Hell On Wheels: Pride, Pomp and Circumstance

In the most recent episode of Hell on Wheels, “Pride, Pomp and Circumstance,” Illinois Senator Jordan Crane arrives to “negotiate” with the Cheyenne (with olive branch in one hand and cudgel in the other, he promises). Only Rev. Cole seems interested in peaceful negotiation. Other negotiations are taking place as well–particularly between Lily Bell (who has her husband’s maps of the route through the Rockies) and Durant (who wants the maps but isn’t willing to pay Lily’s price). The Swede provides the Senator with information about Durant’s financial shenanigans, and asks in return that the Senator find out the whereabouts of Frank Harper (the last living member of the unit of soldiers that killed Bohannon’s wife)—another moment of negotiation in the episode, as the Senator agrees to the Swede’s terms.

A group from the Cheyenne arrives at the camp. My favorite shot of the episode has Durant and the Senator on one side of the table, Rev. Cole and Wes Studi’s Cheyenne chief on the other, with the tall, black-clothed and black-hatted Swede standing away from the table looking on—the visual center point of the shot, even if he isn’t part of the negotiations.  “The United States government is offering you a piece of land of your own,” the Senator tells him. “We will give you everything you need,” Durant offers, “if you will just submit to living on a reservation.” Unsurprisingly, this is not an attractive offer to the Chief. So much for the negotiations.

When we change camera positions, we see the steam engine in the background, a strangely appropriate visual match to the Swede in the earlier shot. Somehow, this all leads to a race between the Chief’s son and the train engine—a parallel sporting event to the previous episode’s boxing match. The iron horse eventually overtakes and passes the real horse.

There are further negotiations between Durant and the Senator (the Senator: “Now I have your pecker in my pocket”), and those negotiations don’t work out so well for Durant.

The final round of negotiations is between Lily and the Cheyenne woman that accompanies the group. When Lily sees her wearing her husband’s hat, she tries to take it back—realizing the connection to the Indians that killed her husband. In this case, Joseph acts as an effective mediator. The woman returns the hat to Lily, expressing her sorrow for her loss—for she has also lost a husband (killed, although she doesn’t realize it, by Lily herself). This complicates Lily’s vision of the Cheyenne, and the connection the two women establish, based on their shared experience of sorrow, suggests that good faith negotiations might indeed lead to peace and understanding. Durant and the Senator, however, are not negotiating in good faith—as they are more concerned about advancing their own financial and political interests than in working toward peaceful understanding.

Interestingly, the Swede and Bohannon end up on the same side in the final moments of the episode, joining to prevent the Irish workers from going after the Cheyenne. Of course, things don’t go quite as planned, and in the final scene of the episode, they go after Elam, dragging him from his tent (well, the Swede did suggest that they find something to do in camp to amuse themselves).

This was one of the most visually interesting episodes thus far, with several striking compositions (often involving the Swede), including a scene involving Lily at the gravesite of her husband, as well as the horse/train race itself. And whether it was Director of Photography Marvin Rush or director Michael Slovis, someone seemed intent on offering an homage to John Ford in this episode (lots of shots involving frame within a frame compositions, often from the inside looking through the door, tent opening, between two tent posts, etc., out toward an exterior space).

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