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The haunting images start early in this week’s episode of Hell on Wheels as The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl) prepares himself for a Native American ritual. Where last week’s episode seemed to focus on each character’s mounting pain, “The White Spirit” seems to be about choices. “Judging my choices won’t change yours”, Lily (Dominique McElligott) tells Cullen (Anson Mount) towards the end of the episode.
When Ruth tells Cullen that some people are just beyond redemption, it clearly applies to many characters on the show, particularly Elam, who’s found a new and rather unsavory path. Hell on Wheels has always been a show about angry people and what that anger and a heavy dose of guilt can do to them.
“You try to tell yourself that you don’t like the killing but you just can’t stop yourself because death is coming for all of us,” the Swede tells Cullen. As crazy as the Swede is, he does seem to have his finger on what makes Cullen tick. Very rarely does he say something that isn’t hauntingly true. You can see the guilt from last week’s murder of his close friend pushing Cullen towards a shaky future.
Hell on Wheels is particularly poignant this week and even though I’ve dreaded it since the beginning, the love scene between Cullen and Lily is beautifully shot. It may be a somewhat forced relationship, but the love scene is the culmination of a season and a half of brief, lingering looks and tense conversations.
I still maintain that there cannot be a relationship if there isn’t any chemistry or setup to the characters in the relationship. I don’t understand why the writers insist on a romance when the show doesn’t really need one. When Cullen gives his version of an apology, and Lily asks him to stay for her, the whole conversation rings painfully untrue to their characters. The ending, however, gives us something that’s achingly real. Cullen’s regret and Lily’s painful understanding of their mistake is a wonderful scene.
With only three episodes left, Hell on Wheels has given us a season full of emotional ups and downs and “The White Spirit” is no different.