For many longtime fans of “Hell on Wheels,” this weekend’s penultimate episode felt very much like a love letter. Unfortunately, it just so happened to also be one with a particularly sad end. It’s like someone took said letter and threw it into a local campfire.
As the closing minutes showed, Cullen Bohannon is not in great shape. He fell to the ground after a grueling series of days to try to complete the railroad to Ogden, with the winning railroad company getting the control they so desired of the potential hub. It was something that John Campbell refused to budge on regardless of whatever bribes or deals were offered up to him. We’re so close to that Golden Spike, and so many characters can feel it.
Will Cullen even make it there? That’s a worthy question for now…
Through this episode, you saw for the first time the dread of completion glossing over the faces of many. Take, for example, many of the Central Pacific who determined that working in the mines, and therefore having a steady job for some time to come, would be better than seeing the project through. Meanwhile, we feel like one part of Cullen’s breakdown comes via that empty room and the sentiment that there really is no one waiting for him anymore. His actions and devotion to the railroad have brought him both satisfaction and also emptiness for what is to come.
For those wondering, the Central Pacific technically won the race to Ogden thanks to some of Durant’s men flipping over at the last minute. Yet, Durant schemed his way to getting the financial stake he wanted the whole time. While he may not have realized it at the time, the flash forwards we have seen with this character certainly also suggest that he was uniquely suited for the railroad life, and cannot succeed in his sort of shady business back in east.
In the end, there were victors and spoils in “Railroad Men,” given that Ogden is over, Collis and Durant each received some sort of financial benefit, and we’re coming close to the end of an era. Yet, at the same time it is hard to see happiness in the eyes of any character. Sure, there was a small celebration and a lovely reunion between many after the mission set before them, but will this be anything other than fleeting the moment that the Spike is laid? While that feeling of dread still looms large, it was nice to have so many familiar faces together again through this strong, rather-nostalgic hour of TV that paid tribute to several years of greatness. Grade: A.
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