Probably the best thing that could have happened to Hell on Wheels is the show setting an end date. When AMC announced a few weeks ago that Hell on Wheels would have a final season—and since this is AMC, this final season would naturally be split up over two years—I was excited because of the urgency this would give the show. Hell on Wheels has had its share of meandering episodes, almost as if the series didn’t know what to do with the amount of episodes that had been ordered. Now, it’s time to finally wind down.
Season Four of Hell on Wheels seems like it’s been all about getting Cullen Bohannan back to a place of solitude—back where he started out. Even though the season began with Cullen getting married and having a new son, he soon sent them away from him. In the past few episodes, Cullen had to murder his best friend Elam “Bear Man” Ferguson, and watch his unrequited love, Ruth, head to the gallows. It’s been a rough season for Cullen, so it’s no wonder that at the end of last week’s episode, he wanted to quit the Union Pacific and start a new beginning. “Further West” is the fantastic new start for Cullen, which just so happens to also be the beginning of the end.
This episode is a great parallel to the pilot of the series, but instead of everyone arriving to the camp, everyone is now leaving. Campbell kicks out Mickey, and Eva leaves with him to watch over his corral of prostitutes. Campbell and Doc fight over the last piece of Cheyenne Campbell doesn’t own: The Chicken Hill, with Doc finally losing the last piece of property in the territory he owned. Cheyenne is now a shell of what he once knew it to be, which is a great opportunity for a fresh start.
It’s the final moments of “Further West” that prove to be very exciting for the future of this show. Cullen accepts a job working on the Central Pacific, his former rival, due to the necessity of finding his wife and child. With the Mormon camp deserted and the survivors dying of smallpox, Cullen now has to search west of Salt Lake City to find his family, and the best way leads Cullen back to the railroad once again.
But this sets things up for a compelling fifth season. First, Brigham Young has given Thor Gunderson freedom to also go work on the Central Pacific, after Thor killed his way in to Young’s favor. So yet again, we will soon have The Swede and Bohannan working together—and trying not to kill each other. This sets up what will likely be the final battle between these two rivals. Also, the show has always been building towards the idea that there will be a face off between the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific, and now this battle seems to be coming soon—but with the sides looking much different from what we originally expected.
Hell on Wheels has always been a mixed bag, usually bordering on the mediocre, only occasionally falling into territory that was terrible, or great. But this season has definitely had some of the strongest episodes in the show’s history. As the series heads toward it’s final season, we can look forward to what seems like a truly exciting end.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.