Even before this season of “Hell on Wheels” first began, we heard that one of the primary focuses was to tell this untold story of the migrant Chinese workers on the railroad. We were fascinated to see how these stories would play out, and for the most part they have been impressive and complex with tackling the issues of the time. We were worried about not getting to see the likes of Eva or Durant on a regular basis, but so far this is working.
For us, one of the best moments of the episode came courtesy of the melting pot of Western and Chinese cultures we had during some of the sequences, as Cullen Bohannon worked with the labor force to get a steam engine up a mountain. The episode played around slightly with time to give us a better sense of how the journey progressed, and it was a very different aesthetic than we are used to. The same goes with the way the episode played around with time, showing us at first the image of Fong and Bohannon sliding down a mountain, and then giving us a further explanation as to how they go there.
The biggest reveal of this process was that Fong is actually a woman in disguise, and like anyone else, she is merely trying to survive. This was her way of doing so. Still, she proved to be an asset in that she could translate. The culture clash between him and the Chinese was one of the reasons why it was difficult to effectively move the engine.
Then, we have the night’s other shocker: Fong cutting the rope that Cullen was using to pull her up. He did eventually find her, and in her process learned her name: “Mei.” That helps to further explain why the title for the episode is “Mei Mei,” though for the record this also means “younger sister.”
Now, we turn to the story of the Swede, where it is pretty clear that he is continuing to worm his way around in his plots regarding the Mormons. We cannot imagine this man making it through the entire series without another showdown with Cullen, but for now, he is surviving.
Would we like more progress towards finding Cullen’s wife? Sure, but at least we got an indirect mention of it in hearing briefly tonight about Cullen’s “house,” his idealized pre-20th century white picket fence (minus actual picket fence) that we saw in a dream sequence in the premiere. It was important to know it is still on his mind, and that helps to round out a beautiful, powerful episode. Grade: A-.
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