"Hell on Wheels" A New Birth of Freedom (TV Episode 2011) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Cullen's search for the sergeant is diverted by an unexpected obstacle. Durant organizes a search party to retrieve the missing Lily Bell.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Sean McGinness (Ben Esler) gripes that their business is failing. Brother Mickey (Phil Burke) dares Sean to talk with local prostitute Eva () comes across a photo of foreman Johnson with a group of Union soldiers. As with his wife in the previous episode, Cullen thinks on his previously killing three of the men in the picture. His eyes fixate on an inscription of a fourth soldier: Sgt. Harper.

    Back at work, Cullen gives his crew their cut assignment, but The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl) has other plans for them - find Lily Bell and receive $100. Cullen threatens all of them with termination should they take Swedes offer. Elam (Common) offers that his crew of freedmen can handle the entire assignment, that the white workers can go. Before releasing the men, Cullen inquires about a Frank Harper. Hes told Harper was westward with the logging crew. Alone with Cullen, Elam asks him what he plans to do with Harper.

    In Nebraska, Cullen finds Joseph Black Moon (Eddie Spears) with an unconscious Lily (Dominique McElligott), her wounds worsening. Cullen digs out a remnant of an arrow, the cause of Lily's infection. This causes her to wake up, screaming. Once he sees she's stabilizing, Cullen leaves only to return. He knows Joseph would be killed if he brought Lily back to town. The news of the massacre has circulated and everyone would assume Joseph, an Indian, was accountable. Cullen assumes escort duty of Lily. Awake, Lily scrambles for her husband's landscaping maps. Cullen has them. She asks if she's offended him. "You shouldn't be out here," he replies.

    Three men try to "rescue" Lily, who then learns of her bounty. Cullen shoots all three men. Lily escapes on a horse, during the shootout. Cullen catches her, escorts to Hell on Wheels, then tells her where to find a doctor. "What about the bounty?" she asks. Cullen replies he has only four hours of daylight to get Cheyenne territory - his main objective.

    The Swede informs Durant (Colm Meaney) that workers are bailing because of the massacre, complaining of Cullen not wanting his men to join the posse. Cullen is getting the railroad built, though. Meanwhile, the new engineer (Chris Ippolito) proposes a straighter route in order meet the 40-mile rail deadline. He is told to stick to the planned route. Durant telegraphs Senator Crane (James D. Hopkin), appealing for federal troops. "To heal the nation," Durant offers, "we must displace the savage." Senator Crane wires back about the troop request, the pacing of the construction, and Robert Bell's murder. Durant gets drunk and laments the entire project. He stumbles through Hell on Wheels and stops at the magic-lantern show. Sean offers Durant a private performance and compliments him for being a great capitalist. While viewing the slides of Ireland, Durant asks Sean why he and Mickey left there to "wallow in this filth." Mickey relates being a lad and traveling to Dublin by train. "The railroad gave you freedom," says Durant.

    Joseph returns to the church tent. "I prayed you'd stay away," says Reverend Cole (Tom Noonan). The massacre wasn't Josephs fault, he says. Joseph, disagrees, admitting that his brother was among the attackers. Never speak of this again, instructs Cole. Alone, Joseph cuts his hair short.

    At Hell on Wheels, Reverend Cole conducts a funeral for the massacre victims, quoting the Bible and pleading with the townsfolk to not seek revenge. Durant quotes another biblical passage, describing situations that justify war. Durant takes over the sermon, telling the men there to not let "Stone Age primitives" slow things down. Praising Joseph for adopting the white man's ways, Durant says that there may be peace if other Indians also follow. If they don't, he adds, they are the authors of their own destruction.

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