Hell on Wheels (Bread and Circuses)

The most recent episode of Hell on Wheels begins with several Cheyenne men engaged in a version of a Sun Dance ceremony—although the emphasis is on the piercing element of the ceremony. I’m not quite sure what to make of this, as there’s little provided in the way of context or explanation. We remain outsiders to Cheyenne culture. The appearance of actor Wes Studi in this scene, at least, is a positive sign. He is Joseph Black Moon’s father, and there’s an interesting conversation between he and Rev. Cole later in the episode. Seeing  Joseph/Black Moon trying to mediate between his two “fathers” is a good way of concretely showing his “between worlds” dilemma. We return to the ceremony at the end of the episode, when the young man reveals his vision: that he sees himself  killing the “great steel beast.”

Durant is having cash flow problems, but neither the inability to take care of the payroll nor the missing maps prevent him from having a picnic with Lily Bell, sipping wine on an embankment looking down on the men working in a muddy hollow. Elam and Bohannon provide a bit of entertainment by getting into a fight when Elam threatens to stop working because of the lack of pay. Durant uses this moment to propose a boxing match between the two—a neat distraction from the delayed payroll problem. And, perhaps, a good way as well of heightening racial tension in the camp—a possibility that Durant doesn’t seem to consider.

This episode could use more of the Swede (“I am from Norway”), as his only appearance (directing the cutting down of the McGinnis brothers’ magic lantern tent as they are behind on their protection payments) thus far is a short one—and is nonetheless the best moment in the episode.

The Swede does take center stage at the  boxing magic, acting as announcer (“no eye gouging”) before the fight. Watching the fight, one thought keeps going through my mind: “The first rule of fight club is: you do not talk about fight club.” Other than that, the fight goes on for too long, and is really not that interesting, although it might provide “bread and circuses” to distract the workers. Still, good to see the makeup artists get a good workout. Both Elam and Bohannon look appropriately discolored and swollen when we see them the next day.

 

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