You can argue that for Cullen Bohannon on “Hell on Wheels,” he lives a life steeped in tragedy. Is there a certain part of it that is of his own doing? Absolutely, but there is also a part of it that is circumstantial and inevitable. He cannot be in every place at once, and he cannot always be the author of his own fate.
Yet, many defining moments in life are brought about by choice, which is what the character faced on Saturday’s new episode. Upon returning to his wife Naomi following the death of The Swede, he came to the realization that she was not really his wife anymore. Due to him being away she had eventually fallen for someone else in Isaac, who became an adoptive father to his son. They had formed a family together, caring and practicing the Mormon faith. He was a very different man than Cullen, and that was something she appreciated.
In many ways you can argue that it was right for Cullen to not end up with her, given that the entire relationship began as a matter of circumstance in the first place. She managed to make her own choice with Isaac, and in turn, he decided eventually to help them start anew with a recommendation to Brigham Young, and to then go along his way to the only consistent love in his life: The railroad.
Seeing his scenes with Mei in the end were poignant, and upon reflection they validated even more some of their scenes in the first half of the season. When their relationship was a product of different circumstances. Now, with Cullen feeling alone in the world, he made the choice to be with her. We can understand if you wanted there to be a little more space between this and him leaving Naomi and his son (we’re still torn on that), but there’s not a lot of time in a seven-episode second half of a season.
The Cullen story, anchored by yet another great Anson Mount performance, did overshadow to a certain extent some of the rest of the episode, including Durant taking heat for his Laramie proclamations, him looking to Mickey as a peacekeeper / potential shareholder in the end, and Eva feeling disillusion over how her life has turned out, even though she has some of the stability she long sought. We feel like these stories are more of a foundation, meant to pay off down the road.
While we would not say that this episode was compelling wall-to-wall in the way the premiere was, it set the table for a return to the railroad, a change for Cullen, and also an opportunity for some returning characters to shine once more. Grade: A-.
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