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Hell on Wheels Season Finale Review: This Means War

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I've always had something of a soft spot for Hell on Wheels. There's just something old school cool about gunslingers, western style drama and the lawlessness that combines with a struggling of morality for the people involved, especially when the particular genre is few and far between on television these days.

So I was looking forward to what the finale was going to bring, mostly because the season has felt disjointed in its goals. There had been a lot of ground work placed over the episodes preceding, but I really wasn't sure what was going to take place or what direction the show was headed.

Ultimately, "Blood Moon, Blood Moon Rising" served to finally show off the completed railroad bridge, the inevitable war with the angry Sioux and the deadly consequences involved with love triangles.

Cullen Prepares for Battle

A good portion of the first half was truly just a lot of waiting, as Bohannon began to recount his tale of what happened to the now destroyed town.

Sure, there was a certain amount of tension and suspense enhanced by the soundtrack. The booming drums and the plucking of strings elevated the anticipation. Whether it was Elam Ferguson saying "Hello" to Lily as she was leaving her place or Sean McGinnes telling Ruth he was sorry, I was prepared for something bad to happen. They both had that look in their eyes.

Even Bohannon successfully driving the train over the bridge, which proved a victory, was laced with the dramatic pressure of a downfall.

It's interesting to think that aside from the Sioux preparing for battle, a good majority of the problems revolved around the women.

I don't understand why Sean was obsessed with Ruth. He did everything he could possibly think, even renouncing his religion and getting baptized by her, in order to be with her. And, still, she rejected him. C'mon, man. Is she really the only woman to go after? It's not like he's spent tons of time with her and it was all a surprise.

Eva's still been caught between Mr. Toole and Ferguson, but she's been pretty straight forward that she was going to stick with her husband. Clearly, Ferguson wouldn't take no, building his house and continually trying to win her back.

And it was her going to his place to tell him it wasn't going to happen that proved the first shocking death. Mr. Toole shooting himself took me by surprise. I expected him to take his anger out on Eva and shoot her, but himself? Wow.

Of course, it was Lily and her affair with Durant that was the most problematic for the railroad. Not only was Durant willing to kill her off, but she was prepared to screw him over with the ledger. And then there's Bohannon, whose blossoming love for her was only just beginning which complicated things further.

Everyone seemed to be desperately looking for a solid footing, but it seemed as if despite their success with the railroad work, everything was slipping out from under them.

So it's not surprise that the character drama became quickly aligned with the action drama.

After a very long absence, the Swede finally returned, burned and warning of the future attack. And I was thrilled he came back because his presence provides for gripping scenes. Dancing in the streets as homes burned, people were slaughtered and the town was falling down around him added to his fantastic craziness.

And his ruthless kills were shocking. Just standing behind the guard before slowly cutting his neck was powerful. You knew exactly what type of guy he was and still, no one besides Bohannon had really felt concerned with him.

Which made one of the saddest and most shocking moments for the show that much more dramatic and real.

The Swede killed Lily.

I kept waiting for someone to burst down the door at the last second, or Lily to get lucky and escape, but to no avail. And as much as I'm disappointed we'll never get to see that Bohannon and Lily romance any further, I'm pleased at the boldness in story decision. Killing Mr. Toole was a surprise but, nothing compared to finishing off one of the top tier characters... in the second season no less!

And after fighting off the Sioux, I can only imagine how Bohannon felt. I'm still trying to wrap my head around the evil of the Swede.

The Swede is the perfect nemesis for Bohannon and that final scene between the two men was perfect. Both Anson Mount and Christopher Heyerdahl have shined in their respective roles and, frankly, I wish we got more of them. They embody their characters in such a charismatic way that each moment is riveting.

It is interesting that the Swede managed to escape his hanging though. That guy always manages to wiggle out of Bohannon's grasp.

Truly, the finale wiped the slate clean. The town will have to start over, some of the characters have the potential for not coming back or at the very least switching gears and headed towards something new.

And Bohannon, I know he'll get his revenge and I hope we get the chance to see that.

But even in all it's positives, the episodes still got stuck with some problems.

Did anyone realize the time jump from last episode? Ferguson had only built the base of the house and now the whole thing was finished? Was it necessary to the plot?

Hannah Durant, who I enjoyed in her initial appearance, felt pushed to the back this time around. Sure, she had a few good lines, but ultimately she became unnecessary aside from being a reason Durant wanted to get rid of Lily.

And as much as I enjoyed the Sioux battle, it was pretty much just an entertaining action sequence. The more personal danger was left to the Swede meaning the Sioux were just characters to either slaughter or be slaughtered.

And would Bohannon really be asked to take the place of Durant? They wouldn't bring someone new in? I know he's a competent guy and clearly willing to push forward as shown in that last scene, but I'm surprised he was the first choice.

