The epic Western series about the transcontinental railroad came to a close tonight after five seasons, the last split in half. The story of Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) had plenty of twists and turns as he worked and led the crew of the Union Pacific and then the crew of the Central Pacific to cross the straight through the harsh land of the, not yet, United States of America. The show did not shy way from the troubled times that these were and did not lionize any of the iconic characters.
Thomas Durant (Colm Meaney) was the corrupt financier of the Union Pacific and with Meaney's acting, this shady individual felt fully fleshed out. At times, I rooted for him and at others despised him. The characters were easy to love including Eva Toole (Robin McLeavy) a young woman captured by Native-Americans and tattooed on her chin, Mickey McGinnes (Phil Burke) Irish bar owner and pimp, Louise Ellison (Jennifer Ferrin) an intrepid reporter who won't even let possibly fatal illness or chance of death stop her from covering the story of the railroad. Plenty of other great characters came and went through the series like Common as Elam Ferguson and Christopher Heyerdahl as the villainous Swede.
The second half of the fifth season actually began with the Swede being dealt justice by Bohannon after the misnamed Norwegian tried to kill Bohannon's second family. He'd dodged retribution for four seasons so that was satisfying. The fitting conclusion of this show was, of course, the railroad finally coming together and the final nail being struck. It showed the price paid with the story of one man who is nearly defeated after everything that happened.
The show became episodic at points with the crew dealing with one issue or another but later seasons grew more extreme as characters became disposable with only a limited amount of episodes left. I'm a fan of the Western genre and a long form television format works great for the many stories that still need to be told about American expansion after the Civil War. I liked how the fifth season depicted Chinese-Americans and their contribution to this impressive form of transportation.
Hell on Wheels gave a great and intense story and a world to get lost in and I would highly recommend fans of Westerns and sprawling dramas to check this one out. Many of the seasons are available on Netflix and it is one of the more intriguing television shows to come on AMC. The show had run its course and may have had one season too many but hit really hit its stride in the third and fourth after two great initial seasons. A bittersweet ending wraps it up and it is hard not to be inspired by this tremendous human accomplishment.