When Elam Ferguson returned to Cheyenne last week, he shook up pretty much everything in the camp. I mean, when the guy you thought was dead returns to life, claiming to have bear magic in him and carrying slaves, it’s going to do something to you, right? “Under Color of Law” heats up the battle between Campbell and Durant, and puts Cullen back on the path to the man he used to be.
This entire season, Cullen has basically been hiding the man that he truly is. He’s been taking care of a wife and child, when he clearly doesn’t have that much interest in them and, trying to balance his work on the railroad with his new family. The death of Elam, has awoken something in Cullen again. At the beginning of “Under Color of Law,” he has flat-out chosen the railroad over his family, eventually taking them back to the Mormon camp for the time being. By the end of the episode, Cullen is back to having his guns on him at all times. He’s no longer looking for the peaceful solution to things, since that didn’t work with Elam. He’s reverting back to where he started.
Pushing him in this direction is the new marshall, his own brother-in-arms Syd Snow. Campbell’s new way of pissing everyone off is arresting all the men in Cheyenne who are wanted, or who haven’t paid their debts, which includes nearly all of the recently freed men who make up the railroad’s workforce. With Syd and his gang of prisoners working for him, the prison is filled to the brim.
Syd has only appeared in two episodes of Hell on Wheels so far, but he’s the perfect antagonist to Cullen. Syd is, in many ways, the monster that Cullen keeps buried inside, since he’s afraid to become the man he once was. With Cullen quickly shifting, it shouldn’t be long before these two are at each other’s throats.
While Syd and Cullen are the rivaling brawn of Cheyenne, the battle of the brains between Campbell and Durant is also heating up. With Campbell rounding up everyone who is wanted for a crime, of course it’s convenient that Durant is on that list as well. Durant is becoming more ruthless and willing to do what it takes to get his railroad completed without being in the shadow of Campbell, so once Durant gets out of jail, Campbell might want to watch out.
With all this insanity occurring in Cheyenne, I still can’t help but be excited by what’s happening in the Mormon world. The Swede has gone from being on death row to becoming Brigham Young’s right hand man in a matter of days. The more ridiculous The Swede’s storyline gets, and the more incredibly awkward he appears to be, the more I love this character. He’s just a wackjob, and it’s perfect. But with Naomi’s determination that the Mormon camp is the best place for Cullen and their baby, I wonder if she’ll abandon her unloving husband, or fight it out with him in the darkness that is Cheyenne.
“Under Color of Law” also gives Eva the chance to earn back her respect, and she plays an integral part in the recovery of Charlotte. Eva knows that Charlotte won’t go down the path that Eva herself did, and she helps her get a more respectable job. Let’s hope that Charlotte’s new position and Eva’s kindness is a sign that Eva will be getting out of the dump she’s been in for far too long.
Everyone on Hell on Wheels seems to be at their breaking point. Sides are being drawn throughout Cheyenne and beyond. It’s only a matter of time before the town explodes into a battle of blood and steel.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.