The O-town Scene

December 29, 2011

The O-town Scene - Oneonta, NY

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TV Matters |by Jennifer Ortiz 'Hell on Wheels:' The new romantic drama? If my dad were a man of words, he would've told me never to get involved with a man who doesn't understand the nu- ances and complexities of a Western. Since he isn't one for talking, he did the next best thing: had me watch Westerns. I've seen every Clint Eastwood gun slinging movie ever made, I know every love interest Chuck Connors had as Lucas McCain in Rifleman, I get all the jokes in Sukiyaki Western Django, and I've fallen in love with the newest addition to my gun-slinging education: "Hell on Wheels". "Hell on Wheels" is technically not a Western. It's a look at the post Civil War, specifically following men and women dur- ing the great railroad race as they struggle to find God, work, and redemption. Thing is, the show heavily focuses on Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) as he totes around his desire for re- venge. This is the classic hero I grew up rooting for and, there- fore, "Hell on Wheels" is a legit Western. Now that I've defined "Hell on Wheels", the bigger question is why this gritty and intelligent show is not being embraced by a bigger audience. Well, for starters, when people think of railroad and history, bore- dom is usually the next word to come to mind. Perhaps the audience needs to view this show in a different light. I'd like to argue that "Hell on Wheels" is a Western with soft spot for romance. While mod- ern romances usually bring to mind girls with the problem of being overly perfect, this West- ern redefines the romantic notion adding plenty of gun-shoot- ing, revenge-seeking, dirt-under-nail complexity. Early on, viewers learn that Cullen's need for revenge has to Contributed 'Hell on Wheels' airs on AMC at 10 p.m. Sundays. Both are trying to survive and maintain their dignity as they live and work within the railroad development. Both are spit upon, but neither of them are willing to lower their heads at the slurs and hate slung at them. It is the memory of her soft kindness that keeps him from being cold-blooded. She forces him to question his actions and to at least save good men. Without romance, Cullen wouldn't be a character that would be liked, let alone relatable. It is his love for his dead wife that makes him human and, therefore, makes his actions breathtaking and gruesome at the same time. Paralleling Cullen's grief and revenge is Lily Bell (Dominique McElligot) who watched as her husband was killed by angry Native Americans, seeking to regain their land and dignity. While Lily does kill the man who killed her husband, she doesn't blame the race as a whole. She understands the real danger and criminals to be the very do with the brutal treatment and murder of his wife. He couldn't protect her from the soldiers who raped her and ended her life, but he can execute them. As much as he is unflinching in his interactions with these criminals, his wife is his moral compass. men her husband was working for. Lily's journey is spurred by her husband's desire to explore and to map out America. As Lily and Cullen keep the memories of their spouses alive, they are slowly moving towards each other. An attraction has been established and will no doubt cause trouble. Similarly, and maybe this is wishful thinking on my part, but while Elam Ferguson's (Common) first interaction with Eva (Rob- in McLeavy) was embarrassing and could've been grounds for a feud between them, I'd like to think an interracial relationship could stem from this encounter. Elam is a former slave, now free and working hard to gain respect, while Eva is a prostitute who has ties and blood to Na- tive Americans. Both are trying to survive and maintain their dignity as they live and work within the railroad develop- ment. Both are spit upon, but neither of them are willing to lower their heads at the slurs and hate slung at them. Al- though their first meeting was brief, the attraction between them was dynamic and could be a wonderfully complex side story. Even if they don't get to- gether, they are both products of love for their culture, and the romance every person has with America. There is no need to argue that "Hell on Wheels" is smart and centered on a Historical Western perspective. The argument I am trying to make is that this show can be cerebral as well as soul singing. All of these characters are human in their endeav- ors, desires and needs. All Westerns are centered around the human need to survive, the human need to protect themselves and their loved ones, and the uncanny ability to fall in love even after immense physical and emotional pain. There are so many intellectual angles "Hell on Wheels" can be examined from, but the most worthwhile is, ultimately, the idea of loveā€¦a seldom bathing, long hours under hot sun, possible scalping, and drunken knife fighting between bearded men kind of love, but love nonetheless. So, all in all, I'm going to follow dad's advice: a man who understands a Western, is a man worth marrying; he's capable of love and seeking revenge against anyone disgracing my honor. When Jenny Ortiz isn't pleading with Kurt Sutter via Twitter to be her mentor, she teaches at St. John's University, Adel- phi University and LaGuardia Community College. Her writing can be found at,, Jersey Devil Press,, Eighty Percent Magazine and InkSpill Magazine. She can be followed at Dec. 29, 2011 O-Town Scene 9

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