Review: Hell on Wheels: The Complete Fourth Season (Blu-ray)

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Title: Hell on Wheels: The Complete Fourth Season
Format: Blu-ray / DVD
Release Date: August 11, 2015
Studio: Entertainment One
Original MSRP: $49.98 (Blu-ray) / $39.98 (DVD)
Number of Discs: 4
Language: English
Subtitles: English
MPAA Rating: NR
A copy of this movie was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

Editor’s Note:
While I will strive to keep the major events of Season Four under wraps, necessity dictates that plotlines from earlier Seasons are fair game. In other words, There Be Spoilers Ahead! You have been warned.

Audio Review:
The audio review for this disc is available on Episode 435 of the podcast.

Story:
The Hell on Wheels series is loosely based on the building of the Union Pacific railroad after the Civil War. While there are a number of historical figures used as characters in the show, many are fictional creations built specifically for this historical drama. Our main character, Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount), is fictional. As such, he’s placed in situations and storylines that allow the writers to explore various aspects of the westward expansion of the railroad without the need for historical accuracy.

At the end of Season Three, Bohannon was living in the Mormon stronghold of Fort Smith, married to Naomi the Mormon girl pregnant with his child after an ill-advised affair. He still has to contend with the Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl), who is impersonating the Mormon Bishop Dutson. The Swede killed Dutson and his wife after meeting them on their way to the fort.

Bohannon thought the Swede was dead and was shocked to find him here. His main concern becomes survival, the welfare of his wife and child, and exposing the Swede as an imposter. If you move directly from Season Three to Four you’ll immediately run up against the jarring recasting of Naomi (MacKenzie Porter). While I wasn’t too thrilled with it at first, Porter does a fine job over the course of the season.

Back at the Union Pacific, Thomas Durant (Colm Meaney) is back in charge and life goes on without Bohannon, but not without cost. His replacement as Chief Engineer overseeing construction, Martin Delaney (David Wilson Barnes), doesn’t seem up to the task. The railroad is facing setback after setback and ends up stuck in Cheyenne.

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Keeping the railroad in Cheyenne for pretty much the whole season allows the introduction John Campbell (Jake Weber), the first Governor of the Wyoming Territory. Weber shines in the role of Campbell, a natural rival for Durant, as the two nearly tear the town apart while trying to assert their own control.

Campbell’s need to bring law and order to the wild frontier town builds much of the drama and tension for the season leaving no character unscathed. Bohannon’s return to Cheyenne simply adds a wild card into the mix as he’s not one to take orders from anyone, let alone a carpetbagger like Campbell.

Some of the characters seemed to drift along this season with no real purpose, Eva especially, while others were brought to the forefront and given a big bump in screen time, such as Ruth.

The season is replete with surprising twists, shocking plot developments, and some moments that just feel ludicrous, but that’s what viewers have come to expect from the fictional retelling of the Union Pacific construction. While previous seasons ran ten episodes, Season Four runs to thirteen. The extra three allowed the writers to explore some of the storylines more fully but it did feel like things were dragging a bit by the end.

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Video:
The show looks great on Blu-ray. Having been shot in Canada, the wide, sweeping vistas are shown off beautifully. Set design is excellent with a lot of attention paid to the growing town of Cheyenne. Everything in town looks right for the time period and the streets are a big muddy mess as they should be.

There’s some CGI early on in the season which looks a little suspect but elsewhere the effects, both practical and digital, hold up nicely. The gunshot wounds, arrows, even a grisly amputation all look as real as possible, helping to keep you in the moment.

Audio:
The only options are English audio and English subtitles and I’m actually quite happy that the subtitles were included. Thick accents make it easy to miss a word here or there and I found myself rewinding on more than one occasion to turn on the subtitles.

Dialogue comes across crisp and clear (but not always coherent) while the ambient sounds and music draw you in and help keep you in the moment. Slightly more modern music is used here and there to punctuate a scene but everything chosen actually fits well without taking you out of the time period.

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Bonus Features:
While there’s nearly an hour and twenty minutes worth of content here it’s broken down into such short bursts that it feels like much less. It feels like more time could have been spent on many of the features including The New Characters of Season 4 and the Cheyenne Set Tour.

The Inside Hell on Wheels Featurettes are short behind the scenes looks at each episode of the season. Again, a little more substance would have made for a better addition and more insight but still, there’s a lot of content here.

  • A Look At Season 4 (3:12)
  • The New Characters Of Season 4 (3:24)
  • On The Set With Colm Meaney (1:10)
  • On The Set With Jake Weber (1:16)
  • Cheyenne Set Tour (4:27)
  • Anson Mount Retrospective (1:40)
  • Inside Hell on Wheels Featurettes
    • The Elusive Eden (5:43)
    • Escape From The Garden (5:15)
    • Chicken Hill (5:02)
    • Reckoning (5:26)
    • Life’s A Mystery (5:38)
    • Bear Man (3:45)
    • Under Color Of Law (4:42)
    • Two Trains (5:23)
    • Return To Hell (5:37)
    • Making Of Return To Hell (1:42)
    • Bleeding Kansas (5:10)
    • Thirteen Steps (4:53)
    • Further West (4:50)
    • Making Of Further West (1:56)

Conclusion:
The end is in sight as everything in Season Four sets up the final season of the series airing now. While there are some head scratching choices, particularly the fate of the Swede, there was enough going on this season to keep the interest level up.

Adding John Campbell into the mix with his crusade for law and order was a great way to shake up the show and put nearly everyone in mortal danger. If the railroad has moved on from Cheyenne it’ll be interesting to see who or what will keep Durant on his toes for Season Five. Regardless of the historical (in)accuracies of the show, it’s entertaining as hell.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were provided by the publisher.

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Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 25 different consoles and 6 different handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation – minus the Switch.

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