Elam and Cullen have been spoiling for a fight since the moment they met and now tensions are even higher because payroll is two weeks late. Thanks to Doc, they finally get to duke it out in a testosterone-soaked boxing match. Doc sees it as an opportunity to distract everyone from the fact that he has no money, while Cullen sees it as his chance to put Elam in his "place." Elam, who's been angling to become the freedmen's walking boss, sees it as a chance to stand up for himself. Elam looks to be losing the match until his friend Psalms fires him up, reminding him of the white man who fathered him by raping his mother. Cullen becomes a proxy for the slave owner who oppressed Elam; when you've got that kind of rage fueling you, it's kind of hard to lose. Plus, Sean dosed the bandages on Elam's fists with pepper and then bets against Cullen at 30-to-1 odds.
Lily sees the match from afar and recognizes it for the cheap distraction that it is. Doc is desperate and losing ground. She confesses to him that she has the maps he so desperately wants and that her husband Robert did, indeed, find passage through the Rockies. But she's not ready to give them up just yet, and tells Doc that she wants what Robert was owed. Whether this is money or respect or something else remains to be seen.
Elsewhere, Joseph and Reverend Cole are just about set off to warn Joseph's father that soldiers will be coming to avenge the survey team deaths when the Reverend's daughter shows up in town. Young Ruth hasn't seen her father in fifteen years and has come to tell him her mother is dead. The Reverend, who's so welcoming to strangers, is almost cruelly cold to his daughter. He allows her to stay in the church tent and then goes to meet Many Horses. Many Horses agrees to come into town to talk peace, but another of his sons has had a vision brought on by enduring a flesh-piercing Sun Dance. He saw himself fighting and killing a great metal beast. Symbolic! Stay tuned for the full recap.
Previously: Elam took exception to Cullen calling him by his first name, rather than his surname as he does with the white workers. Elam made friends with the tattooed prostitute. The Swede extorted "protection" money from Sean and Mickey. Cullen chased down Sergeant Harper but failed to kill him. He blamed Elam because he's kind of a jerk. Lily hid the survey maps before she came into town, and pretended not to know whether or not her late husband had found a path through the Rockies. Cullen finally started acting like the boss he was hired to be after a shipment of black powder exploded.
Currently: Wes Studi's voice says, "It is good to make this sacrifice where the sun can look down and see you." Sorry, but I'm writing this recap at night. Oh, wait, he's talking about a Cheyenne ritual. A man in wolf fur leads a small group of men through the trees and onto the grassy plain. He waves a bundle of smoldering herbs. A young man in a loincloth and white body paint drags a felled tree behind him. "It is a great privilege to dance with the sun. The sacrifice will be hard, but you are strong and brave." The tree is anchored to a hole in the ground and leather straps are lashed to a fork at its top. "You will not give up, as I did not give up when my father brought me to this place." Wes Studi is Many Horses. He's wearing a feather-adorned buffalo head atop his own. He takes a knife, squeezes the flesh above his son's left nipple and makes a cut. The son takes a shaky breath but doesn't scream. I screamed a little bit for both of us. "Follow the sun all day and pray." The straps are hooked into the fresh wounds. "If you are strong and true, your sacrifice will be rewarded, and you will have a vision." The son leans back, the weight of his body pulling the straps taut. He shakes and prays under his breath as the other men leave. The haunting wood pipe music gives way to the twangy opening credits.
Remember that episode of the X-Files where the Jim Rose character was stringing himself up by the nipples with little fishhooks? He said, "If people knew the true price of spirituality, there'd be a lot more atheists." The guy in the teaser must be super-duper spiritual.
As Cullen makes his way through Hell on Wheels, everyone's uncharacteristically pleasant to him. Guys are smiling at him and tipping their hats and calling him Mr. Bohannon instead of Hey Asshole. Naturally, Cullen eyes all of this with wariness. He knows he's a jerk, so people being nice to him just feels weird and wrong. He walks along the track, his steps inadvertently synching up with the beat in the soundtrack. It's like he's a grumpier version of Tony Manero or something. Lily, waiting outside Doc's train car on a horse, smiles as he approaches. He tips his hat a bit, but keeps going. She clears her throat and he thinks she's chastising him, so he takes his hat off all the way and stops for a chat. "It's not your manners, Mr. Bohannon, it's your manner," she says. As evidenced by his blank stare, semantics are not his strong suit, so Lily explains why everyone's being so deferential to him: "Yesterday, when everyone was running from the disaster, you walked calmly in. You are their hero, Mr. Bohannon." She gives him a big smile like maybe he's her hero, too, but Cullen just looks about as uncomfortable as usual.