on his belt.
If only Mei were stronger and believed in Cullen as much as he has come to love her. There was no need to stay in her place as a demure Asian woman with the Southern rebel at her side. After all Bohannon did for Mei, and her father before her, she took it upon herself to return to China as the most honorable course of action. Cullen hasn’t gotten a break in the love and family department in quite some time.
Was Mei Cullen’s final chance at happiness given his age and typical life expectancy of the era? Was it a reasonable expectation that Mei would hide in his room while criminal henchmen placed bounty notes and searched for her? Her decision might turn out to be a mistake. Tune in next week and see what happens.