Overall, the finale stuck true to the general pace and tone that began at the outset of the series. There's always great scenic pieces, interesting plot lines and enjoyable action. But there could and should have been more with Bohannon and the Swede. These guys carry the show to its riveting heights, especially when the other characters seem to do whatever the episode wants them to do.

It's not the tightest story being told on television, but when it strikes, it strikes hard and viscerally is a pleasure to watch. I hope that season three finds a bigger goal than completing the railroad bridge, but after a decent finale, I'm glad that we've still got Westerns on TV.

Let's keep this show rolling.

What did you think of the finale? Were you shocked by the deaths? Sound off below!

Review

Editor Rating: 4.3 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.3 / 5.0 (639 Votes)

Sean McKenna is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow him on Twitter.

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I was turned on to HoL by a friend. Watched both seasons on Netflix and I tunes in about two weeks. Watched the season two finale yesterday. All I can say is it was a gut shot when Lilly died and if they don't find some way to bring her back I won't be watching season 3. I really loved this show I'm glad they fired the lead chair. After that he deserved it!

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i finally watched the second season and I CAN'T BELIEVE THEY KILLED LILY OFF! what an asinine decision by the writing staff... way to lose half your viewers. even if she still is alive... really?? "oh he only choked her until she was unconscious, and only half the rail car set on fire"

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Oh my goodness, this is the best television I've seen in a long, long time. I don't usually even watch most TV. I am however with most of you in they should have not killed Lily. How will the show continue?

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I pray Lily is really only unconscious, but can't see it to be honest, there is no point in season 3 if she's dead. Seemed odd to kill off 3 main characters in the last episode, but we never saw the swede actually die, I don't think Ruth and Sean can carry the show if that's what the plan is,neither Elan and Eva. They just don't have the charisma of Cullen or Lily, we can but live in hope of a miracle.

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I love this show and am hoping there will be a season 3 I didn't believe any of season finale. Cullen is telling his version of what happened that morning I keep asking my self is this a premonition of what he fears will happen or is this foreshadowing of what will happen. I think the season finale was trying to tell the audience is that if people take things too far and let their ambition get the best of them bad things can only happen

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with such great viewership you do not kill one of the lead characters in the show.i enjoyed the whole thing until that moment of lily's death.it was a dumb line to write.an E- for whomever wrote that.with so much killing,killing love was absolutely uncalled for.hope we get beta in s3.otherwise saying am pissed is an understatement!!!

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I personally enjoyed the ending, and will definitely be watching the show when it returns!!!!!!!! It is sad that they killed Mr Toole and Lily, but this is a drama, not a comedy...I'm sure Cullen will have a new love interest in next season, after he gets his revenge!

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Well killing off Lilly Bell the strong female lead leaves me no reason to watch anymore. However, I don't think that resurrecting her will give the show any credibility now that its happened. Male script writers, male dominated cast and now no Lilly Bell. Lost this viewer.

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Don't take everything at face value.You have to remember the only person that knows Mr Swede's true nature is Cullen.Remember what he did with the coin. He did that on purpose. He likes to manipulate, persuade and get inside a person's mind to convince them into doing things that are not right. Remember his Immoral Mathematics. He has a passion for evil that is why he was supposedly dancing among the ruins of Hell on Wheels. He uses everyone as pawns to create disaster. He tried to convince the Sioux that he was the White Spirit. They didn't believe him they burnt him and set him on his way back home. He tried to convince Mrs Durrant that he should have never sided with those heathens. Cullen came in and he told them that the Sioux would be coming on the blue moon the next night. Cullen told Mrs Durrant that friend or not he was going to hang for messing with the railroad. Next thing you have to ask yourself is how did Cullen know about the overselling of the mileage with the railroad. When Mr Durrant asked Lilly she did not answer. Durrant only thinks he knows. Pay att to the scene when the train first goes and then slows down u will see a candle, desk and a pen in inkwell. WHY A deal was struck and I have a feeling it was with the Swede and Cullen. Mrs Durrant told Cullen be careful who you side with and that he has to fix this. Durrant offered him a partnership and Lilly mailed the ledgers he is caught in the middle. He has to help Durrant Lilly himself and the railroad. I think he made a deal with Mr Swede. Remember the tar and feathering imagine what the would do to him because of his actions I think Cullen told him this is what you are going to do for me and I will owe you one.He "killed Lilly" for him he said this is for him he chocked her and went to the table and dropped the candle to set it ablaze. Cullen brought her to church he had to make it look like she was dead thay way she won't testify against Durrant Lilly was sacrifical lamb and he was the replacement. Swede told him that they are bound by Lilly death. He bid him a good day as if his job was done and plunged but he will be back. Remember the Swede knows about harper. Cullen said the past ain't the past if it don't exist. It does and it will come back to haunt him. When is the question. If Lilly liked him better when she thought she knew him will she still when she sees the this other side of him ?
can't wait for season 3

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