Having watched each episode of the inaugural season of AMC’s Hell on Wheels, it is worth reflecting on the layered characterization brought by actor Anson Mount to the lead role of Cullen Bohannon. For those not yet familiar with the series, it tells the story of a former Confederate soldier – Bohannon – in the immediate post-Civil War era (1865). At the outset, Bohannon travels westward to join the construction of the Union Pacific transcontinental railroad within the larger goal of seeking revenge against a group of Union soldiers that killed his wife and son. The series itself is set within a framework that includes American expansionism, race relations between white workers and former African-American slaves hired by the railway, Indigenous territorial rights and social class. Hell on Wheels is a Western, a drama and a telling of American history. The show premiered November 6th, 2011 with the first season concluding on January 15th of this year. Here is an international trailer for the series:
The ensemble cast includes strong acting by hip-hop artist Common, Colm Meaney (of previous Star Trek fame) and Dominique McElligott and the show is not afraid to give their characters – freed slave, railroad tycoon and widowed wife, respectively – ample screen time. Yet connected to each is Mount’s character, Bohannon, and as the series currently stands his story is the underlying focus.
To help lead a new Western series onto television for the critically-acclaimed AMC network is both a culturally and commercially significant task and thus far Anson Mount has delivered. Mount has stated publicly that he has wanted to do a Western for some time and in this viewer’s estimation, he moves naturally in the genre. As a southerner himself – he is from White Bluff, Tennessee – Mount has also shared that he was attracted to a southern character that was written to be multilayered and not simply negatively stereotyped.
The character of Cullen Bohannon maintains his revenge focus right up to the final episode of the first season but Mount does offer, to this viewer, succinct moments in his characterization when it appears that Bohannon reflects upon his path – that reconsideration comes to the forefront following his actions in the final show of the first year. The conclusion of the first season leaves interesting questions as to where the Cullen Bohannon character – and Mount – will go with the narrative. Here is a brief interview with Mount about his character:
AMC has renewed Hell on Wheels for a second season – the first season will be available on Blu-Ray and DVD this May.
(Copyright – Chad Beharriell)