Hell on Wheels: 2012 Season Finale

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.


5 Responses to “Hell on Wheels: 2012 Season Finale”

  1. Vicky Says:

    I was hoping that she is just unconscious barely alive and when they clean her up for burial she comes back to life……

  2. richard smith Says:

    I felt that the death of Lillyif she is truly dead….and I think that she is)is a loss of a very compelling and sympathetic character and in my humble opinion is “overkill”.Maby “jumping the shark” of sorts.She would have seemed to be a person of a more meaningful destiny and a factor in a more layered plot.

  3. dimples101 Says:

    Is this show worth watching?

  4. billyriel1971 Says:

    A good summation of where the series now stands, Michael…and I would agree with your assessment that the inclusion of the Sioux into the story-line would have benefited from at least one individually-drawn character to vocalize/explain their perspective (i.e. that the railway bridge was transgressing land they view as sacred).

    That said, and in response to the above question, yes, Hell on Wheels is definitely worth watching, in my estimation. Beyond its entertainment value, the show offers a cultural lens by which a viewer can consider such themes as “Manifest Destiny”, race relations, the lingering resentments from the US Civil War, Indigenous territorial rights and social class. As the instructor of a Westerns film class at the college level, my students view and then discuss the show both in terms of historical content and contemporary relevance. The first season is currently available on Netflix.

    For those interested, I have recently discussed the opening theme song to Hell on Wheels on my http://www.westernsreboot.com site – that theme was nominated for a 2012 Emmy Award. This is the link to the post:


  5. deborah Says:

    I won’t be watching the show anymore. It appears to me, after the death of Lily, all we have left is a soap opera for girls and bang bang shoot em up for boys–stereotypical. Connections to the show’s beginning in the lives of the surveyors with vision who went ahead alone into the wilderness is now severed. By the end of season 2, Lily was the only female character of interest to me. The others are now tame in a way I cannot relate to. I imagine they appeal to many women, but they only worked for me when balanced with Lily–a strong pragmatic woman who would break rules and stand equal to men in building the railroad.

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