This Hell on Wheels review contains spoilers.
Hell on Wheels Season 5 Episode 9
“Return To The Garden” could’ve been titled “Return To Where It All Began” for Cullen, Durant, and Eva. The garden is both figurative and literal. Rails and seeds are placed and need tending to progress along a desired path. Untilled soil and cultivated land attract good and bad people with personal motives. As seedlings pushed through the earth, vermin and insects stake their claim. In the Laramie garden, there are several snakes squaring off on opposite corners of town while the mongoose has been away.
Picking up from last week’s “Two Soldiers”, Cullen’s bravery didn’t produce the results he might have wanted with his estranged wife and son. Bohannon is a soldier for better or worse. He doesn’t know how to be domesticated, and pity the fools who have and will continue to try to push him into that role.
The conquering hero returning to the farm surprised Naomi and Isaac, who probably expected Cullen to disappear again after having taken care of The Swede. Bohannon is surprised that his one-year search-and-rescue mission has created ambivalence, a broken heart, and marital strain. Isaac stepped up as surrogate husband and father during the hiatus, and is all too eager to send Cullen on his way. He rightly feels territorial and threatened by the more accomplished and masculine former Confederate officer.
Bohannon has to reconcile who and what they were as husband and wife, and the estranged people they’ve become. Cullen’s not a homesteader, happy with farm life, raising a child, tending the crops, and regaling William with Civil War stories. He’s a tumbleweed, and needs to be in the thick of conflict, with a higher percentage of success to feel worthwhile. There’s no comparison between tilling soil and building a railroad.
Cullen’s pleas to Naomi fall on deaf ears and a splintered spirit. He knows that his wife has to do what’s right for William. A lesser man would fault her for it. His rescue was timely, however he lost importance in her heart and bed a long time ago. Wife and son need the emotional and spiritual stability that Isaac has provided while Cullen was off saving others and vying to complete the railroad.
It’s best they go their separate ways while William’s young enough to forget Bohannon ever existed and grow up to accept and love Isaac as his father. Naomi is a simple woman of faith who would have accepted death at Thor’s hand as God’s will. Cullen doesn’t share a similar belief. He’s at his best fixing situations and trying to be diplomatic. Naomi’s not much for gallantry and heroes when the horses need watering and the crops stored in the barn and cabinets.
Loving someone can be agonizing when faced with a truth that she would be better off with someone else. Walking away in this scenario has to be painful. There are no winners to speak of. Isaac knows he’s second-rate next to Cullen, but that didn’t stop his love for mother and child. Naomi loses because she will always love Cullen for his support and understanding, but knows she can’t have him in ways she desires.
After securing a temporary reprieve for his wife and son, Cullen rides off into the horizon and returns to a familiar place. Back in Laramie, Thomas Durant and Maggie Palmer continue with old and oftentimes illegal schemes. Durant suffered what he hopes is a minor setback at the railroad meeting, and is in town to recharge and forge new business allies. Eva longs to be something more than the madam of the white whorehouse, having recently reasserted herself from a would-be usurper to her position and power.
Romantic love can empower and destroy. Naomi’s wish for Cullen that he find someone to love in her place might come to fruition with Ah-Fong. She has fallen in love with Cullen, but it won’t be easy with the cultural differences and her cross-dressing. He deserves a woman who sees and accepts him for who and what is he, and will never be. Mei-Mei wants nothing extraordinary from Cullen. What might they plant, cultivate, and grow in the Laramie soil? Stay tuned to see what or who might sprout up in the coming episodes.