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DVD Review

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Hell on Wheels
The Complete Third Season


Starring: Anson Mount, Common, Colm Meaney, Ben Esler and Phil Burke
Distributor: Entertainment One
RRP: £39.99
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 18 August 2014

1867 and the First Transcontinental Railroad is slowly being created. Men, whores and horses struggle to build the railroad through an, as yet, inhospitable country. Battling against starvation, hostile Indian tribes and the homesteaders who lay in the path of the rails, Cullen Bohannon has to keep the railroad moving forward...

Hell on Wheels: The Complete Third Season (2013, 10 eps x 42 min approx.) is a western show. The series is presented as a three DVD set.

By this season, the show’s original creators, Tony and Joe Gayton had taken a back seat and now only served as executive producers. With a new show runner, John Wirth, the series took a change of direction. Previously, the building of the railroad had been the background against which Cullen’s pursuit of the men who killed his family was played. With the advent of season three Cullen was moved centre stage, taking over the role of chief engineer, giving him total control over the mobile town of Hell on Wheels.

The season sees the return of some previous characters, including Cullen’s (Anson Mount) arch rival, Durant, played by Colm Meaney as well as Elam (Common) and Eva (Robin McLeavy). A journalist has been added to the cast in the form of Louise Ellison (Jennifer Ferrin), I have nothing against the character, but she does appear to be somewhat redundant, spending her time reiterating things already known and understood by the audience.

As well as the stand-alone aspect of each episode, whether it is finding lumber, cattle or surviving cholera, the show has a number of running seasonal story arcs. One will make little sense to a casual viewer if they start the story at this point as the Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl) takes up with a Mormon family who are travelling to Fort Smith. You may not understand how or why these people came together, it’s pretty obvious that the Swede is as mad as a hatter and their journey will not end well.

With the birth of Eva’s baby, her dead husband’s brother arrives in Hell on Wheels to claim Eva as his bride - apparently this is the sort of thing one does, marry your brother’s widow and claim the child for yourself. As she is Elam’s woman this does not go down well. For fans of the show the struggle to control the railroad continues between Cullen and Durant.

Anson Mount makes a very good leading man, who has the rugged attraction of being both a moral man and a bit of a bad boy. The show obviously loves him as it festoons its visuals with medium and close-up shots of his bearded face. Mind you it does this with a lot of the characters; it does create an intimate feeling to the show. Set design feels authentic, from the old trains to the muddied streets.

The discs are provided with two audio options, either DD 5.1 or DD 2.0, and English subtitles. On the last disc there are a number of extras. Behind the Scenes (2 – 5 min x 10) consists of ten smaller pieces which cannot be played together, each looks at various aspects of the show, with contributions from the cast and crew. A Look at Season 3 (4 min, 24 sec) does what it says on the tin, a short piece laying out the show. Where We Left Off (4 min, 56 sec) gives a quick rundown of the preceding seasons and 'I’m Building me a home' Featurette, with Common and Dohn Norwood (5 min, 50 sec) takes a look at the creation of the show's central song.

The change of direction has certainly improved the show, allowing it to move away from Cullen’s search for revenge to open the series up to more characters and storylines. Although Anson Mount remains the heart of the show, this season has seen the it develop into a much more ensemble piece.


Charles Packer

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