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'Hell on Wheels' 3.6: The Man in Charge

September 7th, 2013 11:09pm EDT | Paul Levinson By: Paul Levinson

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A helluva Hell on Wheels 3.6 tonight - the best of this already excellent season - with a double game-changing twist and an appearance by Ulysses S. Grant, on his way to becoming President but currently Secretary of War, which is far more than a cameo and in fact plays the crucial pivotal role.

Most of the episode is devoted to the unfolding of Durant's crafty plan - to get Bohannan to admit, one way or the other, that he's a killer as well as a railroad man, and therein get him to resign if the board doesn't fire him.  The one flaw in his plan is that Grant is part of the panel that hears the testimony of Bohannan's killings.

Bohannan soon decides that he can't deny what he is, and he finds his resignation, as well as his coming to terms with what he his, liberating.  He even kisses Louise while the two are dancing a whirling two-step, all the more interesting because she has just revealed to Durant that the reason Horace Greeley - publisher of the New York Tribune - sent Louise away out West, away from New York, was because she had had an "indiscretion" with Greeley's attractive daughter.  And Bohannan confirms to himself and the audience that he's still got the killer instinct, when he shoots a man dead who came to exact retribution for Bohannan's killing of his brother.

But Bohannan's a killer with righteousness on his side - the first brother deserved killing, since he had taken part in the slaughter of Bohannan's family, and the second brother, after all, did come to Hell on Wheels to kill Bohannan.   And Grant realizes righteousness this too, which sets up the second game change, after the first game change of Bohannan resigning.   Grant can't stomach Durant and his lies, and talks Bohannan into resuming the running of the railroad.

There are great lines throughout this hour, ranging from Grant's almost poetic talk of a Union general and a Confederate soldier being the best way of uniting the country - literally and figuratively - by completing the railroad, to Bohannan's comment to Ruth that sin takes the longest to pack.

And just for good measure, we finally see which the way the Swede is heading.  Not turning over a new leaf - as I was half-contemplating last week - but going full-fledge psycho with his murder of the Mormon couple who had taken him along with them on the trail.

Not a pleasure to see, but necessary to know, in a show that demonstrates, as Grant himself says, that Ulysses S. Grant was smarter than he looked.  So, we might say, is Hell on Wheels, though the truth it's been one smart show pretty much all along.

Photo Credits: AMC Networks Inc.