It's the end of the line for Cullen Bohannon and his work on the first US transcontinental railroad in Hell on Wheels. The final push to finish brings a reckoning for Bohannon and the men standing in his path: the bloodthirsty Swede; the mercenary Chang; and the rapacious Thomas Durant. Bohannon contends with corruption, greed and murder as he leads the trek to complete the final stages of the building of the railroad.
The end is nigh! After four whole seasons and one-half season, 'Hell On Wheels' comes to a close. Through thick and thin fans have gotten to know this ragtag set of characters as they struggle to complete the first transcontinental railroad and hammer home the Golden Spike. We've seen characters come and go. Some came and went happily; others met a gruesome and painful end. As 'Hell on Wheels: Season 5, Volume 2' proves, endings can be a long time coming, perhaps a bit overdue, but sad and bittersweet affairs.
With the end of the railroad in sight, Cullen Bohannan's (Anson Mount) journey to the Pacific ocean is nearly complete. The Golden Spike linking the California with the Transcontinental Railroad is ready to be hammered home in Utah. The problem is, Cullen has to find a safe and timely way of cutting a hole through the Sierra Mountains. When dealing with unstable nitroglycerine, nothing is safe. If the railroad is to be completed, Cullen will have to balance new challenges while finally putting an end to old rivalries.
If 'Hell on Wheels: Season 5, Volume 1' felt like the end was near, there is a sense of absolute finality to 'Volume 2.' Characters who were long overdue for a reckoning will meet their deserved ends while characters who should possibly have met a more painful demise will live on but endure the tragic sense of loss. Suffice to say, no one comes out of this show clean. Some get to go on and you do hope they lead something resembling a happy life, but deep down we know they probably won't. We've come this far with these characters and we know their true natures. Happiness and a life of fulfillment isn't in the cards for certain people.
Forgive my vagaries when describing the outcome of 'Hell on Wheels: Season 5, Volume 2,' but I just can't bring myself to discuss anything in great detail because so much happens in this final stretch of seven episodes. If you're wondering how the slick and conniving Doc Durant played by Colm Meaney turns out - you're going to have to watch and see for yourself. No doubt you're wondering if Christopher Heyerdahl's The Swede and Anson Mount's Cullen Bohannan will finally settle their long-brewing feud once and for all - but I'm not going to tell you here. I will just say it ends very painfully for one and a bit more hopeful for the other. It's the kind of ending intended for these characters.
The best that I can do as someone who enjoyed the entire run of 'Hell on Wheels' speaking to both fans who didn't make it this far and to people just now discovering the show is to say this: it's worth every minute of the journey. As I stated in my review of 'Volume 1' of this final season, I was a bit irritated by the split nature of the season and how a number of stories and side characters within the show felt overly prolonged. I'm pleased to report that a lot of that material - while extraneous and still somewhat unnecessary - does pay off in a big way in the home stretch. As much as I hate to see the end of a good show, I'm glad 'Hell on Wheels' reached its end still swinging. So often a show is outright canceled without giving the story or fans a sense of closure, or the end completely one-cheeked and a sad spinoff is attempted to prolong the glory. Worse yet, some shows just don't know when to quit and keep going long past their exportation date and fans have stopped caring. Thankfully, 'Hell on Wheels' doesn't fall into that trap. Five seasons was just right to tell this tall tale of the American west.
I grew up watching westerns as a kid in the 80s. Up until the early 90s with films like 'Unforgiven' and 'Dances with Wolves,' the Western was still a reliable cinematic genre that could pull in big box office numbers and awards. Today, sadly, things are not quite so rosy for the once beloved genre. Sure, some new flicks come along here and there or there are some big budget genre mashups with science fiction or horror, but the true and pure Western has all but dissolved away into the ether. As I mourned the premature loss of 'Deadwood,' I was excited to see a cable network like AMC bank so much on an expensive show like 'Hell on Wheels' and commit to it through its entirety. 'Hell on Wheels' was never the big money maker that 'The Walking Dead' has been, but it had a fervent fanbase and it treated its audience with respect. With the book on 'Hell on Wheels' now closed, I'm eager to see what comes next for my beloved genre. As I wait, I'll at least have 57 episodes of quality entertainment to tide me over.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Hell on Wheels: Season Five, Volume 2' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of AMC and eOne. The final seven episodes are spread over two region free BD50 discs. Disc one loads to trailers for other AMC shows before arriving at an animated main menu with traditional navigation options. Disc two loads directly to the animated main menu. Both discs are housed in a sturdy two-disc Blu-ray case with identical slip cover artwork. As with Volume One, a flier reminding people about the presence of The Walking Dead is also included.
'Season Five, Volume Two' arrives with a traditionally excellent 1080p 1.78:1 transfer if slightly off from the previous volume. While the show has always been an amazing looking program that made the best of the Blu-ray format, the visual mold was more or less broken by 'Season Five, Volume One.' It's on that note, that I'm actually a tad bummed to report that 'Volume Two' is a return to the drab muddy looking locations of previous seasons with only a few leaps to some beautiful scenic locations. All around everything is great looking, the detail levels are perfect, there aren't any issues with compression and black levels provide a rich sense of depth. However, with only a few exceptions, it feels like these final episodes largely take place in smoky rooms so the visual punch isn't as impressive as it was in 'Volume One' of Season 5. It's still a beautiful show to look at and this transfer is impeccable, it's just not as amazing to look at as I would have liked considering how this final season started out.
Once again, 'Hell on Wheels' is given some impressive English DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mixes for each episode of this 'Volume Two' set. Dialogue is on point and clear throughout without any distractions from music or sound effects elements. Throughout every episode, even the most conversational and quiet ones, there is a terrific sense of atmosphere and space, there is constant background noise or a something happening to keep those surround channels operating. There's really not much more to be said about the audio tracks for this set that hasn't already been said about the rest of the season.
All Supplementary material are found on Disc Two.
A Look at the Final Episodes: (HD 3:58) Another all too quick EPK breakdown of the final episodes. I wish they'd gone all out for this final volume and given fans some rich bonus features but they're not to be found. Just more of the same.
Wrap Up: (HD 4:05) This is a nice little cast interview collection as everyone talks about the good times they had and how they're sad to see the show end but glad it's going out on a high note.
Golden Spike: (HD 1:19) Another very brief and undercooked historical look that focuses on the completion of the railroad and what happened as a result of hammering home the golden spike.
Inside the Episodes: (HD totaling 28:15) These brief recaps of previous episodes and foretelling of future events border on spoilers, but if you've kept up with the show thus far, there's nothing too surprising in here.
'Hell on Wheels' has come to an end. The railroad reached the Pacific ocean. Some of our favorite characters lived to see the bitter end. Some didn't. It was a long haul, but a worthwhile one and 'Season 5, Volume 2' brings the show to a satisfying conclusion. This Blu-ray release sports a strong A/V presentation. Again extra features are a bit slim. If you're a fan of the show, you're going to want to pick this up. If you're new to the show, this is the end point to work towards and well worth the total ride. 'Hell on Wheels: Season 5, Volume 2' is recommended.