This Hell on Wheels review contains spoilers.
Tonight’s episode is entitled “Struck”, and it’s through this lens that viewers experience the people in Laramie, Wyoming and Truckee, California, in various degrees of stasis.
Durant’s still nursing his wounded ego since Cullen opted to work for the Central Pacific Railroad, thereby making the completion of the railroad from East to West a competition. He usually sulks when things don’t go his way, and his being behind schedule adds needed kerosene to his already combustible personality.
We revisit Mickey, Eva, and Psalms in this episode, and we’re better for it. The first three episodes were more focused on Truckee than the new township of Laramie. When we last saw these characters, they had packed up and were leaving all that was familiar at the end of season four.
The more things change, the more they remain the same. Mickey’s still running a bar, the numbers, and trying to stay a few feet away from Durant while keeping him close enough for potential business partnerships.
Keep your enemies and hotheads close because friends might disappoint and betray you. Why else would Durant have promoted Mickey who in turn hired his bullying cousin Shay as the railroad foreman? No sooner than he’s on the job, he’s out pummeling a man to show the Irish workers who’s in charge. I don’t think he’d approach and try to discipline the freedmen after having been knocked down with one punch by Mary Fields.
Eva has moved up in the world as the madam of the parlor house, no longer a working girl with a torn heart for Elam Ferguson. She’s a formidable lady boss who undoubtedly had to learn to navigate among the brutish men. Eva’s child, better off without her, was spirited away and adopted by an upstanding family on the East Coast. A brothel’s no place to raise a child, especially a daughter.
In Truckee, they inched closer to a Western-style standoff between Mr. Chang, some of his loyalists, and Huntington’s henchmen after a Chinese worker was murdered and the white men responsible were safely escorted out of town. Mr. Chang has every right to be upset at the mistreatment of those he shipped in to build the railroad, however he’s more peeved that he won’t be seated at the white man’s conference and dinner table.
Mr. Chang is as stubborn as Phineas is gullible, but at least Gunderson’s working his evil puppet master skills on him. Chang has no one looking out for him, even if only for vindictive reasons.
In a parallel world, Ah-Tao would be Chang’s mentor, advising him on how to work within the limitations of the early racist railroad regime. That would be too easy, less dramatic, and highly stereotypical for Chang to be a Zen master of negotiations given what the Chinese workers have to endure.
Chang is desperate for power, money and status in the Chinese and Anglo worlds because he feels it is his birthright. Ah-Tao negotiated the unearthing and return cargo of deceased Chinese workers on Central Pacific’s dime. This too, was less theatrical than guns blazing, bloodshed and additional Chinese bodies piling up.
I’m not sure where we’re headed with Phineas apart from him building his confidence and growing a backbone against his father. I’m intrigued by the last few frames of this episode with Mary Fields rummaging through pockets of the deceased near an overturned stagecoach. She recovered what appeared to be a Chinese coin similar to those retrieved from a small pouch during an impromptu meeting in Chang’s brothel and opium den. Is there a band of renegade Chinese workers attacking and killing whites between Laramie and Truckee? Stay tuned!