In the most recent episode of Hell on Wheels, “A New Birth of Freedom,” we learn more about Bohannon’s history. We know that he is on mission to kill the union soldiers who raped and murdered his wife–including Captain Johnson, who he killed at the end of the first episode, and whose position as foreman Bohannon has taken by the end of episode two. Inside Captain Johnson’s tent, we see Bohannon searching through his stuff, finally finding a photograph of the full regiment. As Bohannon scans the photograph, and as the camera rests on each individual, we get a flashback to his killing of each man. Still alive is the mysterious Sergeant Harper, the one man who Bohannon didn’t know was part of the group—until Johnson revealed that information to him.
In the previous episode, we were introduced to a new (and, thus far, the most interesting and unique) character, The Swede (although, as he continually reminds people, he is from Norway), who is sometimes referred to by the other characters as Mr. Swede. The Swede is the camp’s enforcer, whose authority comes from his boss–Durant, and not from the government. He is the law of the lawless frontier—that is, he is the keeper of order, but only so far as “order” is for the benefit of Durant. With his Norwegian accent, his tall gaunt figure, and his black clothing, he is a striking individual. Canadian actor Christopher Heyerdahl, who is recognizable from a variety of science fiction television programs, plays the Swede, and he is thus far the highlight of the series.
Lily Bell (Dominique McElligott), the “fair-haired maiden of the West” (to use the grandiose name Durant calls her in his inventive retelling of the Cheyenne raid), is finally rescued—by Joseph Black Moon (played by Eddie Spears, Lakota Sioux). “You’re Cheyenne,” Bohannon comments. “I”m Christian,” Black Moon responds. Christian or not, Bohannon realizes that if he arrives back at camp with the “fair-haired maiden of the West,” he will be seen as her captor, not her rescuer. When three of the Swede’s deputies arrive, they find Lily by herself, and, not knowing that Bohannon is around, threaten her, intent, it seems on raping her. Bohannon, small cigar in his mouth (reminiscent of Clint Eastwood in A Fisftul of Dollars), and gun in hand, fends them off. For the most part, unlike Deadwood, this is a western without women. In episode 2, we don’t have a woman in a speaking role appear until a quarter way into the episode (Lily again). Thus far, Lily is the only developed female character. Other female characters may emerge—it seems like one of the women in the brothel is going to be further developed, but I guess we will see.