This past Saturday's episode of Hell on Wheels titled "Elam Ferguson," was heartrending. It also depicted profoundly memorable performances by all actors involved. For those who've not heard of the AMC western drama, the story of Hell on Wheels begins in 1865 shortly after the American Civil War.
The story involves the major construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad by Union Pacific across the Western United States, and the community of workers and others of a mobile town that follows the construction, called 'Hell on Wheels.'
Its principal character is Cullen Bohannon, acted by Anson Mount, a former Confederate soldier who held the rank of Calvary captain and a former slave owner. Yet after the war, he becomes foreman and chief engineer of the railroad. The story locale takes place in 19th Century Cheyenne, Wyoming, as the series production is filmed in Canada.
In the beginning Cullen Bohannon is relentlessly driven by only two things. The first in seeking revenge. And the second of course, is progressive construction of the railroad.
From the season one pilot it's revealed that Cullen Bohannon was married to a woman named Mary who was a Northerner, acted by Kassia Warshawski. Mary Bohannon deeply abhorred slavery. So much so, that it was alluded to by Cullen Bohannon that she tried to convince him to release their five slaves before the war and pay them wages on their farm!
But during the Civil War, several Union soldiers had destroyed the Bohannon farm and had raped and killed Mary Bohannon, and also killed Cullen Bohannon's son. This sort of plot echoes also from the classic Clint Eastwood western film, The Outlaw Josey Wales. It also echoes from another film genre that won five Academy Awards in 2001, including Best Picture and Best Actor, titled Gladiator. For in that film, the crazed Roman Emperor Commodus tells Maximus after the celebrated Roman general successfully fought off tigers, and a combatant all in an arena scene, describing as he ordered his men to rape Maximus's wife, and to kill both her and his young son as they destroyed his farm. But as in all three similar stories, those men who dared to trifle with Cullen Bohannon, Josey Wales, and General Maximus Decimus Meridius, all did not realize shortly after that they'd all became dead men walking.
During the recently aired season four episode seven titled, "Elam Ferguson," it concludes as to what happens to one of the other main characters. Which, one can say is rather a second part conclusion episode from the previous episode titled, "Bear Man."
In the "Bear Man" episode we find out what happened to ex-slave turned chief of police of Hell on Wheels, the man Elam Ferguson, acted by the rapper known as Common. Elam Ferguson while seeking the disappeared Cullen Bohannon, had been attacked by a bear. After killing the bear, but left unconscious and mauled, he is discovered by Comanche braves who take him to their village for care. The Comanche braves who saw the dead bear close by, also did not fail to recognize Elam Ferguson's courageous act. Such would be hard for any brave to ignore.
While convalescing at the Comanche village, it is Smiling Crow, acted by Canadian actress Michelle Thrush, who first calls Elam Ferguson the name Bear Killer while nursing him. And later during a ceremony, Elam is taught how to say his name Bear Killer in Comanche by a medicine man, and a Comanche brave named White Feather, acted by Moses Brings Plenty. But while Elam Ferguson had survived the bear attack, it had also brought on amnesia as he also had lost his mind.
From there on, Elam Ferguson kills Jimmy Two Squaws after the frontiersman both recognizes and tries to reason with him. This after the frontiersman says, "You're a railroad man. I've got to get you back to Cheyenne now while we still can," while both were in the Comanche village. Later after participating in a Comanche raid on U.S. soldiers, he also kills White Feather over the Comanche brave's captive white woman slave named Charlotte. He then leaves with her and two Arapaho women slaves in tow. That all set up the next episode titled, "Elam Ferguson."
It is the young Mormon boy Ezra Dutson, acted by Tayden Marks, who had survived the attack upon his parents by Thor Gundersen also known as the Swede, who encounters Elam first. That took place just outside of Hell on Wheels as the boy fished for a frog in a nearby stream. He soon runs back to inform Cullen Bohannon who is more than happy to hear the recent news, and soon after meets Elam just outside of town. He too like Jimmy Two Squaws before him, soon after also realizes that Elam had lost his mind. And from there on all hell broke loose.
Up until then throughout the seasons, the two men had never ever vocally referred amongst themselves as friends, not even grudgingly. But their actions shown otherwise. In season three episode five titled, "Searchers," a sick prostitute and her boyfriend abducts the baby girl of Eva Toole, the chin tattooed white woman acted by Robin McLeavy. Formerly both a Yavapai and Mojave slave, Eva afterwards had also been a prostitute before having a relationship with Elam, and while caring for the baby girl named Rose. Though she did lie to him about being the father. Cullen Bohannon then momentarily leaves his railroad responsibilities, and also helps Elam track down the abductors who also stole two horses. After the two men find the couple with the baby, Cullen Bohannon gives his warning, "Yawl come back to Hell on Wheels and I'll hang you both." There's also a superb Sept. 2, 2013, online article of Cowboys & Indians about the episode titled, 'TV Recap: Top 5 Things To Know About Episode 5 For Season 3 Of 'Hell On Wheels,' written by Joe Leydon.
Then also in season three episode nine titled, "Fathers and Sins," Elam aids Cullen Bohannon during a gunfight in town. While the two fought side by side shooting from the windows inside the Palmer Hotel, Elam says to him, "Just so you know, when you told me you freed your slaves before the war I knew you were lyin." To which Bohannon replies, "Yeah, I know."
Once in town with three captive women in tow, Elam Ferguson makes a spectacle of himself by attempting to sell the women. Eva couldn't reason with him. And the ex-slave now promoted to walking boss of the railroad, and dear friend of Elam named Psalms, acted by Dohn Norwood, couldn't reason with him. Both after Cullen Bohannon's first attempt, so that's three people from Hell on Wheels who knew him so far. Then a fourth, the town reporter Louise Ellison, acted by Jennifer Ferrin, tries to intervene to stop provisional Governor John Campbell as he ordered his men, all positioned as snipers to fire their rifles on Elam. The backstory about Louise Ellison is that she is a lesbian, revealed in season three episode six titled, "One Less Mule," by the town businessman Thomas 'Doc' Durant, acted by Colm Meaney. For he tells her that he knows why she was assigned to Hell on Wheels by the New York newspaper, as a punishment from her boss for being romantically attracted to his daughter.
After John Campbell had graciously given Cullen Bohannon fifteen minutes to pacify Elam Ferguson as a final attempt, Elam draws a knife which devolves into a knife fight. And that results into Cullen having to knife Elam, then shooting him, saving Elam from a salvo of gunfire. While all are stunned, he later buries Elam, and cries over his grave.
I read that Common had said that the demands of doing the show, along with his music career and touring, was just too great. Be that as it may, all the actors, as well as himself during his final TV film shoot of the series, gave memorable performances. Now onto the next episode.