Well, give Hell on Wheels credit for pulling out all the stops for the two-hour season finale, finishing at long last the railway bridge, delivering on the long awaited attack from the Sioux, and taking out a major character or two (or three or more). I do wish the series had done more with the Sioux, who end up being conventional western villains. With the Cheyenne in Season One, we at least got to know several of the Cheyenne characters, Joseph Black Moon, certainly, but also his father and brother. The Sioux remained a distant threat, doing mysterious things with the Swede that are never quite explained, and not really emerging as full human individuals the way the Cheyenne characters did in season one.
The Hell on Wheels camp became the very picture of its namesake, engulfed in flame during the attack, and, in one of the finest moments of the series, we saw the demonic looking “Mr. Swede” enjoying a solitary waltz through its burning streets. And, by the way, if you want to avoid spoilers, you should stop reading here and not go on to the next paragraph.
Lily Bell seems most decidedly dead, killed by the Swede, who killed her primarily, it seems, for the pleasure of making Bohannan unhappy. Bohannon attempts to execute the Swede by hanging him from the completed bridge (which was saved from destruction during the attack), but before he can secure the rope, the Swede leaps off the bridge into the water below. In the real world, the fall would have killed him, but this being television, and the Swede being just too good as a Loki-like villain to kill off, I suspect that he may return. Mr. and Mrs. Durant seem to be on their way to prison for their fraudulant book-keeping, and the season ends with the government representatives asking Bohannan to take over as the head of the railway enterprise, and, well, what else has he got to do? The way the season ended, it seems like the Durants may be on their way out of the series. Joseph Black Moon may also be on the way out, as he has renounced Christianity and plans to return to his people. Elam survives, as does the newly widowed Eva (Mr. Toole committing suicide), and the McGinnis brothers survived the attack (if only Sean can get over his broken heart).
Although I was never that fond of Lily Bell as a character, I liked her scenes with Mrs. Durant. In a series that has not been as good at developing women characters as male ones, Virginia Madsen’s Hannah Durant was a welcome addition to the cast. Given her husband’s ill health, I was hoping he might die and leave her in charge. As a foil to Lily (and vice versa), I could see the two women developing a relationship that paralleled the Elam/Bohannon dynamic. Alas, that’s not to be, as the Fair-Haired Maiden of the West is no more.