I am gearing up for a big, fat spoiler-filled rant about Hell on Wheels. If you want to avoid spoilers and plan to watch the show, then I send you elsewhere for your daily dose of interesting. Chuck Wendig has a nice post about YA this morning. Also, Leigh Bardugo’s much anticipated Siege and Storm is out today, along with Nalini Singh’s Heart of Obsidian.
And a nice brooding picture of Cullen Bohannon as a space saver.
Still here? Okay. You have been warned.
Now I really love this show. It’s gritty, dark, sometimes pretty graphic. It paints the years after the Civil War in a brush that’s…probably a lot more authentic than a lot of westerns. And Cullen Bohannon is my favorite kind of hero. One bound by his own code of honor, who strides calmly into danger while everybody is flailing around him and takes care of business. Plus, he’s got one hell of a steely glare. It’s Cullen’s story, despite all the various and sundry subplots flying about around him. I get that. I’ve known that from episode one. But I get invested in other characters, as you do when you watch a lot of a show.
The world in this show is one of men. Which is, I imagine, really accurate for the times. This is on the frontier, as the transcontinental railroad is being built. The only women around are prostitutes for a really long time. And once the town gets established in season 2, there are a few more–wives and the preacher’s daughter. But that’s just about it. Respectable women were back in the cities back east.
Except for Lily Bell.
Lily Bell shows up at the very beginning of the show. She is the wife of Robert Bell, the surveyor for the railroad. The pair of them are beset by Indians. Robert is killed protecting Lily, and Lily yanks an arrow from her own shoulder to stab into the throat of the brave trying to rape and kill her. She’s a tough chick. She then manages to survive on the prairie long enough to get rescued (by Cullen and another guy) and taken back to Hell on Wheels (which is the name of the tent/shanty town the travels along with the railroad). All the well intentioned folks thought she should go back to England where her family was from, and Thomas Durant, the owner of the railroad, escorts her back to Chicago and to her husband’s family himself. But they’re judgmental jerkwads, and she decides she’s going back to Hell on Wheels to see her husband’s vision through. She works with Durant (and as she has all the survey maps her husband did, she’s got leverage over him) as an almost partner. She’s tough as nails underneath a pretty exterior, and she, being a lady, tends to elicit better behavior from those around her.
Of course from the moment Cullen sees her, I’m expecting her to be set up as a love interest. And I’m waiting, waiting, waiting for his tortured self to SEE and GET IT and think himself worthy. Which takes until nearly the end of season 2. Through which Lily continues to take care of business in her own way, doing her damnedest to earn respect from these men, survive several threats to her life, and generally making a damn fine go of things in a rough world. She looks out for others, and when Durant is shot in an hostage situation and must travel back to Chicago for a surgeon, she’s running stuff on her own while he’s away. This is when she and Cullen FINALLY get together, and he admits that he’s better with her. This would be, I think, episode 8 of a 10 episode season 2?
So then other stuff happens that is not actually related to my pissed offness. And in the end, the Sioux attack. And Lily’s wielding a gun, protecting the prostitutes (who, of course, weren’t good enough to make space to evacuate on the train with the other women and children), and the other people in town, while Cullen and most of the men are protecting the railroad bridge (which tactically makes the most sense–something he learned in the war). And she SURVIVES all of this, the burning of most of the town, and slaughter of a lot of people. And she’s in her quarters waiting for Cullen after the battle is over, and this dude the Swede (played by Christopher Heyerdahl who I really love to hate in this role) comes in. Lily tries to shoot him (because she knows he can’t be there for anything good), but she’s out of ammo, and he just stalks her across the space and strangles her. She barely puts up a fight, is making some impassioned and choked statement about how Cullen’s going to kill him, and then she’s dead.
I didn’t really believe it because it was like 30 seconds and it takes way longer than that to choke somebody to death. I thought, maybe she’s faking and is about to kick him in the balls. Or that Cullen was about to come bursting through the door and righteously beat his ass. But no. She really was dead. And I was left spewing a great deal of vitriol and profanity. Because, seriously, WHAT THE HELL?
Leaving quite aside the issue of the fact that the writers of the show completely effed up my romance, which pisses me off on a supreme level, I have a whole lot of other issues with this.
1) The Swede’s motives for killing her were not clear. Was this just to screw with Cullen, whom he hates? Was he working for Durant or his wife? Why did he do this? (It was brought to my attention that he clearly says this was all for Bohanon, which I probably missed due to my outrage but still does not in any way change the thrust of this post)
2) Her death did not fit at all with her character. At every turn in this show when she could have given up, she was shown to be a character with mettle, one who FOUGHT to LIVE, to do what’s right. I get that this man was bigger than her, but she could’ve tried pelting him with whatever she could reach, hitting him, kicking him, trying to run. If he’d had to chase her and knock her down and it was a real FIGHT, if she’d gone down swinging, then okay, I could see it. I still don’t agree with it at all (see reasons above), but then at least her death would’ve fit the kind of character she was portrayed to be.
What the hell were the writers thinking? I get that this was definitely a No One Is Safe (except Cullen) cast. I get that killing her in a violent manner gives Cullen yet another ghost to add to the collection that started with his wife and son from the war and has been steadily added to over the life of the show. But there was no reason to kill her in that manner. No reason for the Swede to have done it, no reason for it to have gone down like it did.
I am left to conclude that the writers must be men who cannot tolerate the idea of KEEPING a strong female character in the cast. Now I don’t know if this was a point at which they thought the show was being cancelled (because apparently it was cancelled and brought back or something) or what, but either way, it made no damned sense. They are apparently setting up for some spunky chick journalist to join the cast in season 3 (starting in August), but I fail to see how or why Lily’s death served any purpose whatsoever.
This kind of shit drives me crazy. God forbid we have a “man’s show” with strong female characters. We can only have permanent or long-standing strong women as a token character unless it’s a show written primarily for women about “woman things”. Of course there’s all kinds of gendered argument going on lately (not like this is a new thing). There’s a movement to make the next Doctor on Dr. Who a woman. Chuck made a great argument in favor (though of COURSE the writers won’t do that). And then there’s all KINDS of argument going on the last couple of weeks about the denigrated place of women in Sci Fi and Fantasy because of a brouhaha going on with SFWA (through which, outgoing president Scalzi has proved to be a total class act).
I’m just. So. ANGRY about this right now.
Not that it’s going to stop me from watching the show, because Cullen totally fulfills my quota for brooding, tortured hero. But I’m still pissed.