Hell on Wheels Review: Thirteen Steps

As the show opens, Ruth (Kasha Kropinski) is sworn in to testify. Ruth stares at Cullen Bohannan (Anson Mount), before she pleads guilty. John Campbell (Jake Weber) prepares to present the court with a letter from Cullen, which suggests Ruth protected and saved lives by killing Sydney Snow. Ruth continues pleading guilty. Ruth is sentenced to death for her crime.

Judge Webber (Kevin Blatch) and John Campbell agree to write up a Death Warrant and put on a public execution. Cullen attempts to talk John out of the decision and suggests he can get Ruth to accept a pardon. Ruth says pardons are for cowards like Sydney Snow. She refuses Cullen’s offer.

We get a quick view of an old man and young boy on a train.

Meanwhile, Louise Ellison (Jennifer Ferrin) pays a visit to Campbell and begins insulting his actions, since his arrival. Louise blames everyone, with power in the city, for Ruth’s situation and hanging, if she is hung. Cullen releases Ruth and is prepared to send her to New York. Ruth continues to refuse Cullen’s offers.

Ruth brings up old wounds and admits she was ready to leave after Sean McGinnes died, but Cullen convinced her to stay. Now, she has decided to stay for herself.

After the show returns, Cullen is finally getting back to work on the railroad. Thomas Durant (Colm Meaney) pays him a visit and suggests Cullen should be with Ruth. Meanwhile, Dandy Johnny Shea (Andrew Howard) and Mickey McGinnes (Phil Burke) are up to no good, as they pay Campbell a visit. Mickey suggests Campbell find a way to get Ruth to accept his pardon or meet an early grave. Dandy finishes Cambpell’s glass of whiskey.

Cullen goes on a rampage and tears down the beginning of the gallows at the center of town. While Ruth awaits her fate behind bars, Cullen paces the town, before paying her a visit. Neither one could sleep.

Ruth questions whether Cullen would do anything different, if he could go back. He admits he would be a better husband and father. Ruth suggests she would be more patient, which gives Cullen a laugh. The construction continues on the gallows. Cullen discusses his visit to Washington D.C. after the war. What he thought was a political rally turned out to be a public execution. The execution was botched and the man spent ten minutes cocking and pissing himself. Cullen suggests the savage act became civilized in the nation’s capital.

Despite Cullen’s attempts, Ruth still seems intent on hanging. The gallows are getting closer to completion. Ruth admits she was angry once Cullen returned. The pair share a laugh about Ruth falling into horse poop. Ruth questions why it took Cullen so long to come see her. She admits she never thought he’d show up at the church that night, to which Cullen responds he will always show up.

Cullen lures Ruth to the window, as a candle light vigil is held outside on her behalf. Cullen suggests the town still needs a preacher. Ruth says she is no longer a preacher. The pair lie together and Cullen admits to loving Ruth and cannot lose her. Ruth confesses her feeling for Cullen and her regrets for not expressing her feeling earlier. Ruth suggests the brave choice is always family.

As the show returns, the old man and little boy from the train are seen getting dressed. After the gallows are tested, Cullen and Ruth awake, with Campbell and Webber coming for Ruth. Campbell attempts to force Cullen to read the Death Warrant to Ruth. Cullen suggests Ruth will accept the pardon, but she refuses. Ruth begs Cullen to here there, but he doesn’t answer.

Turns out the little boy and old man are the executioners. The older guy fits Ruth with a noose and discusses the process with her. George Junior (Dyland Schombing) suggests George Senior (Matt Cooke) has never hurt anyone before. Ruth tells Ellison about her savings in the bank. Ellison promises the people of the city will not forget about. Ruth suggests neither will be remembered, before George Senior gives them the signal to begin. Ruth questions Cullen’s presence, to which Ellison doesn’t have an answer.

And the death walk begins for Ruth. It is a long, slow walk, but Ruth remains stoic throughout. Ruth’s hands are tied in front of her, as the townsfolk watch quietly. Her legs are tied together in a similar manner and finally the noose is placed around her neck. At this point, she is shaking and crying. Cullen enters the crowd and Ruth tells them to wait. Everyone awaits Ruth’s last words, but she says nothing. Nothing can be seen, except for the inside of the mask, as it sounds like Ruth is possibly dropped to her death.

Cullen continues work on the railroad and suggest that God has given up on the city. Louise and Campbell argue over Ruth and Louise’s article about the situation. Ellison vows to continue to keep the story in the headlines. Meanwhile, Cullen attempts to remove rocks with the crane. After nearly overheating the machinery, the rocks finally being to move to make way for the railway.

Doc suggests bringing in more workers and that they’ll make it to the summit, within a month. Before the show ends, Cullen says he quits.


After some rocky episodes and a long layoff, Hell on Wheels is finally back on track, with two strong episodes. While the episode mainly focuses on Ruth and her impending execution, a lot happened. Dandy and Mickey threatened Campbell, in case anything happens to Ruth. On the other hand, Campbell has likely ruined his relationship with Cullen and Ellison. Is this the beginning up an uprising? Things were definitely setup nicely for the season finale next week.

On the other hand, Kasha Kropinki did an excellent job playing the “dead woman walking”. The whole execution was bleak and depressing. Yet, it is a modern struggle that many American states still face today. Overall, this was an effective episode and a great lead-in for the finale. An 8.5 out of 10 should do it!

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