Hell on Wheels: “Slaughterhouse” (Episode 2.03)

TV Reviews
Hell on Wheels: “Slaughterhouse” (Episode 2.03)

“This is a free country,” says Mr. Bauer, Hell on Wheels’ resident butcher as Bohannan tells him to get out of town. With possibly the first laugh we’ve heard from Bohannan, he states, “that’s about the funniest damn thing I’ve ever heard.” The people of Hell on Wheels have the freedom to go where they want, leave whenever they want to, but most of them are outcasts who have escaped their communities to try and find something better. They are free to go wherever they want, but most of them have nowhere else to go, and if they try to leave, they’ll likely either be murdered or find their way back, much like Bohannan has. “Slaughterhouse” shows an ever-increasing level of evil to the camp as many characters show the layers to themselves, especially the darkness underneath.

“Slaughterhouse” focuses on the repercussions of Elam killing Schmidt, the man who killed a prostitute, for Lily. Since the McGinnes brothers are now being paid to protect the whorehouse, Mickey McGinnes starts bragging to his prostitute that he was the person behind Schmidt’s murder. Meanwhile, the increasingly drunk and insane Reverend Cole is still mad at his daughter and his “son” Joseph Black Moon fornicating in his church. You can tell this because after some persuading from The Swede saying that Jesus cleaned out the church, the good ol’ Rev runs into Schmidt’s funeral yelling, “FORNICATOR!” at his daughter. As a fight breaks out, since a funeral isn’t exactly the best place to stir up some family problems, The Swede tells Mr. Bauer and his fellow mourners that the McGinnes brothers have been running their mouths about murdering their friend, to which they go after the bros.

Now that Bohannan is back, Durant has put him back in a place of power, placing him to watch over the workers on the railroad. Since Bohannan stole the money the workers were owed, they’re clearly not to keen on this idea. But once Bohannan puts them in their place, it’s time for Durant to do the same to Bohannan. Durant needs the railroad to get to the Rockies soon or all his construction will be for nothing. Once Bohannan can lead the men to this construction, he will be free. But let’s be honest, Bohannan will probably just end up back in Hell on Wheels once again. You’re never quite free of Hell on Wheels.

While it seems weird that Durant has put Bohannan back in a leadership position after robbing his trains, Durant tells Elam to keep an eye on Bohannan, due to his closeness to Lily. Under his breath, Elam mutters to Durant that he could have done Bohannan’s job as well. While in the first season Bohannan and Elam worked together as a team against basically everyone else, it seems now that Elam’s jealously may cause an end to this occasional alliance.

So back to the brothers, as they are beat up and dragged to the slaughterhouse. Durant instructs Bohannan and Elam to stop this madness. When they get to the slaughterhouse, Bohannan barks orders at Elam, but he just isn’t having it, instead taking the leadership position from Bohannan. They stop the unruly mob from killing the McGinnes brothers, but they are still put away to be hung. With their time ticking away, Lily admits to Durant that she paid for someone to kill Schmidt. This leads to Durant yelling at Lily for her action. It seems like he is not so much furious that she led him to being murdered, but rather that she acted without his permission, his power undermined by a woman he trusts more than anyone. After much anger and throwing some cups, Durant allows the brothers to be let free. But before Mr. Bauer can escape on the next train out of town, the brothers murder him in his own butcher shop and then feed him to his own pigs.

The easiest show to compare Hell on Wheels to has been Deadwood, clearly, but “Slaughterhouse” somewhat distinguishes it from that show, probably more than any other episode has before. With most of the cast of Deadwood, the show allowed the audience to see the kindness in a majority of the show’s characters. Even a pimp/murderer/woman-beater like Al Swearengen had moments where he showed that he too had a heart underneath all the anger and darkness. But “Slaughterhouse” shows the exact opposite. Even the most seemingly innocent characters, like Lily and the McGinnes brothers, show that inside they have the capacity to do evil things. As we see the level of depth in all of Hell on Wheels’ characters and as we see some interesting character combinations and rivalries sprouting up, the show is becoming much stronger than its first season ever hinted it would be.

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