Hell on Wheels: Return to Hell review

A little fire and brimstone make for one of the best Hell on Wheels episodes of the season. Here's Kendall's review...

This Hell on Wheels review contains some spoilers.

Cheyenne feels far removed from everything and everyone during the early goings of The Union Pacific Railroad’s bid to complete the job at hand. It is this type of isolation that results in people doing things to pass the time and to survive. If Cheyenne were a bustling town, fewer residents would give in to boredom, daytime drunkenness, or waiting one’s turn at the local brothel. If there were more articles to write than obituaries, Louise would be hard-pressed to bed Campbell.

In the fictional world of Hell on Wheels, Cheyenne seems claustrophobic because it has yet to expand beyond three miles in any direction. The town is due new arrivals and businesses despite the high mortality rate and lawlessness that’s taken hold in recent episodes.

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It might be challenging for many shows set within a specific place and time to venture for too long outside their preset worlds. However, it can be done successfully, as when we spend time at Fort Smith with the Mormons and at camp with the Comanches. Our minds are momentarily preoccupied with these others, but all the while we suspect something deserves our attention is happening back home with Eva, Louise, Maggie, or Durant.

Home can sometimes become hellacious, as it has been since the arrival of the provisional governor. Life has never been simple for the locals, but there had always been a sense of right, wrong, and entitlement. The hell one chooses usually outweighs another superimposed by the government or law enforcement. The devil wanted to manifest in the person of Sidney Snow, but he never rose above a farcical villain to Bohannon’s hero. I’ve always preferred the evil misdeeds of Durant, The Swede, and Mickey because they’re rotten from their Achilles Heels up to their eyelids. 

Campbell’s faux bogeymen are beginning to push up the daises, and I’m all the more pleased. Never send little boys dressed in Halloween costumes with toy pistols to do the job of rotten to the core villains. The intimacy with the main characters and their struggles that viewers have with the show should always be maintained and respected. I’ve not kept my desire to rid Cheyenne of Campbell and his associates. Their slow demise should stand as a lesson for future usurpers. The townies know how to take care of themselves, and don’t need outsiders disrupting what works.

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The characters revisit different hells in this episode. The uncertainty of Louise’s bisexuality with Campbell. Cullen and the former imprisoned returning without knowing which weeded area Sidney has slithered into, and waiting to strike. In exchange for certain hanging or continued confinement, the Swede has humbled himself at the feet of Brigham Young as a dutiful companion. I imagine it’ll be a matter of days or weeks before his forked tongue is testing the air in anticipation of an attack. I sense he’ll outwit and attempt to destroy the sanctuary that Young has created. The Swede will try to exact his revenge on Cullen for the public embarrassment he endured at Forth Smith.

The ground opened and up sprang Beelzebub and unleashed Hades on earth. There is no sacred place in Cheyenne, no refuge from dark hearts set on vengeance. Young, innocent souls have no place to hide, and are sacrificed in the ensuing chaos. Fire can destroy lives and replenish blighted areas. Internal fires that are invisible to the naked eye are far more dangerous because others can’t see the flames rise up through the eyes and flick the sky. Despite all her protestations and spouting Bible verses, Reverend Ruth’s secular embers for Cullen constantly burn. Her adopted Mormon son, Ezra, added more logs and stoked the flames in her fireplace. She learned to balance her lust for Bohannon with her assumed maternal responsibilities.  

Eva has been no stranger to purgatory on earth in season four, and exorcises one of her demons who cast a long shadow over her life. It came as a surprise that Louise suffered a similar humiliation at the hands of the same man. Eva’s outlaw justice also freed Louise from one of her demons.

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Previously unable and unwilling to execute Sidney when he had a chance due some misplaced Southern loyalty, Cullen shares some of the blame for the events that unfolded in episode ten.

Kasha Kropinski gives a tour de force performance as Reverend Ruth. Prior tonight’s show, Ruth was two-dimensional at best. Robbed of her child, the stained church glass shattered, she relaxed her back and dropped her shoulders, as she crushed the shards and religious artifice that fell from her face. Vengeance is mine said The Lord, but Ruth will deal with The Almighty another day. She’s probably been stripped of her only chance to be a mother. What would you have her otherwise do? What would you do in her place?

Cullen has become the unofficial undertaker in Cheyenne. Burying Ezra had to have been as painful for him as it was for Ruth. Floating in space, while trying to keep her feet on the ground, she probably felt she had nothing and no one else to live for. Her worst fears of religious spinsterhood realized as she stood over the grave. The shift in personality and worldview was evident on her reddened cheeks. Death comes to us all.

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The devil is never content to sit quietly or leave town after he’s caused too much destruction. Sometimes it takes a woman to do what’s expected of man, be it to till the crops, paint the barn, or send the dark prince back to hell. Ruth had no qualms temporarily forgetting the Ten Commandments, and Cheyenne will now be better for it.

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4 out of 5