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Hell on Wheels - Hungry Ghosts + False Prophets - Double Review - "Railroad Diplomacy"

Hi All! Just a quick note to apologise for the delay in getting these two reviews up, I was away for the previous two weeks and only got back a few days ago, and was unable to watch these episodes until recently. - Milo

And so comes to an end of the first part of Hell on Wheels' final season. It's been a fantastic show to watch, and each episode has failed to disappoint as the series has continued to be one of the strongest of 2015 so far. Hungry Ghosts and False Prophets were both pretty good episodes, and made sure that Season 5 concluded on a strong note. I'll be covering each episode individually, after I watched them myself, rather than talking about them as a whole, in a similar manner to my last double review for TNT's Murder in the First. So without further ado, let's start with episode six.

Hungry Ghosts

Immediately following the tragic cliffhanger of the previous episode, Elixir of Life which resulted in the death of Ah-Fao, we saw a distraught Mei being hauled away before the confrontation could get out of hand with Chang. She confessed to Cullen that it was always Fao's dream to return to China, half a world away, and it would be better to take her father's body back to China than get locked into a drawn out conflict with Chang. However, at the same time, Chang seems to be escalating the stakes as well, even though he is underestimating what Cullen and company are capable of. The attempt of bringing Tao's body home to China didn't quite work out, but he got a decent funeral in the end as the two bonded on their losses, becoming closer, opening up the potential for an interracial relationship between the two characters which could work out. There were some pretty powerful scenes between them in this episode, especially when Cullen confessed that he had lost his wife and child in the past. This scene was made all the more effective by the acting on display by both Anson Mount and Angela Zhou, which continues to be one of the series' strengths.

Meanwhile, Durant has problems of his own in Laramie, as Brigham Young turns up to check on how well he's coming with his overdue payment. Of course, Durant tries to weasel out of this but things aren't going too well for him, as this episode continued to increase the stakes across the board since the death in the previous episode. Since this is the final season all bets are off on characters and their survival, so Ah-Fao's death was an eye opener that anybody, including Cullen, could meet their end on the series. However, If, and that's a big if, Cullen is going to die, then I predict that it probably won't happen until the last episode of the season given that he's the series' main character and the central protagonist who benefits from the most interesting storylines. However, it's too early to call yet either way, and the chances of him making to the end alive are just as likely as him not at this stage, as without Mount and Cullen's character, there is no way Hell on Wheels can be as good as it is, and as it stands at the moment, it is one of the most underrated shows on TV.

Back with Eva now, and she got some decent scenes in this episode as well, with a conversation with Young being one of the several things that she got up to in this episode, and one that surprisingly didn't end in heated outbursts as both parties kept their cool. She also nursed Louise back to health, with her own emotional outburst being an effective moment for the character as Eva got involved with ending her pregnancy. In what could have been one of the less interesting stories of the week it was handled well enough to keep me engaged and worked well in conjunction with the pace of the episode, which wasn't going to be overly quick or action packed.

Something that I did find a bit more interesting than Eva's storyline however was Gunderson's ploy to move Phineas to the top of the Mormon Church. This is, I think, an ultimatley doomed approach, because Gunderson may have bitten off more than he can chew with Young, who can give pretty much anybody a lot of trouble. So it'll be interesting to see how this plays out going forward, particularly in the next episode, which I'll talk more about below after I've watched it. But given that Young isn't too happy with Gunderson and views Phineas as a disappointment, the inevitable fireworks to come should be very interesting indeed.

Overall Episode Verdict: B
+Anson Mount and Angela Zhou's performances, and their characters storyline in this episode.
+The fallout from Fao's death. Raising of the stakes.
+Gunderson vs. Young.

