Hell on Wheels: Gambit review

Hell on Wheels gave us a glimpse of its future on the latest episode. Here's our review.

This Hell on Wheels review contains some spoilers.

Hell on Wheels Season 5 Episode 11

“It must be exhausting being so consequential,” Mickey McGinnes.

“Gambit” flashes forward to New York, 1885, wherein we see Thomas Durant and Sam Huntington in the later stages of their lives away from Wyoming.

Back in present-day Truckee, Durant and Mickey are up to their neck trying to blackmail The Union Pacific Railroad Board in Thomas’s latest financial scheme. There’s little that Durant and Mickey wouldn’t do to get what they want. Neither are men of good moral standing who would get second chances from the locals.

Durant’s a legend in his own mind and reflection in the tailor’s full-length mirror. He fell from grace years ago, and stopped believing in human kindness after losing his wife and son. On the surface, the deaths alone aren’t enough to excuse his dastardly deeds. People are born wired certain ways, and can fight to resist and overcome, or do what comes natural. Durant has made a life and career as a middling poker player at various tables throughout the country with less sophisticated card sharks.

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Void of human compassion and empathy, Durant treats everyone around him like sacrificial lambs. He prefers to sit and direct life-sized chess pieces while sipping whisky. Perhaps he would genuinely care for others if he could double up on his returns.

Thomas simultaneously warned and reminded Maggie that she knew his heart and soul were dark, and that she walked into a house of cards that could come crashing down at a moment’s notice. Maggie didn’t heed his warning and walk away, and subsequently paid the price. Maggie believed in the restorative power of love and affection, and thought Thomas had redeeming qualities, but there was nothing inside she could grasp onto, mold, and reshape. 

Mr. Durant’s world is of his own creation, the narrative which changes based on acquiring immediate gratification, fleeting social power, and rubbing away blemishes on his reputation. Bad poker players are seldom aware of the real damage their actions cause. The challenge with constant wheeling and dealing, people like Durant have to be continuously on edge. Peaceful night’s sleep can be a rarity due to checking and rechecking entrances and exits for inevitable reprisals from those wronged.

The handful of dynamite that was his kidnapping scheme exploded as he flung the sticks into the air and ran for cover, leaving several victims in the fallout. Maggie was a temporary distraction who he might have wanted to love, but wouldn’t risk being vulnerable.

John Shay was a short fused attack dog that needed to be kept on a short leash, or put down long before now. He lived in the moment because he realized he was ill-prepared for old age in the American West.

Durant gambled and lost everything and an equally devious partner in crime who accepted him for who and what he was. Her final sacrifice cost her life which he didn’t factor into his gambit to defraud the government of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Human nature can be unpredictable and surprising.

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It should come as no surprise that an elderly Huntington would still think of himself as upstanding gentleman and ladies’ man entertaining women half his age in fancy parlors and restaurants. If a Native American witch doctor foretold that Thomas Durant dies alone in a threadbare cabin, there would be no doubt.


4 out of 5