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Hell On Wheels: The Complete Second Season(TV) (2012)
Set in the 1860s it centers on former confederate soldier Cullen Bohannan, whose quest for vengeance has led him to the Union Pacific Railroad's westward construction of the first Transcontinental Railroad.
For more about Hell On Wheels: The Complete Second Season and the Hell On Wheels: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray release, see Hell On Wheels: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on August 20, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Anson Mount, Colm Meaney, Common, Christopher Heyerdahl, Tom Noonan, Robin McLeavy
» See full cast & crew
Hell On Wheels: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray Review
Cutting away the 'Deadwood'.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, August 20, 2013
Hell on Wheels has come under fire by some for supposedly being a Deadwood wannabe, and there are certainly at least a few passing similarities between the two series. Gritty post-Civil War setting? Check. A burgeoning town which seems at time like little more than an encampment? Check. A varied cast of characters that includes a motley crew of vagabonds, schemers, and even the occasional dreamer? Check. A morally questionable (and questioning) hero? Check. An imperious "overlord" attempting to move characters around his personal chessboard like so many pawns? Check and mate. But Hell on Wheels has seemed more and more intent on carving its own unique identity, something that comes into sharper focus in this second season. The series is still probably best in its small character moments than in its overriding story of the attempt to push westward to forge the Transcontinental Railroad. In fact, for a series supposedly focusing on trains, there's precious little time given to them, and instead the series shifts its attention to a number of side stories that are of course tangentially linked to the building effort since the characters have been brought together by that very situation. Hell on Wheels takes a couple of bold steps in its sophomore year, including starting the season out seemingly without a central role for the series' putative main character, grieving former Confederate soldier Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount). Some may feel the opening two episodes of the season are therefore a bit of a cheat, since in tried and true television fashion, everything is more or less returned to its previous status after a few detours, but on another level, this perhaps questionable gambit at least allows the series to start to delve more thoroughly into some of the other extremely colorful characters that make up the large and at times ungainly cast.
The first season of Hell on Wheels ended on a rather unsettling note, as Cullen's long quest for vengeance played out like a wild west version of Sawyer's similar arc on Lost: The Complete Collection. The unstated question became: what will Cullen do next? That question is answered rather quickly in the first episode of the second season, and if that answer is a bit unlikely or contrived, it at least sets up a couple of really interesting new dynamics, including the one between Cullen and Elam (Common). In fact much of this second season is built around shifting power structures with a number of formerly relatively powerless characters starting to feel their oats, while at least one major powerhouse is brought to his or her knees.
The contrivance that keeps Cullen away from Hell on Wheels is rather quickly and conveniently solved, though the reason Cullen has been away sets up a series of new conflicts, kind of half-grudgingly with Elam but more seriously with the rank and file building the railroad. The show seems to want to posit Cullen almost as a Christ figure in some of the early episodes, showing a despised, wounded hero, but Cullen's background and morally ambiguous nature makes that comparison dangerous, if not downright wrongheaded. Hell on Wheels still tends to toe the line a bit too carefully in trying to keep Cullen from being too objectionable, but I would argue that the series finds some of its most visceral moments when the character is completely out of control.
Colm Meaney has a field day in this season as his impresario Durant has one of the more important storylines in the latter half of the season. Meaney's Durant can be rather unexpectedly gentle with Lily (Dominique McElligott), who is now both under his employ and romantically involved with him, but then the next moment he can erupt into drunken violence against Cullen. It's a really fascinatingly shaded performance and one of the best reasons to keep watching this season. Another standout is Robin McLeavy as Eva, the erstwhile "working girl" whose romance with Elam would seem to have been halted by her marriage of convenience. Emphasis on seem to have been halted. And in two scene stealing roles are Christopher Heyerdahl as The Swede (despite the character being Norwegian), who has been demoted to being a mortician of sorts, and especially Tom Noonan as Reverend Cole, whose battle with the demon drink isn't going very well.
The series continues to be extremely well written, though the writing tends to work best in microcosm, when characters are interacting with each other, often in rather florid and poetic dialogue, than in macrocosmic character developments or big plot machinations. Part of this may simply be due to the fact that the series has so many characters that crafting a through line that includes all of them can be difficult if not impossible. But for those who dismissed Hell on Wheels as a second rate Deadwood, this second season provides some ample proof that there's a rather distinctive point of view here. A little more focus and perhaps "mini-arcs" featuring one or two characters at a time might help the overall shape of the series, but this series continues to offer some unusual and unusually compelling characters in a dramatic setting.
