Season 4 Episode 7
Cullen attempts to reconnect with Elam upon his return. Durant takes matters into his own hands while putting an old problem to rest...[button color="blue" size="small" link="http://www.amctv.com/shows/hell-on-wheels" target="blank" ]Official Site[/button]
As dawn breaks, Cullen dresses quietly while Naomi sleeps. Psalms stops by their tent and tells Cullen, "You need to get on from this place." Psalms says he’s been praying and claims he "ain't strong enough for whatever coming next."
Cullen goes to Durant's train car and finds the door ajar. He looks inside and sees Durant lying on the floor, left for dead after being beaten by Heckard the previous night. Cullen rouses him and stitches up a large gash in Durant’s forehead. Cullen convinces Durant that the railroad must go over the mountain, and that he’s the only man who can make it happen. After getting Durant to put his signature on a blank sheet of railroad letterhead, he advises Durant against seeking retribution for the beating. "I've drunk from that cup," Cullen says. "It don't quench."
Cullen asks Maggie Palmer for a loan to buy a steam dredge. In lieu of collateral, Cullen gives her the blank sheet of railroad letterhead signed by Durant. Maggie agrees to lend Cullen the money, but says she’s only doing it for Naomi and William so Cullen can get them out of Cheyenne.
Durant confronts Campbell about Heckard's attack. Campbell denies sending Heckard, saying that killing Durant would "spoil the sport" of taking the railroad from him. However, Campbell concedes that Durant is entitled to “justice,” and says he'll put Heckard on an afternoon train back east.
Over lunch, Delaney's wife, Abby, concedes to Delaney that her suspicions of Durant being responsible for her father’s death are making her ill. She agrees to go home to Boston to grieve.
Cullen tells Naomi about getting the loan for the steam dredge, and promises they'll be out of Cheyenne shortly. Naomi asks if she'll ever see her family again, and Cullen says he'll take her to them in their own private train car. Ezra runs up and tells Cullen he saw Elam.
Cullen rides out to meet Elam. When Elam fails to recognize him, Cullen notices Elam's damaged eye and asks if Elam can see him. "I see you in my path," Elam responds. When Cullen asks if a bear got to him, Elam responds, "I am Bear Killer."
Elam offers to sell Cullen his slaves. Cullen warns Elam not to ride into Cheyenne, but Elam starts to push past him with the women. Thinking quickly, Cullen tells Elam they have an auction house for slaves and that he'll come get Elam when it opens.
As Heckard boards a train back east, the conductor points out his third class ticket and sends him to the back of the train. Durant ducks into the first class car.
Back in town, Cullen pulls Eva away from a game of cards at the casino. He tells her that Elam is back, but "he ain't right."
On the train, Durant hears crying coming from the next car and finds Abby there. He explains that it’s a private train and that she needs to get off. When Abby asks him why people say he killed her father, Durant responds that he did kill Senator Metcalf, and offers to tell her how and why.
Cullen brings Eva to Elam. Elam gruffly examines Eva's chin markings and asks who she belongs to. "We used to belong to each other," she says. "Can't no slave own no slave," Elam responds, then asks, "How come I want to hurt you?" Eva admits it's "for something I done to you," and says she doesn't blame him. When Eva offers to go with Elam if he lets the other women free, Cullen intervenes and explains that times have changed and selling women is now forbidden. Elam says it's not up to Cullen, then herds Charlotte and the Comanche squaws towards Cheyenne.
On the train, Durant tells Abby that her father was despondent and took his own life after losing all his money in Union Pacific investments. "Did I kill him by including him in my railroad dreams?” says Durant. "Will I regret that the rest of my life? Absolutely. Am I a murderer? Obviously not." The train rolls to a stop, and Durant goes to speak with the conductor.
In the Cheyenne emporium, Elam tries to sell Charlotte and the Comanche squaws to a jeering crowd. Campbell arrives and instructs his men to "separate the Negro from his prisoners," then kill him. Cullen intervenes, pleading that Elam is his friend and has been through trauma akin to war. Campbell grants Cullen 15 minutes to "solve this charade."
Back on the train, the conductor ejects Heckard from the train car. Durant steps up behind Heckard and, wielding a large bone as a club, bludgeons Heckard to death.
In the Cheyenne emporium, Cullen attempts, and fails, to jog Elam's memory. Louise arrives and reprimands Campbell for letting Cullen try to defuse the situation alone. Campbell responds that he finds it "interesting to watch Mr. Bohannon confront the monster of his own creation."
