Hell on Wheels Review: “Life’s a Mystery”

(Episode 4.05)

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<i>Hell on Wheels</i> Review: &#8220;Life&#8217;s a Mystery&#8221;

So much of the action and drama in this season’s Hell on Wheels has come from the arrival of unwanted guests. In most other seasons, it’s been about the disagreements and arguments fueled by the main cast, but this season the plot has required the influence of outside forces. In the first four episodes, we saw the arrival of Campbell and his troupe of men, trying to establish Cheyenne as a legitimate town by getting rid of the violence, while also bringing plenty of deceit and theft. “Life’s a Mystery” introduces two new characters to Hell on Wheels, both of whom are probably going to ramp up the show’s crazy factors even more.

The more prominent of the two new characters is Sid Snow, a soldier who fought with Cullen in the Civil War. He’s escaped a hanging in Juarez, and took the first train to Cheyenne. At this point, Sid is essentially the darker side of the Cullen we’ve seen in the past, now that Cullen is mostly peaceful and following a Mormon sensibility. Sid is all about drinking, being reckless, and dropping some n-bombs—all of which makes him easily dislikable at Cheyenne, especially by Cullen and his wife.

But what makes Sid compelling is his link to Cullen’s past, and the devastating effect that link could have on Cullen’s present. Sid shares horrifying stories from the war that shock Cullen’s wife Naomi, and force Cullen to open up more about the secrets in his life. This season, Cullen has tried his hardest to become the provider his family needs him to be, but not much else. Sid’s arrival allows him to present more of himself to his family, which could hurt his marriage—or make him more vulnerable and understandable to his wife.

The second new visitor is Brigham Young, who arrives at the Mormon-run Fort Henry to sentence The Swede. It always feels a bit weird when Hell on Wheels presents important historical figures in the show, but the strangeness of it all can be somewhat fun. While the case against The Swede should be pretty open-and-shut, especially since he admitted to all his crimes of the past, Young bonds with The Swede over a mutual contempt for Durant. While The Swede should have had his comeuppance years ago, it’s still hilarious watching him escape from tough situations, and near-death over and over again.

Back at Cheyenne, Campbell’s team is getting more than they bargained for. Durant is behind the new mayor’s building being torn down while he is in it, and Mickey strangles Campbell’s crony Jessup after Mickey is kicked out of his former casino/saloon for being Irish. This murder brings to light the fact that another one of Campbell’s entourage was in love with Jessup, leading this man to beat the crap out of Durant, who he believes killed Jessup.

Usually, I’d say that bringing in new characters for a show to evolve is a bit of a crutch, but on Hell on Wheels, it’s working in its favor. Delving deeper into Cullen’s past—along with the insanity of The Swede and the town uniting over a general distaste for Campbell’s team—is actually making the show stronger.

Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.