Hell On Wheels: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray, Video Quality
Hell on Wheels: The Complete Second Season is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Entertainment One with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1Śwell, at least some of the time. Is someone on staff at this show a fan of number games? The reason I ask is it turns out only episodes 1, 7, and 8 are actually in a full 1.78:1 aspect ratio (get it?: 1, 7, 8 and 1.78). The other seven episodes of this season are just ever so slightly windowboxed, as a quick look at the screenshots accompanying this review will clearly show. Now I must admit I frankly did not notice this at all as I was actually watching this season; it was only after I took the screenshots and saw the windowboxing that I was a bit perplexed and investigated further, coming up with which episodes were done various ways. Why this happened is anyone's guess. In the wild and wooly ways of television production (much like the wild and wooly ways of the era this series depicts), things are often done under the gun and perhaps a different camera or aperture was used, either inadvertently or otherwise. The size difference of the image is so small (our resident aspect ratio guru Deciazulado has calculated that it's less than a 2% difference) that it really amounts to a negligible difference, and my hunch is if I hadn't pointed it out here (and we hadn't provided documentary evidence), few would have ever realized it.
As to the actual look of this series on Blu-ray: it continues to be one of the most impressive looking shows currently on television. Though digitally shot, Hell on Wheels is one of the more naturally filmic looking series, with a gritty ambience that helps offset the sometimes antiseptic appearance of high def video. Colors are toyed with rather aggressively at times, with efforts varying from desaturation to slate grays and blues, but fine detail remains commendable almost all of the time. The location photography is often stunning, with incredible depth of field and unusually crisp definition even in relatively far off objects like groves of trees. The tonal range here is often astounding, even given the color grading issue. While the series tends to delight in earth tones, muddy blacks and gritty grays, there are lovely pops of color both in the locations as well as some of the costumes various characters wear. The wild, wild west may indeed never have been quite this pretty (and/or relatively gussied up), but Hell on Wheels pushes those concerns to the sidelines as it offers a really spectacular visual experience.
Hell On Wheels: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Hell on Wheels' lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix continues to set the same high bar that the series' first season did. Once again, there are a glut of nicely placed foley effects, and not necessarily only gunfire and the sounds of the train tracks being pounded into submission. Some of the best effects are the subtle ones, as in a chilling scene where Eva's early morning routine of hanging her laundryŚwith the sheets rustling peacefully in the breezeŚis suddenly interrupted by the chilling far off sound of a Sioux war cry. Dialogue is cleanly presented, though occasionally the series' music overpowers individual scenes. A lot of people evidently love the quasi-contemporary blues and country songs that dot the soundtrack here; I'm not one of them. I think the series would do much better with a less anachronistic score. Either way, the music is rendered beautifully here, with crispness and precision.
Hell On Wheels: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Hell On Wheels: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I actually was rather easily caught up in Cullen's story in the first season of Hell on Wheels, though I completely understood those who thought the series was a B-grade Deadwood. My hunch is even some of the naysayers will be pleasantly surprised with some of the twists and turns this second season takes. The series still tends to work best in its intimate moments rather than its larger plot arcs, but I was continually impressed with the intelligence of the writing throughout this season. The show continues to be one of the most handsomely mounted series on television right now, and this Blu-ray offers those visuals with a high degree of excellence. The conceit that starts off the second season is fairly useless, but that's more than offset by a number of startling developments for a number of both featured and supporting characters. Highly recommended.
Hell on Wheels: Other Seasons
Hell On Wheels: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Hell on Wheels: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray - May 29, 2013
Entertainment One has detailed the Blu-ray release of Hell on Wheels: The Complete Second Season. The next ten-episode entry in AMC's post-Civil War series stars Anson Mount, Colm Meaney, Dominique McElligott, Common, Ben Esler, Phil Burke, Christopher Heyerdahl, ...
Hell On Wheels: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray, Forum Discussions
Hell On Wheels: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray Screenshots
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