Hell on Wheels: The Complete First Season

Hell on Wheels: The Complete First Season
Again proving that AMC can deliver the same quality of programming seen on HBO and Showtime, only with a smaller budget and a less sensationalist vibe, Hell on Wheels relies on subtly, intellect and the beauty of allegory to draw in viewers. In the ten episodes that comprise the first season, series creators Joe and Tony Gayton, along with their creative team, have crafted a bleak and unembellished vision of the assembly of the transcontinental railroad, drawing thematic influence from the very nature of bringing East to West, connecting worlds and leaving an ersatz industrialized civilization behind while the iron road marches forward. As such, the series pulls from American narrative tropes, having a protagonist antihero in Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount), an ex-soldier from the South working in the mobile town of Hell on Wheels while on a quest for vengeance, killing the many men that raped and murdered his wife. The symbolism speaks for itself; he murders a man in a confessional in the opening scene of the first episode, just before Reverend Cole (Tom Noonan) baptizes a native, Joseph Black Moon (Eddie Spears). The inevitable battle between the natives and Europeans ramps up when a small group of surveyors is brutally murdered and scalped, leaving Lily Bell (Dominique McElligott), the wife of lead surveyor Robert, wandering through the countryside with arrow wounds to her hand and shoulder. Her wide-eyed innocence is contrasted perfectly by the opportunistic Doc Durant (Colm Meaney), whose leadership of the railroad construction is driven purely by financial gain, drawing out construction and weaving the track through unlikely terrain to ensure he remains on the government payroll that much longer. It's this combining of a capitalist ideology with the many subtle points about religious hypocrisy and government spectacle as a mode of distracting the public from bigger problems that gives this seemingly slight series so much dimension, ensuring that every moment has some sort of perspective on the current state of the country and the beliefs that went into building it. Not often can a television series achieve a scope this significant, but Hell on Wheels manages it perfectly. The DVD touches on the show as a metaphor, noting the significance of the transcontinental highway in the wake of the Civil War, but mostly focuses on set construction, episode breakdowns and behind-the-scenes roles amongst its array of supplemental material. It's an extensive package of extra features but they're ultimately quite dry in presentation, which is a bit of a disappointment, but not particularly important, since the series makes this package a must-have regardless. (eOne)