Hell on Wheels: Under Color of Law review

"Under Color of Law" isn't exactly the strongest episode of Hell on Wheels. Here is Kendall's review...

This Hell on Wheels review contains some spoilers.

In this follow up episode to one of the best, “Bear Man,” as well as last week’s uncomfortable “Elam Ferguson,” we find ourselves dealing with everything and everyone else besides what ought to garner screen time – the death of Elam Ferguson. Or I could be examining this episode too closely. I’ll pull the camera back to a wider view, reboot, and see what unfolds.

Cullen’s early morning restless tinkering and fidgeting with train engine parts and pieces might have more to do with guilt and grief than completing the railroad. This would be in keeping with his character over four seasons. Last week’s gravesite anguish is the sum total of Bohannon’s capacity to mourn a loved one.

I liked Naomi’s physicality at the river’s edge in washing Elam’s blood from Cullen’s clothing while replaying the previous mercy killing in her mind’s eye. No manner of hard water or beating the garments against stones will ever erase the images and sounds of what her husband did to a man he openly declared was a loving friend.

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In this town, it has to be business as usual after a monumental death, or nothing would ever be accomplished. No time for mourning. Cullen is a man of few words, so whatever reserves he had to call upon to end Elam’s life had to have been significant. Was he more concerned for himself or Elam? The answer to that question might go with him to the grave. In the aftermath of Elam’s death, Cheyenne isn’t fractured, however Eva looks to be slowly unraveling.

I will never be fond of the provisional governor. His presence on the show hasn’t added anything of merit. The introduction, development of his character, direction and above all else, his acting, need to improve before too long if he’s to remain on the show. It’s not an easy thing joining a preexisting show and match who and what has preceded, and in rare instances, uplift and elevate. The actor repeatedly phones in his performance each time he scowls on screen with his attempt at an unspecified dialect that reaches my ears as garbled and slurred.

For this week’s title to be relevant, the previous episodes ought to have included an uptick in violence, crimes, and murder. No such chaos has befallen Cheyenne, which leads me back to trying to justify the governor’s role. Cheyenne policed itself long before the idea of dispatching a Campbell and his men made sense. If the town were to fall into the hands of ruthless outlaws who destroy, pillage, and randomly burn buildings, and Durant found a way to telegraph The Union Pacific Railroad headquarters and Grant for help . . . In this scenario, yes, send fearless reinforcements with leathery skin, missing teeth with obligatory sawed-off shotguns and revolvers to rid the town of its unwanted guests. 

An obvious candidate for marshal is Cullen, but obvious choices don’t always work dramatically. The man we’ve come to know and accept as Bohannon would feel restricted as an agent of the law. It’s better that he continues his penance as a manual laborer and intermittent railroad boss. Recruiting criminals as lawmen is a bad choice for this chapter, but I’ll wait and see if it enhances the show in future episodes.

Certain long-running series have difficulty sustaining momentum over the course of a season or seasons. “Under Color of Law” is such an example. This episode felt like a patchwork quilt rather than tight and cohesive.

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2.5 out of 5