After my disappointment with Strange Empire, Accidental Chris told me to try Hell on Wheels, which is available on Canadian Netflix. I had watched the first episode and wasn’t intrigued, but Chris told me it got better.
It certainly does. I’ve finished the first season.
This is a western linked to the construction of the Union Pacific railroad, and is set just after the Civil War. The main character was, of course, a Confederate soldier, because for some reason American media loves to present us with ex-slave owners as sympathetic characters. For Cullen Bohannon, he freed his slaves before the war because of his Northern wife – whom those evil Union soldiers raped and murdered, while also murdering Cullen’s son. This has led Bohannon to the temporary railroad worker village of Hell on Wheels, as he seeks to kill the last of the men responsible for the atrocity.
And this is my underlying problem with Hell on Wheels, just as it is with the Outlaw Josey Wales – the Confederates are presented as sympathetic underdogs while the Union is full of bullies, psychopaths, and self-serving politicians. About the best we get from the North is Durant – played by the always solid Colm Meaney – who is presented as an amoral businessman. We do get Lily Bell as probably the most sympathetic character, and while her husband seems to have been a Northerner, she’s English.
I find it troubling how much the media (who are supposed to be liberal elitists) consider it acceptable to demonize the Union and mythologize the Confederacy. Both sides harboured monsters and heroes, but even Firefly gives us a Confederate hero (I think it’s pretty plain the Browncoats are supposed to be the Confederacy, minus the indefensible slavery) facing an evil, monolithic Union, out to steal from him the very sky.
However, that is really the only major problem with Hell on Wheels. Once it gets moving, it doesn’t slow down. We get plenty of strong characters and everyone has an interesting arc. There’s also lots of action and gunplay. All this in a fantastic setting as evocative as the late, lamented Deadwood. I’m looking forward very much to season two and the others beyond that.
I give Hell on Wheels 4.5 Griswold & Gunnison Revolvers out of 5. This is a gripping show with vibrant characters and great action, but it’d be nice to see some heroes who actually fought to end slavery rather than to continue Hollywood’s fascination with the Confederacy.