As long as you don’t go into Hell on Wheels expecting TV perfection like its fellow AMC series Mad Men or Breaking Bad, you’ll probably find much to appreciate about this lawless, violent spin on the final days of the Old West. Not every series can change the definition of television, and if anything, one of the big strengths of Hell on Wheels is that it has an almost old school type of approach. Sure, there’s some creative spilling of blood, and occasionally a pop tune fills the soundtrack, but these are minor flourishes at best, and hardly define Hell on Wheels. Really, it’s the sort of show I picture Clint Eastwood kicking back at home and enjoying with Scotch and a cigar.
The action begins in 1865, with the country rebuilding after the Civil War, and at the top of the rebuilding list is the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad. This was a massive turning point for the United States, as previous to the building of the railroad it would take six or more months to traverse the country; via the railroad, the same journey would take less than a week. In charge of building a portion is Thomas Durant (Colm Meaney), a less than ethical businessman who’s far more interested in money than philanthropy. On his watch, a mobile town of sorts crosses the country, building the tracks. This town is dubbed Hell on Wheels, and both it and Durant are factual parts of history. The rest of the show is, to my knowledge, fiction.
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