The two-hour premiere of Season 3 of Hell on Wheels on August 10th provided some promising directions for the critically-acclaimed AMC Western series. Set in the immediate years following the US Civil War, Hell on Wheels is centered around the construction of the westward Union Pacific transcontinental railroad. The respective titles for the double-episode premiere were “Big Bad Wolf” and “Eminent Domain”.

Season 3 begins in the winter of 1866-1867 with lead character Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) facing what Mount describes as an existential crisis; Bohannon lives in what remains of the town of Hell on Wheels following resistance by the Sioux people to the railroad entering their territory. Concurrent to having experienced a great personal loss at the end of Season 2 at the hands of his nemesis, The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl), Bohannon also needs to determine whether he will move forward with the construction of the Union Pacific. Bohannon’s decision to do so re-purposes his focus and he then moves to ensure a chief engineer position with the railroad. Elam Ferguson (Common), a former African-American slave who had worked on the railway and now lives in Omaha, Nebraska, with his pregnant partner, Eva (Robin McLeavy), is drafted by Bohannon to assist his work.

One of the interesting new facets brought forward in the premiere of this new season is the presence of Mormons in the American West. The construction crew will encounter a homesteading Mormon family in Nebraska directly in the line of the surveyed path.  The show draws on the historical record of 19th century violence between Mormons and the US nation-state as competing visions of “destiny” – be it divine or manifest – clashed. For example, the Utah War (1857-1858) was an armed conflict between Mormon settlers in modern-day Utah and the US army.

Reporter Louise Ellison (Jennifer Ferrin) & Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) in Season 3 Premiere

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The character of Louise Ellison (Jennifer Ferrin) was also introduced in the premiere. Ellison is an Eastern reporter who has been sent to cover the railway’s construction. Ellison, in her interactions with Bohannon, brings forward the idea that it is important to frame the railway’s construction in a positive way to a skeptical American public. Bohannon muses upon this. The premiere did a very effective job of relaying the construction process of the railroad itself; Bohannon explains to Ellison the methods for laying out the track. The character of Ellison also provided a narrative conclusion to the premiere; in a voice-over which represents a reading of Ellison’s first report, the viewer is given a chance to take stock of characters and developments.

The following two AMC-produced clips (which contain some spoilers) give insight from cast and crew into the double-episode premiere (note: some mature themes & violence).

The next episode of Hell on Wheels airs Saturday, August 17th at 9pm (EST)/ 8pm (CST) on AMC.

 (Copyright – Chad Beharriell)

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