Hell on Wheels, AMC’s new Western, is a great show. The best Westerns play on the theme of good vs. evil. And the worst have nothing. The heroes are not heroes and the bad guys are as good as they are bad.
Back when westerns were at their height, anti-heroes began to trickle into story lines. I never had a problem with the anti-hero who wanted to live his quiet life somewhere and not wear the white hat. It was the anti-hero who was more anti than hero who caused me issue. Who did not care for the protection of society or something higher than himself, such as honor, maintaining the peace, family. . .
The name of it escapes me, but I once saw an early 70s Western with hippie themes. It seemed druggy and psychedelic. In two words: it sucked.
I did not start this review with the intention of a diatribe on Westerns. But my worry with Hell on Wheels was that there would be no “good guys” or “bad guys.” Am I simplistic? Sure, maybe, possibly. But I want my heroes to be good, rebelling against injustice.
I don’t want to be second-guessing their motives. Foibles, character weaknesses: I understand them. No problem. But heroes who are evil, or who are purely self-motivated, do not get my time.
Anson Mount, who plays the main character Cullen Bohannon, is conflicted. His wife was killed by Union Soldiers and he is tracking the trail of her killer. Yankees parade his world. And he’s a Southerner with his closest friend a former slave, played admirably by the rapper Common.
The show has gotten raves:
The brainchild of the brothers Joe and Tony Gayton, AMC’s Hell on Wheels is the first Western on any size screen to tell the awesome and occasionally exhausting story of the post–Civil War construction of the transcontinental railroad. So far its strengths and weaknesses can be summed up in one sentence: it doesn’t aspire to be a Western, it aspires to be the Western. If ambition translated directly into achievement, Hell on Wheels would, at the least, be the best Western series since Lonesome Dove.
And it has a good lineage:
The look, though, is constant. Like all of the best movie and TV Westerns since 1993, Hell on Wheels can trace at least part of its lineage back to Tombstone, written by the late Kevin Jarre (who was also scheduled to direct it before being fired a few weeks into the project). Jarre’s attention to period detail in clothing, weapons, and language set a new standard for Westerns and has influenced the best in the genre since then.
My suggestion? Watch the darn tootin’ thing. . . It’s some good old fun.