Hell on Wheels Review: "Blood Moon" & "Blood Moon Rising" (Episodes 2.09 & 2.10)
For the last few episodes, Hell on Wheels has touted the idea that with enough hard work and determination, its characters could change their fates and make life better for themselves. Bohannan became a better man in the arms of Lily, Elam attempted to make a life by building a house for himself and no longer being Durant’s puppet, and the rest of the town also seemed to have an optimistic outlook on the future. But with the two-part finale, all hopes were quickly dashed, leaving Hell on Wheels a burnt wasteland where all plans for the future are destroyed. These final episodes of the season, and probably of the series, only bring a bleak, disastrous end to the positive outlook for these characters, but they make sense when considered with the rest of the series.
There’s an incredible amount of material thrown into two episodes, a bad idea since stretching the tension over a few more episodes could have only aided the show. The long-in-development bridge for the train is finally completed, as is Elam’s house that he built for Eva. The Durants are still trying to get rid of Lily, going as far as to hire Elam to kill her.
Apparently for the last few nights, Bohannan and Mr. Toole have been sitting out at night and listening to the Sioux in the dark. Bohannan gets Joseph to show him where they are uniting, planning for an attack on the camp, but Bohannan’s warnings fall on deaf ears. Elam finishes his house and presents it to Eva. When Eva comes over to see his work, she also comes to tell him they are completely over. Poor Mr. Toole finds her there, draws his gun and shoots himself. This time, the bullet actually kills him.
Mr. Toole’s death is too tidy a conclusion for the Elam/Toole/Eva love triangle. Even though Toole has had way too much to deal with this season, it comes off more as a way to make things easier for the writers down the line than a man who has just had enough.
This act of being pushed over the edge starts the inevitable crash of Hell on Wheels. Since Lily has found out that Durant has been committing fraud against the government, she steals his books for leverage when the cops come to pick him up. She makes a deal with Elam that will allow him to take Bohannan’s job, since Durant has made Bohannan a partner who will most likely be in change.
The Swede also makes a return, covered in burns received from the Sioux, and is arrested for his destruction of the engine a few episodes back. The Swede escapes his shackles and kills the man guarding him. The show never is quite clear what his purpose is, other than to be the Sioux’s fabled White Spirit, and he spends most of the attack from the Sioux dancing in the streets.
When the Sioux do finally attack, it seems very anticlimactic. The entire season has built to this moment, but it comes out of nowhere and serves to only burn the camp down. The attack’s biggest casualty, the death of Lily at the hands of Swede, has nothing to do with the camp attack. If anything, it feels even more like the show destroying as many chances of happiness as possible in order to give the show somewhere to go next. Only days after the end of its construction, Elam’s house even burns to the ground. As Bohannan takes The Swede to the bridge to hang him, The Swede jumps. It looks like he may be dead, yet this is a show where a man has been shot directly in the back of the head and lived to tell the tale.
The moral of this finale, and of Hell on Wheels in general is that good intentions can only be turned into destruction and chaos. There is no good in Hell on Wheels, only the capacity for evil and loss of innocence.
While Hell on Wheels’ destruction seems like a way to find story if, and this is a very big “if,” Hell on Wheels returns, it’s hard to imagine where the story could go. It’s hard to imagine Bohannan ever returning from these depths, and especially the Eva/Elam story seems pretty cut and dry. We hear that Durant is arrested, but we never see it. Durant’s involvement in the railroad from here on out is left pretty vague, as is Bohannan’s place in it as well, but that’s probably not enough to continue the series.
The biggest problem with Hell on Wheels, and probably why the show won’t receive a third season, is because it found its footing too late. The first season was muddled with bad ideas, and the second season took a while getting where it needed to be. If this is the conclusion, Hell on Wheels ends with a few strong episodes in the second season where it finally figured out its place, but never truly became a strong series.
Which is why “Blood Moon” and “Blood Moon Rising” is where Hell on Wheels should likely end. What we have learned from HoW is that nothing but corruption and greed can survive in this place. This seems to be the story of Hell on Wheels and any further focus on this topic will just reinforce these ideas. Like the town of Hell on Wheels, maybe what is best for the show is to leave the burnt remains alone and move on to the next adventure.