After next week’s season finale, we may never have another episode of Hell on Wheels, and I’ll be damned, if that’s the case, I’m actually going to miss it. At the beginning of the season, I was wary of watching yet another year of a show that seemed to have no goal. But as the second season has progressed, there has been more growth than I can remember ever seeing from any other show. Hell on Wheels has tackled its many, many problems and given each character purpose, and these last few episodes have exponentially shown growth in the every aspect. In “The Lord’s Day,” Hell on Wheels continues the pattern of genuinely strong episodes with what may unfortunately be the show’s penultimate episode.
For the first time in Hell on Wheels’ muddled history, the show has given fascinating stories to all of its characters, even the minor ones. Bohannan is already showing a dramatic change since his romance with Lily. Bohannan is now complimentary, kinder and understanding, rather than consistently pissed off and ready to run off. Elam still continues to build his house and create a new life for himself, while Lily is scared of her place in Hell on Wheels once Doc returns. Sean McGinnes uses his new bar money to woo Ruth, while Mickey is drinking and gambling his money away. Even Joseph Black Moon is back, having returned to his Cheyenne origins after being rejected by Ruth and killing his adopted father. But the camp is ready to get shaken up when Doc returns, sipping on some opium and with his wife Hannah, played by the great Virginia Madsen, ready to make some changes around the camp.
Doc expected to return to camp with a finished bridge, but with all the Sioux attacks and a crazy priest running around, they’re a little behind on schedule. Doc’s punishment for Bohannan is to come to dinner with him and his wife, escorting Lily. While at dinner, The Swede messes with the engine the group needs to finish the railroad.
“The Lord’s Day” features two fascinating scenes focused around the dinner table. The Durant family dinner shows Hannah’s faith in Bohannan and her lack of trust in Lily. Anson Mount gives a great performance as Bohannan, attempting to become more refined as dinner goes on, while Lily is aware that she is soon going to have to leave the camp. The other dinner is between Mr. Toole and Eva, as they discuss visiting New York one day. Mr. Toole has gone from town racist to a heartbreaking figure, wanting to do the best for Eva, while also keeping her love for him, instead of for Elam.
The next morning, everything starts falling apart. The engine bursts, injuring many men. A Norwegian penny inside is like a calling card, telling Bohannan that The Swede clearly did this. But continuing Bohannan’s growth, he decides to help the hurt workers, instead of chasing down The Swede. Hannah makes Lily move out of her train car, continually pushing her out of the way, since she knows that Lily has slept with her husband. Elam visits Doc to tell him he has left the railroad, but Durant refuses, saying the only way to quit his railroad is death or walking through Indian territory back to where you came from. Even the McGinnes brothers are quarreling over the use of their money.
Bohannan shows one sign of silent rage, as he lights The Swede’s tent on fire. Bohannan, having moved out of his train car for the time being to allow Lily to stay there, goes to visit Elam at his in-progress home. Elam states that Doc has offered him a new job, one that Bohannan won’t like, and says he’s thinking it over.
This entire season, Doc hasn’t really fit in, but with his return and the debut of his wife, Doc has placed himself into the center of everyone’s story in a strong way. He is now the center of all the character’s problems, a force that can’t be stopped.
There is now such an incredible focus in Hell on Wheels, as everyone finally has their own arc, ones that link into each other, making each change important to mostly everyone. “The Lord’s Day” sets up the final episode of the season beautifully, with everyone ready for change, but Doc halting any movement, except in regards to his train. It also places pieces for what could be an even greater third season, if it comes to that. It would be a shame for a show like Hell on Wheels to come to an end after two years of trying to right all of its wrongs, right when it’s becoming stronger than it ever has been before.