Saturday, 22 August 2015

Hell on Wheels: Season 4

Hell on Wheels is a show that very few people in the UK seem to be aware of. Despite the DVD covers doing their best to market the show as being ‘From the makers of The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad’ (meaning it’s an AMC production), few people have taken notice. It isn’t broadcast on a particularly popular channel here, and hasn’t even been deemed popular enough to warrant Blu-Ray releases like it has in the US. Westerns have never been hugely popular here – even HBO’s incredible series Deadwood isn’t exactly well known here. So, I gave Hell on Wheels a go last year, not really knowing what to expect. I bloody loved it. Now airing the first half of its fifth and final season in the US, Season 4 is out now on DVD. 

If you’ve never watched Hell on Wheels (which is likely), then it goes without saying you need to start at the beginning. Seasons 1 through 3 are all available on DVD here in the UK, and now Season 4 joins them. Hell on Wheels tells the story of former soldier Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount), following the track of a band of Union soldiers who killed his wife. This quest for revenge brings him to the middle of one of the biggest projects in US history, the building of the transcontinental railroad. As cover, he stays to work on the railroad construction crew under the cunning Thomas Durant (Colm Meaney), creating both friends and enemies in one of the most tumultuous times in US history. This is not just your standard cowboys and Indians adventure, it is a historical epic with action, drama, tension, romance, politics, business and even a few laughs along the way. It is also one of the best shows on television today.

The 13 episodes of Hell on Wheels: Season 4 are brought to us from a variety of writers and directors, as with most television shows. Picking up where Season 3 left off, we re-join our hero Cullen Bohannon as a virtual prisoner to ‘Bishop Dutson’, the latest alias of his enemy Thor ‘The Swede’ Gundersen (the ever-phenomenal Christopher Heyerdahl). Back on the railroad, Thomas Durant is trying to keep the construction moving without Bohannon’s help, despite the impending arrival of a government who aim to seize his town and railroad. It’s a strong season for plot – the relationship between Bohannon and ‘The Swede’, one of the finest points of the show for me, is the best it’s ever been here. And the story is progressing finely on the railroad side too, despite the actual construction of the railroad being background to the human dramas unfolding in the foreground. But this is not an issue. Look at The Walking Dead – some episodes have no undead shenanigans, but heaps of drama. That show has been described as ‘a soap opera with zombies’. Well, Hell on Wheels might be a soap opera with cowboys & trains, but it’s a damn good one.

The entire cast are on fine form again, from Anson Mount’s superb lead role as Cullen Bohannon to the entire supporting cast. But for me, the finest performance this season is the stunning Christopher Heyerdahl as ‘The Swede’ – the layers to his performance are just incredible. Heyerdahl, a Canadian actor, is playing a Norwegian character (despite his nickname), pretending to be an American Mormon. And he’s the most believable character in the show. Colm Meaney is also as fantastic as ever as the slimy Thomas Durant, while a familiar face from the first 3 seasons returns to be at the centre of one of the most powerful and moving episodes of television I’ve seen in a very long time. Visually the show is fantastic, despite occasionally underwhelming CGI – not a problem though as it is so seldom used. The costume design is phenomenal, the music is excellent and the story is as good as ever. There’s nothing bad I can say about Hell on Wheels. It is one of the most underrated and underwatched shows I know of – and it deserves your attention.

Hell on Wheels is the best show that you’re not watching. The series has grown in quality consistently with every season and from what I’ve seen of the fifth and final season so far, it will be going out on a very strong note. The show ends next year, so you’ve got plenty of time to catch up and no excuses. If you’re up to date on Hell on Wheels then you know Season 4 is a brilliant season and one for your collection. If you’re new to it, I can’t recommend starting it enough. Get on it.

Hell on Wheels: Season 4 continues the show’s rise in quality and sets the scene for a fantastic final season. 5/5.


Sam Love

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