False Prophets

The finale of the first half of Hell on Wheels' fifth season meant that big things were going to happen, and we weren't disappointed, as a long-awaited reunion between Durant and Bohannan laid the foundations for a very solid hour of television that mainly focused on the discussion of the completion of the railroad, which provided plenty of drama as both sides of the table wanted the best deal. I'm not particularly well-versed in this area of history so I don't know who gets to the end first, and it's something that I've stayed away from on purpose, to avoid potential spoilers for the series. I don't know about you, but it's refreshing going into a period drama not knowing what's going to happen next. Anyway, that aside, the episode provided for some pretty awesome entertainment that was saw Part 1/Part A go out on a high note and will keep the audience guessing until the series returns in 2016.

The episode itself puts Cullen and Durant against each other and the results are very interesting indeed, as despite Durant's attempts to get Cullen back on his side, Cullen was sticking on his own, offering a moral alternative to Durant, who will go where there is money to be made. Cullen looked out of place in the boardroom full of rich men with their own ambitions, and it was interesting to see the diplomacy at hand as promises were made and broken in favour of the ultimate prize. And Young thinks he can get Cullen in his pocket when he tries to bring him in with information about his wife and child in order to gain a favour to President Grant. However, Young has problems of his own to deal with, his son Phineas being the main one, who has been viewed as an imbecile by his father. However, Phineas' plan doesn't quite work out that way, and he's easily put down by his superior. However, Phineas returned, intent on killing his father and assuming his place as Head of the Mormons, even if he isn't the smartest person when it comes to strategy and planning in the book. And whilst Bingham didn't actually die, he merely collapsed, it did allow The Swede for enough time to leave, and we got a pretty interesting cliffhanger which saw him headed towards Cullen's family in the grass towards the baby William and his mother Naomi. Surely Cullen's got to get there in time, right? He can't lose them again? What's about to come should be very interesting indeed, and it's incredibly annoying that like the finale seasons of Breaking Bad and Mad Men, and Season 6 & 7 of Doctor Who, we have to wait until the next year to find out what happens next, especially with a cliffhanger that big. Remember, this is also the final season, so as usual, all bets are off with character safety, and there should be loads of interesting things to come in the showdown between Cullen and The Swede.

Another thing that I did like about this episode was the Cullen and Durant reunion, which was handled extremely well as we got to see these two characters square off against each other both in the boardroom and outside of it, with their conversations about the past in Hell on Wheels being fun to watch unfold. We got to see Cullen playing his cards as the one who everyone at the boardroom underestimated, thinking he was the weakest there, only to surprise everyone with coming out on top in the end, denying Bingham what he wanted in favour of making it a race to the finish between the two railroads as a completely different plan was proposed at the table. These scenes really worked, and felt like what the first part of the season was building to all this time, setting the stage for things to come the final seven episodes.

One thing that didn't quite work out as well as it did this time around as it did the previous week was Eva's killing of the prostitute, Josie, who tried to undermine her authority. However, Josie underestimated a girl of Eva's background, and it came too late for her to do anything about it. But I felt as though these scenes just weren't that compelling as compared to the more interesting diplomacy action that was going on elsewhere, and could have been dealt with in the last episode.

On the whole, despite some weak moments, this was a strong finale to the first section of Hell on Wheels' final season, however as mentioned above, don't expect the show's last few episodes to return until next year.

Overall Episode Verdict: A
+Cullen and Durant reunion.
+Boardroom backstabbing.
+Cullen not being useless at diplomacy.
+Phineas/Young/Gunderson plot.
-Eva's storyline.

What did you think of "Hungry Ghosts" and "False Prophets"? Do you think The Swede will be caught before he can kill Cullen's family? Are you looking forward to the show's return? Let me know in the comments section below.

About the Author - Milo MJ
Milo is an Arsenal FC supporter and loves TV shows like Battlestar Galactica, Justified, The 100, The Americans and Person of Interest. He reviews Black Sails, Childhoods End, Da Vinci's Demons, Hell on Wheels, The Knick, Manhattan, Murder in the First, Narcos and Veep for Spoiler TV as well as books, films and games for his own blog The Fictional Hangout and contributes to comic reviews on a weekly basis for All-Comic.
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