Hell on Wheels Season 4 Episode 12 Review: Thirteen Steps


This was a frustrating hour of Hell on Wheels, one I’ll probably still be trying to go over in my head until the season finale.

And maybe that’s a good thing that the episode was able to make me want to talk about it, to discuss Ruth’s decision.

Because for Hell on Wheels Season 4 Episode 12, this was an hour that took its time before getting to the final execution scene. It was all about Ruth’s choice, but it did ultimately affect the future action Cullen would wind up taking.

It’s tough for me because Ruth has never quite been a character I’ve clamored to see more of in the series, but for Hell on Wheels Season 4, it did try to build up her relationship as a mother with her adopted child, Ezra.

It was a big transition for her beyond just spreading the good word of God.

So I can only truly imagine how she must have felt after Ezra was burned alive during Sidney Snow’s church arson. To lose a child would be devastating.

Vengeance was her choice of action, a move she would have done the same if given a second chance. And she was willing to go to her grave standing up for her Ezra, his death and the consequences of her shooting Sid. To her, any way out beyond that was cowardly. She was willing to accept her fate because it was her choice and no one else’s.

But every time Ruth had an opportunity to live, to escape the noose, to accept a pardon or escape, she kept saying no. And that drove me nuts. I think it even drove Cullen a bit crazy too.

I know Ezra was her family, and I know that she couldn’t be with the man she loved, Cullen, but was there no way for her to move on? Was there no option to start something new, no matter how tragic or affecting an event might be?

Cullen’s family was killed, and while he went on a vengeance streak, he came out the other side a changed man, a better man, and now he has the opportunity to love again, to live again with a family of his own.

So why not Ruth? It just was frustrating to listen to their heart to hearts, to see Cullen try and convince her to live, and she wouldn’t. And that was pretty much most of the episode.

It was the long road to finally getting the bag over her head. Though I did like the artistic choice to not have us actually watch it but to get that perspective from under the hood.

I don’t think Cullen necessarily agreed with Ruth’s end decision, (and I certainly don’t), but he was still willing to come back and support her. And in a way, it allowed him to come to terms with the fact that he needed to make a decision as well.

To see him continue that forward progress on the railroad and watch the emotion come over him in front of Durant before a resounding “I quit” was allowing us to see Cullen recognize he needed or should want to go back to his family. The railroad was just a piece of his journey, and he had made his mark, he has affected so many people, so now it’s time to be with his wife and child.

But still, by the end of the hour, I remained frustrated as ever with Ruth’s multiple opportunities to live and choosing not to, even if the choice she made she felt was the right one. And that kind of left me with a bad taste overall for the way her character went out. Though, after such a major event, I'm certainly intrigued where the final stretch of Cullen Bohannon's journey will take him. That's one I've always been interested in and am looking forward to seeing how that plays out.

What did you think? Should Ruth have taken the pardon? Be sure to catch up before the season finale and watch Hell on Wheels online.

Sean McKenna was a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. He retired in May of 2017. Follow him on Twitter.

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