Hell on Wheels – Season 1
1865. The civil war has only recently ended and former Confederate fighter Cullen Bohannan is out for revenge. After returning home from the war, he found his house ransacked and his wife hanging dead on a rope after having been raped by a couple of Union soldiers. Since then he’s been roaming the country, looking for the murderers of his wife and killing them off one by one. As such, he ends up at Hell on Wheels, the travelling camp that follows Thomas “Doc” Durant’s Union Pacific Railroad as it expands to connect the East of the States to the West.
He takes a job at the railroad venture to secure his presence in the camp so he can continue his search without getting too much attention, but nonetheless it doesn’t take long before people start noticing him and he unwillingly gets involved in the camp’s internal politics.
I have to say that having re-read the above, I don’t feel it completely gives credit to the story but as I didn’t want to give away too much, it’s hard to describe things differently. Hell on Wheels is a western show much like Deadwood. Things move forward rather slowly but you constantly have a feeling of tension that makes you long for the next episode. The characters are quite interesting as well with especially Colm Meany being perfectly cast as the corrupt business man Thomas Durant who’s sole purpose for building the railroad is to suck as many dollars out of the government’s fat titties as possible. And those are more or less his words!
Next to Star Trek’s Chief Miles O’Brien there’s also plenty of other interesting characters; Dominique McElligott plays Lilly Bell who starts off as the “Pale-Haired Maiden of the West” in distress but quickly shows she’s got more to her than meets the eye at first. Elam (rapper Common) is a former slave who enjoys the freedom he’s received but constantly fights for his rights, something that regularly gets him into trouble with prejudiced white cowboys who not always realise that slavery supposedly got banned after the war finished. Christopher Heyerdahl is the Swede, Durant’s right hand man who’s supposed to uphold the law in the land of the lawless but also has a rather shady way of doing his job. And then there’s of course Cullen Bohannan himself, played by Anson Mount who perfectly manages to portray the “lone cowboy out for revenge”. His character is maybe a bit underwhelming in this first season, but that’s more than made up by the rest of the cast.
This first season of Hell on Wheels doesn’t completely manage to reach the level of Deadwood, but it comes darn close and as such is definitely one of the best western TV shows we’ve seen in years. In fact, it ranks amongst the best TV shows of late. Period.
The image and sound that come with the DVD are of good quality and nicely support the show. We didn’t spot any obnoxious compression errors, the color palette is a bit withdrawn to add to the gritty atmosphere, and the music score makes good use of the available channels. The extras provide some background on the production and the characters and are worthwhile to check out. All in all a nice and complete package.