In terms of the development of Cullen Bohannan’s character, “Any Sum Within Reason” works as a really strong revelation for the man and the show. This week Cullen has a determination and a focus within him that he realizes stems from love. But after an entire series spent worrying about whether or not it’s his fault that everyone near him seems to die, Cullen finally comes to terms with the real reason why love has evaded him for so long.
But “Any Sum Within Reason” also brings Hell on Wheels back to its core, finishing off one of the last subplots in the show and setting up for the final two episodes to likely center on finishing the railroad.
Here are the five best moments from last night’s Hell on Wheels.
In this second half of the season, Hell on Wheels has used flash forwards and flashbacks to elicit sympathy for some of the show’s most morally dubious characters. Thor Gunderson’s past showed him beloved during the war, then forced to do whatever it took to survive from day-to-day. Last week, we saw a flash forward, with Durant dying poor and alone, right after selling what seems to be the last remnant he has from his time at the railroad.
But “Any Sum Within Reason” does the exact opposite with Chang. We flashback to him in China in 1863, buying slaves and bargaining for his own wife, Wai-Ling. When his wife literally stabs Chang in the back and tries to run off, Chang catches her and cuts off her leg as punishment.
While Thor was cruel out of necessity, Chang is cruel out of greed and a desire for power. Witnessing Chang’s past makes him an even more hated character in “Any Sum Within Reason.” Instead of black and white, most of Hell on Wheels’ characters exist in the grey. “Any Sum Within Reason” reassures its audience that Chang is absolutely on the evil side.
This meeting between Bohannan and Chang has been in the making since the reveal that Fong is actually a woman by the name of Mei. In this meeting, Cullen tries to civilly earn Mei her freedom, while also admitting the truth about her and her hidden identity. Cullen has tried to hide Fong’s true identity ever since she came clean to him, but at this point, it’s too late for him to avoid the truth from Chang.
This is one of many examples in “Any Sum Within Reason” of Cullen bluntly trying to solve a problem. It’s almost as if he knows the end is coming and doesn’t have time to waste as a result. There’s a sort of exhaustion to Cullen throughout this episode, and especially in his meeting with Chang. He just wants all of the problems and frustrations to be over and will take the easiest route to get to it.
Chang’s search for Mei felt very similar to Thor Gunderson’s search for Naomi at the beginning of this season, but with one distinct difference: Chang can fight. Like, really well. Chang taking on several railroad workers coming at him proved to be one of the finest fight sequences that Hell on Wheels has put together. (Though not as amazing as Common fighting a bear with nothing but his bare hands, also known as the greatest scene in television history.)
But the conclusion of this sequence is also equally great, as Cullen finally shoots Chang while Chang searches for Mei. This continues the “Any Sum Within Reason”’s theme where Cullen is basically getting too old for this shit. Instead of listening to Chang’s diatribe (which he’s clearly got all planned out), Cullen simply shoots him in the head, then goes around town, taking out anyone else coming after Mei.
One of the major ideas addressed this season is that anyone who gets close to Cullen will die. To be fair, his track record in love and friendship is covered in blood, but in this episode Cullen comes to the realization that he was the one who let those close to him go.
“Any Sum Within Reason” gives us several wonderful moments between Cullen and Mei alone, together. Cullen figures out the main problem with the relationships in his life, but both of them also admit to the other that they love each other.
But these moments between Cullen and Mei also seem to explain his actions in this episode and other recent installments too. Mei tells Cullen that he is good, something he’s clearly been struggling with for years. He’s still worried about letting Mei know that he once owned slaves, even though he’s apologized and felt terrible about this for years. Even when he’s kind to a person, he feels the need to come clean to that person in every way, almost like he’s giving them any information they might be able to use to dislike him and make him feel like the bad guy.
These scenes also slightly explain Cullen’s more straightforward way of dealing with problems. In the past, his actions have been informed by hatred, anger or a sense of protection. As he’s protected Mei from Chang this episode, it’s out of love and caring for someone that he wants close to him.
After realizing that he’s the one who lets the people in his life leave him, Mei leaves Cullen behind, sailing on a boat back to China. The tragedy of this moment is that Cullen had just dealt with the Sze Yup (who Chang worked for) and smoothed things out as much as he could, in regards to Mei and Chang’s murder. His problems involving his latest love were over, but then Mei protected Cullen and herself the only way she thought she could.
Now that Cullen has found someone he admits he loves and knows that Mei leaving was not his fault, it will be interesting to see how this relationship continues in the final two episodes. Will Cullen go after Mei once the railroad is finished, or will he go before that and actually put their love ahead of the railroad? Or, will he do what he’s done in the past and just let her go? I’d imagine since he’s apparently learned from his mistakes, it’s only a matter of time before Cullen is on his own boat to China.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can find more of his writing at RossBonaime.com and follow him on Twitter.