Hell on Wheels s02e05: The Railroad Job

The Railroad JobA review by Nalini Haynes
  • Director:  Michael Nankin
  • Writers:  Joe Gayton (creator), Tony Gayton (creator)
  • Stars:  Anson Mount, Colm Meaney, Common

It’s 19th century America and two railroad companies are racing to build the first coast-to-coast rail line to win big contracts, fame and fortune. The mobile encampment (moving towns) that followed the railway companies across America were colloquially known as ‘Hell on Wheels’ because the men and women who lived there were all sweetness and light. Not. 

Hell on Wheels the TV series follows the story of the Union Pacific Railroad, one of the rail companies, and the people that lived in the mobile town following the railroad across the country.

I previously compared Hell on Wheels season 1 with Deadwood and interviewed Christopher Heyerdahl, aka ‘The Swede’ in Hell on Wheels. In this Armageddon panel, Christopher Heyerdahl also talks about working on Hell on Wheels. What I want to know is how someone as good-looking as Christopher Heyerdahl can be so repulsive in Hell on Wheels; I guess that demonstrates his acting skills for you!

Colm Meaney, aka Chief O’Brien from Star Trek the Next Generation and Deep Space 9, is Thomas Durant, owner of the Union Pacific Railroad, ‘our’ rail company, forging its way west.

The ‘Railroad job’ features another very familiar SF face: Ryan Robbins from Sanctuary, Falling Skies, Continuum and more. Ryan plays Hawkins, a former colleague of Bohannan, Hell on Wheels’s enforcer, from Bohannan’s stagecoach robbing days. Hawkins decides to rob the company’s payroll.

Meanwhile, the Reverend sobers up under the Swede’s ‘tender loving care’. The Swede, always looking to make mischief for the rail company and Bohannan, turns the Reverend to the dark side.

Eva, a former prostitute who married only to be conflicted in a romantic triangle, feels her baby kicking just as Hawkins rides by. I held my breath.

Lily drives the men to build the railroad, aggravating their inherent misogyny. Some things never change.

Ferguson aggravates the barkeep by demanding grog be put on his too-large tab; the barkeep takes his revenge.

Interesting and engaging, the ‘Railroad Job’ is an important part of the story arc for season 2.

Hell on Wheels is a violent Western in an era when Westerns aren’t supposed to be doing all that well – commentary on A Million Ways to Die in the West‘s box office takings have not been complimentary. I wonder if Americans just don’t like their history as comedy? Hell on Wheels is bloody drama complete with explosions and a more balanced perspective of white/indigenous relations than I’ve seen previously.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5 stars for a violent dramatic Western

Until June 25, 2014 there is a competition open to residents of Australia for a free copy of Hell on Wheels season 3 on DVD.