Cullen brings Psalms to the emporium, and Elam immediately walks over and hugs Psalms. "My brother. It's good to see you," Elam says, then asks Psalms to "run to the big house and tell Mamma to get me something for my head. It's starting to hurt." Psalms pleads with Elam to stop, telling him he'll be killed for trying to sell the women, but Elam calls Psalms "Moses” and tells him he can't be killed.
Eva arrives at the emporium, and Cullen restrains her from going to Elam. Eva asks Louise to help, but Louise says the slave women's lives are at risk.
Cullen approaches Elam and tries to bring him to his senses, recounting the history of their friendship. Elam draws a knife, then grabs his head in agony. When Cullen reaches for Elam's knife, Elam slashes Cullen's forearm and repeats that his name is Bear Killer. Naomi arrives and yells for Cullen to get out of there, but he ignores her.
Eva offers Elam $100 for the slaves. Elam refuses, so Eva offers to trade herself instead. Charlotte screams at Elam that Eva is the one he's been looking for, and Elam beats Charlotte, screaming, “I told you it ain’t her!” Cullen lunges at Elam, throws him down, and cuts the rope binding the women to Elam. The women run to safety. Cullen tells Elam to get on his horse and ride before he gets shot. Elam responds by calling Cullen “the white devil” and shouts, “You gonna pay today."
Trying to keep himself between Elam and Campbell's sniper, Cullen dodges repeated swipes by Elam's knife, one of which slices Cullen across the chest. Cullen knocks Elam down with a punch and screams, "Wake up!" Elam gets up and charges Cullen, pushing him back against a fence. As Elam begins to push the tip of his knife into Cullen's forehead, Cullen looks Elam in the eye and says, "I'm sorry." He grabs the knife handle and quickly shoves the blade away from his head and down — directly into Elam's gut. Eva gasps.
Elam staggers backwards and pulls the knife out. He drops to his knees, feebly holds the knife up, and stares up at Cullen, dazed, still unrecognizing. They lock eyes for a moment, and then Cullen draws his pistol and fires a single round into Elam’s heart, killing him. Eva shrieks. Naomi covers her mouth and runs away. Psalms' eyes fill with tears.
Inside his tent, Cullen, in shock, sits on the edge of the bed as Naomi nervously stands in a corner with William in her arms. The sound of hammering draws Cullen outside, where he finds the freedmen hammering the lid of Elam's coffin into place. Psalms confronts Cullen and shouts, "What give you the right?" Cullen keeps walking.
Driving an empty buckboard, Cullen intercepts the freedmen as they carry Elam's coffin through town. "Please, put Mr. Ferguson in the back," he asks. Psalms motions to the freedmen to comply. Cullen sees Eva standing nearby and asks her if she wants to come, but she responds, "He ain't in that box."
On a hillside just outside of town, Cullen digs Elam's grave. Naomi arrives, but Cullen sends her away.
Finished with the hole, Cullen struggles with the coffin as he slides it off the buckboard and down to the ground. Angrily, he kicks the coffin repeatedly. Finally, exhausted, Cullen collapses into a sitting position on the edge of the coffin. Overcome by frustration and grief, he weeps loudly.
Common & producers on shocking Elam decision...
Last night, you witnessed what was one of the biggest shockers in the history of “Hell on Wheels.” Now, you are getting a little bit more information when it comes to why this happened in the first place. (Major spoilers ahead!)
Ultimately, the move to kill off the Elam Ferguson character came not as a result of the show’s own decision to let the character go, but rather out of Common’s own desire to focus more on his music career. In theory, he probably could have just left the show after season 3, but we are glad that he came back to do these two episodes to show even more of his capabilities as an actor.
Common spoke in a Deadline post that went online after the episode, and explained why he made the choice that he did:
“I got to say it wasn’t the easiest thing for me to do, but I have a lot aspects to my career that I wasn’t able to nurture being up in Calgary for so long every year filming Hell On Wheels … Acting is very, very important to me, but music is very important to me too.”
We also like the way that executive producer John Wirth explains this decision, mostly because it serves as an answer for some who may question why Common (real name Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr.) couldn’t just do more of his music during his time off of filming:
“This is a full-time job and it’s also a seasonal job, and the seasons of touring are basically the spring and the summertime when we shoot the show … So, for three years, Rashid had to put his music commitments on hold.”
This does not mean that losing Elam is an easy pill to swallow at all. It’s hard. He was a foundation for the show, and a fantastic actor to go along with it. Maybe this will give some other performers more to do, and we’re not going to let Common’s decision impact our own decision to keep watching and enjoying the show.
With that being said, we’re still choked up and haunted by the way last night ended. It may be one of the darkest moments of any show this year.