‘Hell on Wheels’ season 5, episode 12 review: The ballad of Cullen and Mei

Wheels -Is Cullen Bohannon a victim of loss, or a figure of great neglect? This serves as one of the more interesting, human conflicts at the center of “Hell on Wheels” so far through season 5. It was easy to view his confession about losing everyone he loved a couple of episodes back as some moment of emotional resonance, only for him to reveal the truth in “Any Sum Within Reason”: It was a lie. Many of his actions are when it comes to his self-justification.

There are few comparisons between Bohannon and Walter White, but we wager there’s a little bit of “I did it for me. I did it because I liked it” with both of them.

One diverging point between the two is that Cullen’s not poisoning Brock (we mean this metaphorically as well as literally), though he did kill in this episode. Specifically, he put a stop to Chang and many of his men in an effort to save Mei once the truth came out about her being a woman, and many of their best-laid plans started to go to waste. He did what he could to protect her, and the irony is that in the end, she chose to protect herself. We believe it when she said that she loved him, but in getting on that boat, she made a recognition that with Cullen, perhaps there was less hope of a peaceful future. He brings with him the specter of death, and that man who he tried so hard to get away from came back out due to circumstance.

Now, Cullen finds himself alone with his railroad once more, awaiting the project’s end and to see precisely what happens from here. Even those who are his friends at this point are either dead without his knowledge (Maggie) or changed drastically due to the nature of this world (Eva). While it may be a creature of his own doing, there is little doubt he is alone.

This episode, strong as it was from Cullen’s vantage point, was also a look into what it meant to be Chinese in the old west. It was a harrowing experience, one where women came with a price, railroad leaders were replaceable, and the dream of a better life filtered away in dirt and sweat. This may be one of the most depressing episodes in some time when viewing it from this lens, and that may make it more imperatively mentally for us to picture Mei having a happier life on the other side.

There are only two episodes left; in that time, maybe we will see what resolution means to all of the characters in the “Hell on Wheels” world. Grade: A-.

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