This Hell on Wheels review contains spoilers.
Religious men arrive on horseback under the cover of dark, carrying torches, in an unknown Kansas city during American Slavery. A Christian hymn underscores what one might anticipate will not be a social call at the home of the slave-owners. The light, sweetness of the voices float above the galloping hooves while transfixed slaves stare, mouth agape, uncertain of what to make of the unfolding scene. A terrified young white girl peers from beneath a blanket in a nearby wagon, her face frozen in fear. Her father is the ringleader of the Christian moral cleansers. Swords and axes swing freely, and blood spills and seeps into the soil.
The flashback ends, and we’re back in Cheyenne.
The young girl was Reverend Ruth, her father now deceased, and her freedom is in jeopardy. She, too, took the law into her own hands. Sins of a righteous father observed as a child, repeated by the adult.
We don’t expect church leaders to commit murder, but historically they have in the name of religion, God, and the Bible. Ruth felt she was wronged by Snow. Ezra was taken from her, leaving nothing and no one to sustain her.
Ruth’s dilemma weighs on us because we want her to come through this situation, but know all too well that she has to answer for her transgression whether Sidney survives or dies. She’s not empty, but rather resigned in the aftermath of vengeance. Concerned friends worry that she’s not in her right mind. Whispering, gossiping townsfolk keep their judgments inaudible.
Sidney Snow deserved his comeuppance, however, most were shocked that it was Reverend Ruth holding the gun when the smoke cleared and he stopped yowling in pain. She loved Ezra as much as, if not more than, she loves Cullen. Her alabaster skin is in stark contrast to her black mourning dress. She has the appearance of an angel of death.
Cullen, Eva and Durant work to save Snow’s life, but the higher purpose is keeping Ruth out of jail and away from the gallows. Eva and Durant would just as soon see Snow six feet under, but Cullen won’t have any of that. If it’s God’s will, Ruth will be saved.
In Ruth, we experience a love so strong that it blinded and consumed her and morphed into rage. To be taken over completely by a decision or a cause can be frightening because we can’t control the aftermath. In the midst of Ruth’s saga, Mickey’s cousin and cohorts arrive in Cheyenne. We’re replacing one despicable group, the provisional governor and his men, with these new ruffians.
A weightiness pervades the entire episode. Everyone wonders what they would do in a similar situation. A few are enlisted for duty, if only to keep their idle mind and hands occupied. They act in spite of themselves, because of Ruth, and Cullen’s insistence. It is the right thing to do under these circumstances.
Snow’s wounded body is symbolic of what has happened in Cheyenne. An unexpected attack that has rendered its inhabitants powerless, and leaking at the seams and corners. Sidney was a cancer that infected the town, and no one knew how to handle him, or perhaps too afraid to act.
The good, the bad, the ugly and evil are on display in this episode. Cullen is doing his best to hold everyone and everything together, but there are probably forces too powerful for him to overcome. The death and destruction that Sidney has caused will reverberate in Cheyenne for the foreseeable future. The devil arrived, fleeing certain death in Mexico, and constructed a thorny nest of unrest.
The little girl who was perplexed by her father’s actions grew into a woman in his likeness. Her hypocrisy and religious fervor pales in comparison to the pain she felt when she saw Ezra’s charred remains beneath the church floorboards. Our hearts ache for Ruth and her supporters. Is there a God in heaven looking down on earth, nodding approval or disapproval? Ruth can’t change what she did, not that she would want to, but we are changed in ways both small and large because we applaud her decision.