Judge Gordon Sullivan is just plain Hell.
Our reviews of The Heart Of The Peloton (published September 18th, 2010), Hell on Wheels: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray) (published May 31st, 2012), and Hell on Wheels: The Complete Second Season (published July 16th, 2013) are also available.
Outlaw in charge.
Outlaws are interesting figures in American culture. The true outlaw is rarely a villain, instead he (and it is almost always a he) is someone who has seen both sides of the law and chosen another option. Not seeking to uphold the law, the outlaw feels called to a higher purpose, and is a figure that helps us understand the boundaries of acceptable behavior. The good guy would never rob a train, while robbing a train for profit is something a villain would do. The outlaw asks us to consider if we would rob a train to feed a town full of starving children. The third season of Hell on Wheels offers the tagline "Outlaw in Charge," which signals a huge shift in the focus of the show's protagonist. Instead of being drawn to his higher calling of revenge for the killing of his wife and child, Cullen Bohannon has hitched his proverbial wagon to the railroad town dubbed "Hell on Wheels." To do that, he has to find himself on the right side of the law more often, which is a strange place for him to be. While it doesn't completely re-orient the show, it does show that the creators are willing to keep things fresh and alter the characters to avoid stale repetition. Hell on Wheels still doesn't reach the dizzying heights of the best AMC shows, but fans will enjoy the direction this season is heading.
At the end of Season Two, the roving railroad town of "Hell on Wheels" was the subject of an attack by the Sioux. Unsurprisingly, Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount, Non-Stop) and his right-hand-man, Elam (Common, Wanted), survived, but more surprisingly so did the Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl, The Chronicles of Riddick). While Bohannon battles with Thomas Durant (Colm Meaney, Star Trek: The Next Generation) for control of the town, the Swede is plotting another nasty surprise.
As always, the season's main focus is on Bohannon's quest. Except this time, he's (at least momentarily) forsaken his desire for revenge to instead try to steer the roving town towards something better than what the scheming Durant has planned. After the difficulty with the Sioux, the future of Hell on Wheels is even more precarious, and the necessity for a continent united by a single railroad even more pressing. Opposing Bohannon, who gradually assumes a more official role as the season goes on, is the scheming Durant, who doesn't want Bohannon involved in any railroad business. The pair often face off through intermediaries, as Durant throws obstacles in Bohannon's path to official success.
The Swede doesn't go quietly into the Western night. He falls in with a Mormon family, and their own particular brand of anti-establishment leanings allow him a foothold from which to launch his own, more personal attack, against Bohannon. I don't want to spoil too much, but the Swede pretty much comes out of hiding as not just a force against Bohannon and an amoral bastard. Nope, he's a full-blown crazy person and it's going to be really interesting to see what they do with him from here on out.
The other major arc this season concerns Elam and his partner Eva. As the season opens they have a new baby. This leaves Elam with new responsibilities he has to juggle, especially where his relationship with Bohannon is concerned. Eva, meanwhile, struggles with postpartum depression, and the pair obviously have a lot to sort through personally. This relationship, and the new baby, really grounds Elam's character, and ups the stakes on all the decisions he makes this season.
Hell on Wheels: The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray) continues the show's commitment to great hi-def presentations. The 10 episodes in this season are spread across three discs, with plenty of room for the 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer. Detail is strong throughout, and colors pop even more appreciably than previous seasons. Black levels are consistent and deep, and there are no significant compression problems. The audio is similarly excellent; he DTS-HD 5.1 tracks are full of clear dialogue and cues that spread the audio around the soundstage. Music is especially clear and vibrant, with good dynamic range.
Extras start with a brief overview of the second season, running about five minutes, that lets viewers know what happened in case it's been a while since they screened the previous episodes. Then we get an overview of this season that runs a similar length. Finally, a quartet of featurettes, running about 10 minutes, gives us a closer look at some of the production.
The show has definitely hit its stride, but there's also a sense that it might start to get formulaic soon. There's a certain time cap on the series—the railroad was definitely finished—so it's going to be interesting to see how much re-treading the show does now that Bohannon seems to have given up his revenge quest.
Hell on Wheels: The Complete Third Season moves the show in some interesting directions, even if it feels like we've seen some of this before. The set has a solid audiovisual presentation, and the extras are okay, so fans can pick this set up with confidence.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
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