Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hell on Wheels 1.6: Horse vs. Rail

Well, the iron horse beat the flesh-and-blood kind in Hell on Wheels 1.6 last evening, as it always did in the long run - of any track and any history.   And in this episode, the victory of the stoked engine symbolized the victory of the Industrial Revolution, which was just beginning, over the Native Americans across the Plains.

The tribes, of course, had lost in the East well before the Industrial Revolution and the rails across America.   As Senator Crane helpfully tells Cheyenne Chief Many Horses, his people are living in "The Stone Age".  True enough, but the Chief is more than wise enough not to go for Crane's generous offer of a reservation for his people.

Crane is not doing much better driving Durant in this episode.  When the Swede - in many ways the most commanding character, following his own and no one else's lights (fine acting by Christopher Heyerdahl) - tells the Senator that Durant has embezzled over $100,000 of government supplied funds for the railroad, the Senator tries to get Durant to admit that, and therein get Durant under his thumb.  Durant refuses, leaving Crane no option other than to leave with the threat of commencing charges against Durant when Crane gets back to Chicago.   As despicable as Durant often is, Crane is clearly worse, and the more dangerous  villains in Hell on Wheels are in government not railroad building.   Whatever that says about the political predilections today of the show's creators, the Durant-Crane confrontation back in 1865 certainly leaves me rooting for Durant.

Durant does get one good piece of fortune - from Lily, who gives him her husband's surveys, that she was previously holding out in hopes of a big payout (which her slain husband eminently deserved).  But her act was based on her realization of the importance of the railroad - to the country, to progress and civilization - which her husband certainly believed in, too.   And this, increasingly, will be what everyone believes in most - not just Durant for the money and the dream - but sooner or later Cullen and Elam, as well.  The transcontinental railroad, after all, not exceeded the horse, but pulled into play a lot of visions of destiny along the way.

Hey, though I love driving and flying, the rails are still my favorite way to travel, and I'd jump on a bullet train across America tomorrow if Amtrak had one.

See also  Hell on Wheels: Blood, Sweat, and Tears on the Track, and the Telegraph


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