13
Nov
2011
Hell on Wheels: Season 1, Episode 2
Immoral Mathematics
Alex
Last week Hell on Wheels took us into the unforgiving world of building the transcontinental railroad. This week we began to understand the characters in that world better. The entire episode had me thoroughly engaged as not a second of screen time was wasted. The show is deliberately paced, which is to say it can be a bit of a slow burn, but seems to be replicating the pacing of the genre it mimics: the western. If you can get on it's wavelength, Hell on Wheels promises to be worth the pace.

Tonight we saw the ramifications of Cullen Bohannon's actions and we began to understand what drives the people working on the railroad. It all unfolds very naturalistically with nothing really feeling very forced. This is in part thanks to fantastic performances by all involved. Anson Mount is still fantastic as Bohannon and his black railroad worker friend is well played, strangely enough, by Common. The Swede and Durant are both great at what they do and Tom Noonan as Reverend Cole, well I can only say the acting is remarkable in so many ways.

The show was expertly paced, not wasting even a second. We were shown the continuing adventures of the map lady as she avoided the Native Americans that want to kill her. I admire Hell on Wheels for feeling comfortable cutting away from her story and back to Cullen's when she was only on screen for maybe a minute. It shows an economic understanding of maximizing story telling screen time. We don't need to see her wandering the countryside for long stretches, all we need is to see her avoid the natives and stitch her own wound shut and pass out. This does enough to keep us interested in what happens to her and her maps without making it feel like they're just trying to fill screen time.

Where the first episode was very much about giving you a feeling for the setting, the second, "Immoral Mathematics" reassured me that the show isn't going to be all style and no substance. With each of the character's individual wheels beginning to turn it seems like they all have places to go. I am super excited for next week's episode and can't wait to see which way the show goes.

Grade: A-

Notes:

-"How do you put on your pants?" "Sir?" "How do they fit over those big balls of yours?"

-You may know Tom Noonan, who plays Reverend Cole, from Michael Mann's film Manhunter. There he played the killer known as The Tooth Fairy. Or a more recent example he played the creepy Mr. Ulman in The House of the Devil. Strange coincidence that he now finds himself on the same show as Ted Levine, who played Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs, another Thomas Harris adaptation.

-I'm throwing Cullen Bohannon in the ring for one of the best character names on TV.

Tags: Hell on Wheels
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