HELL ON WHEELS “Jamais Je Ne T’oublierai” Review

HELL ON WHEELS “Jamais Je Ne T’oublierai” Season 1 Episode 4 – This show makes a pretty interesting case study for television which has all the factors to make a great show: beautiful, distinct setting; definite sense of history; forward momentum; a bunch of strong characters thrown into the mix – some of whom do get along, most of whom don’t, but all have self-interests at heart. And yet while the writers sometimes know how to write decent dialogue “She used her organ like a velvet hand on me tallywhacker,” they more often than not get stuck in a rut of having all the characters sound the same with faux poetic speeches which become boring by the time you hit the sixth one, especially when they do nothing to advance the plot, the character, or to simply be entertaining.

But you can see, especially with this episode, how a show can change drastically from script to screen. At its core, our main character, Bohannon, spends much of this episode being incredibly stupid. He meets some random fellow outside a tent, accepts the man is who he says he is at face value, gallops off at an idiotic pace to chase after some fellow who rode northwards, finds this fellow and without even getting close enough to see if the guy is the one he’s looking for, begins shooting, getting his horse killed and returning to town only to get off his face on whiskey. When it started, this seemed like the poor man’s Clint Eastwood. But watching this episode, you can see where Bohannon is more like Matt Damon’s LaBoueff from 2010’s True Grit, with all of his false bravado and his bare competence as a survivalist. Yet the way Anson Mount is playing this character, you sense that his job as an actor is to keep his eyebrows as close to his nostrils as possible. There’s no joy or wit in the performance.

I understand. This is a dark show. But the darkest shows are, I find, the funniest. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia had plotlines surrounding crack addiction and baby funerals that were belly-aching hilarious. Breaking Bad and Mad Men are two of the funniest shows on television, and the humor there is purely observational. There’s no reason why everyone on this show has to look so glum. Even the Irish lads trying to steal a peak at the bathing prostitutes looked sad, like this was what their miserable existence had come to. The scene with them moaning about the bogs back home? Nineteenth century Ireland was rife with famine, prejudice, bigoted land reform acts and religious oppression. Being well to do white guys on a moving locomotive with a tent full of prostitutes at hand hardly seems like hell.

Common has second billing on the show, but I wish his character came to more than just making googly eyes at the tattooed prostitute and telling her that her eyeballs alone were worth at least a hundred horses. That scene should have been more ridiculous, but Common sold it for more than it was worth and it makes me wish he was given direction to loosen up and find a sense of humor. The show seems to be trying to build a relationship between Common and Bohannon (what is Common’s character’s name? I’m sure it’s not Common. That’d be weird.) All Deadwood needed for the relationship between McShane and Olyphant to develop were a few choice scenes. By episode three I was totally invested in their relationship, if not by episode two. I’m still holding out that the show will move on from “my wife’s dead and I need to shoot all them ones that killed her” and “I killed him ’cause he was about to kill you and I suffered as much as you have so just say thank you and be my buddy” and actually get a rapport going between these two.

Unfortunately, as we saw with the dreadful final scene, Anson Mount is probably the show’s biggest detriment (outside of the writing and storylines). He has zero chemistry with anyone. Now, some people can be standoffish and still have tons of chemistry sizzling. Archie Panjabi from The Good Wife comes to mind, as does Ian Somerholder from The Vampire Diaries, Joel McHale from Community, and of course Jon Hamm from Mad Men. Anson Mount, alas, fails to even get chemistry across, even in the really unsubtle moments like when he stares like an absolute perv into Lily Bell’s eyes, or watches her forlornly at night while she’s chilling with Durant.

What did you think of this episode? Sound off in the comments below.