End of the Line: Hell on Wheels Review

When this year’s Emmy awards roll around, there is one show that will be absent from any category as has been the custom in past years.

AMC’s Hell on Wheels wrapped up its five-season run last Saturday and it has spent most of that run as one of the network’s most overlooked programs. However, it’s beauty was never lost on me.

Hell on Wheels is a drama set in post-Civil War America. It follows former confederate Cullen Bohannon as he heads west to work on the Union Pacific railroad while on a journey to find himself with motivations fueled by vengeance and retribution. While the story is fiction, some characters are real, such as Thomas Durant and Ulysses Grant.

When we first see Cullen, he shoots a man in a church confessional in Washington D.C. This gives us a fantastic view into what type of man we are seeing. Over the five season, we see Cullen develop and fully invest himself in building the railroad.

What’s fun is seeing how Cullen furthers himself from that murder in the church to the man he is by the end of the show. It’s not a straight line neither is it smooth sailing. Cullen suffered so much and, as terrible as it sounds, is so much fun to watch.

While Bohannon works on the railroad, we meet several other characters who have their own stories that develop as the railroad stretches further and further across the land. All these characters are woven together into a strong tapestry of storytelling.

One reason Hell on Wheels was overlooked is because of the other giants on this network, such as Breaking Bad, Mad Men and The Walking Dead. What makes it interesting is this show is fantastic but those shows are phenomenal.

The acting is a big reason why this show garners fantastic status with me. Anson Mount headlines as Bohannon with Colm Meaney, Common, Christopher Heyerdahl, Jennifer Ferrin and Robin McCleavy.

One actor that overall impressed me was Phil Burke, who played an Irishman named Mickey McGinnes heading west with his brother, looking to make money at Hell on Wheels (railroad construction site). Much like Bohannon, McGinnes develops as the story progresses but we see him descend into the uglier aspects of business.

The characters are there, the storytelling is there, all this show needs is some good, old-fashioned shootouts. Oh yeah, it does have those.

All jokes aside, this show does have the aspects of a good Western. That’s what makes this show so appealing.

Westerns seem to be overdone but Hell on Wheels brings a fresh taste to the genre. There still are gunslingers and shootouts but there is just a fresh taste to it all. It’s never presented like your stereotypical Westerns, even if it has the same pieces to one.

That mixture of sameness and uniqueness brought me back every week. I started the show late, catching up on Netflix until the start of the fifth season (which did what the final seasons of Breaking Bad and Mad Men did and split over the two years of their runs). During that last season, I was intrigued immensely, even though the show’s best years were behind it.

I won’t spoil anything on this show but it definitely enacts discussion. The sad part for me was that I had no one to discuss it with. That just reflects how underrated it really was.


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