TV Review: HELL ON WHEELS 1.8, "Derailed"
Whether it’s the lack of narrative focus, characters that fail to link to the story in any meaningful way, the clichés, or its non-existent sense of urgency, Hell on Wheels’ faults can all be boiled down to one major issue: lazy writing.
rating: 2Whether its the lack of narrative focus, characters that fail to link to the story in any meaningful way, the clichés, or its non-existent sense of urgency, Hell on Wheels faults can all be boiled down to one major issue: lazy writing. Derailed has this in spades, but what separates it from its predecessors is how utterly blatant that laziness is throughout its hour. At least in episodes past, there was some attempt to conceal the obvious inadequacy of the writing by, say, giving us a solid action sequence to accompany it, or having a character spout off a clever line in the midst of an otherwise painfully transparent conversation. Derailed doesnt do any of this, and in turn, serves as a shining example of what it looks like when there is little to no attempt to cover up shoddy work. The episode begins with Cullen still a fugitive following the events of Revelations appearing literally out-of-nowhere just as Durant is proclaiming how much he needs him. After enacting a bit of revenge on the Swede in the form of a beat down, Cullen regains his position in the Hell on Wheels campsite almost as quickly as he was cast out of it. I know I said last week that deciding to make Cullen and Elam fugitives was a mistake, but the way in which this plotline is resolved highlights just how utterly transparent the writing on this show is. At the very least, sticking with the fugitive plotline would have earned the writers a bit of credibility with regards to their confidence in their narrative choices. To pull back on a plotline almost as quickly as its introduced proves, without a doubt, that Hell on Wheels is a show without any sort of idea as to where its headed. And the way the entire thing is handled quickly and without any sort of respect to organic storytelling, starts Derailed on a bad note that only worsens as the episode continues. Arguably the episodes worst offence is its treatment of Reverend Cole. Cole has never felt very vital to the show, but, at the very least, hes been one of few characters with a consistent set of beliefs. Hes a man of faith, often to a fault a champion of peace in a time that is anything but peaceful. That consistency is shattered in a scene that comes early on in Derailed. At the sight of a tent filled with the wounded and the dead, Cole abandons the mission hes been on since the start of the series, loses his faith, and later, drowns himself in a bottle of whisky. Dont get me wrong - good drama is all about testing (and often breaking) an individuals supposedly rock-steady set of values and beliefs. Virtually all of the best television of the past decade has hinged heavily on this narrative goal. But this is the only true test of faith Cole has had. Its the first bump in a long road, a moment that perhaps would test the mans will but in no way would break someone so deeply committed to his cause he left his family behind for it. Because of this, his despair is neither earned nor organic its a forced decision made only so the writers have somewhere to go with the character. The aim here is dramatic tension its sloppiness deprives it of any. And its the same story with the rest of this episodes plotlines everything here is handled with such inefficiency it calls into question why those behind the scenes even bother to tell this story at all. The further we go along, the more it feels like Hell on Wheels is a show that is more than willing to take the easy way out and hope that its audience is none the wiser. Its unfair really, to ask for the kind of commitment a serialized drama requires from its viewers when it continues to cheat them out of any real payoff. News recently broke that the shows done well enough to earn itself a second season, but as we near this years finale, one cant help but wonder just how many will chose to stick around.