Eddie Spears as Joseph Black Moon in Episode One/Pilot. Credit: AMC
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AMC has been at the forefront of daring storytelling, what with Mad Men, the sadly-cancelled Rubicon and Breaking Bad. AMC is now treading the stories of the Western genre by introducing their new show, Hell on Wheels. Here’s the official rundown:
Hell on Wheels is a contemporary Western that centers on former Confederate soldier Cullen Bohannon, portrayed by Anson Mount, whose quest for vengeance has led him to the Union Pacific Railroad’s westward construction of the first transcontinental railroad. Developed by Endemol USA and produced by Entertainment One (eOne) and Nomadic Pictures, Hell on Wheels is created, written, and executive-produced by Joe and Tony Gayton (Faster, Uncommon Valor, The Salton Sea, Bulletproof). The series premieres Sun., Nov. 6 at 10/9c.
Hell on Wheels underscores the network’s commitment to the Western, following its first original mini-series event, Broken Trail. The mini-series premiere, in Jun. 2006, was the second-most-watched cable movie since 1995 and delivered the network record ratings, including an average 7.7 household rating and nearly 10 million total viewers over its two-night airing.*
“AMC’s commitment to the Western is long-standing, and the genre is an important part of our brand and history as a channel,” said Charlie Collier, president of AMC. “In Hell on Wheels, AMC is creating another epic and enduring American story.”
In addition to Mount (City by the Sea, Cook County, ABC’s Line of Fire), Hell on Wheels stars musician-actor Common (Just Wright, Date Night) as Elam, Dominique McElligott (Moon, The Philanthropist) as Lily Bell, Colm Meaney (The Conspirator, Get Him to the Greek) as Durant, Ben Esler (The Pacific) as Sean, Phil Burke (Mercy) as Mickey, and Eddie Spears (Into the West) as Joseph.
And here’s the trailer for the series:
Of course, when you have a Western, you obviously have to talk about the effects Manifest Destiny had on the Native Americans. Until recent memory, Native Americans were generally portrayed in a less-than-savory light in Westerns. It’s only lately, i.e. the ’70s, when we started getting the post-modern Western, where the good guys might be bad guys (the Dirty Harry films), the bad guys might have a good motive, and the Native Americans aren’t godless beings–their people with a culture and a religion and traditions that are getting bowled over by the ruthlessness of American settlers, and they’re trying to come to grips with what is basically an invasion of their home.
From what I’ve seen, Hell on Wheels looks like it’s along the same line of the post-modern Western–I’d venture to say that it’s post-post-Modern: it seems to be even grittier and more realistic than even post-Modern Westerns. I think a good way to describe the series is that it’s like a Nolan-verse Western show. Just like how the American westerner story will be grittier, the Native American story is going to be just as gritty. Here’s a clip of what happens in the first episode (WARNING: GRAPHIC):
WOW, eh? Personally, I don’t know if I’ll even be able to review this episode because I would be squirming and hiding my eyes way too much, and for Indian Country Today Media Network, that level of violence might be a touchy point with Native American audiences.
The website writes that because Native Americans have been used as the villains in Westerns for so long, and to see Native Americans in a violent role from the get-go might be a cliche. However, we can also counter the level of violence seen by the (according to the site )Cheyenne featured in the clip with the level of violence of the lead white character Cullen.
Even with their reservations, the site hesitates to make a concrete judgement, since only the first episode has been aired. We’ve got plenty more shows to watch before a concrete judgement can be made. I agree–we’ve got to wait and see what happens.
Personally, I have to think that there will be a balanced storytelling style for the Native American’s side of the show. Let’s not forget that the terrifying side of the Native Americans we saw in the clip is because they are viewing the settlers as the enemy who are encroaching on their home. If someone was invading your house, you’d look quite terrifying too–why do you think people own guns in their homes? But I think we’ll see some balanced, nuanced storytelling as far as the NA characters are concerned because of some of the storyline we’ve had revealed to us:
In the Vancouver Observer, it has been reported Canadian actor Gerald Auger (TNT’s Into the West)has landed a role on the show as Pawnee Killer, a regular character on the show who is part of the Native American resistance. He’s also ruthless toward any white settler in order to gain acceptance from his father, Many Horses (Wes Studi). Auger joins Eddie Spears (Into the West; Guns, Girls and Gambling), who plays Joseph Black Moon on the show. Speaking of Joseph, here’s his official bio:
Joseph struggles with the difference between his cultural heritage and the ever-changing world around him. He tries to bring his people into the reservation and although he hates the idea, hopes his people’s safety can be guaranteed.
Because of what has been revealed by the Observer and Joseph, it would seem there is going to be an exploration of emotions and motives instead of just showing the bows and arrows.
I said before that I don’t know if I will be watching the show just because of my tolerance level, but I have watched all three Godfather movies and love them even with the violence, so I think I can force myself to watch this show, because I really want to analyze the Native American (and African American!) aspect further.
If you want to check out Hell on Wheels, you can see the first episode on the Hell on Wheels show page. Hell on Wheels airs every Sunday at 10/9c.