Just as Doc and Lily return to town from their Chicago trip, their train derails and kills or injures just about everyone aboard. Doc and Lily are spared, but shaken. Just before the wreck, they saw several Cheyenne men waiting and watching in the distance, so they immediately surmise they are at fault. Indeed, even Joseph puts the blame on his brother, whose name isn't Terrible Tracker but Pawnee Killer. Doc wants Cullen to lead some cavalrymen and Joseph to find Pawnee Killer and the other renegades, but the Swede informs him that Cullen is a fugitive after rescuing Elam from a hanging. Doc is incensed – not at Cullen, but at the Swede for condoning the hanging. The freedmen work twice as hard for half the pay and Doc can't afford for them to leave now.
Cullen returns just then and whoops the Swede's ass but good. Off Cullen goes with Elam, Joseph and the cavalrymen. Cullen immediately clashes with a man who used to be a Union soldier and they nearly come to blows, but then they remember they have bigger problems. Like the fact that Pawnee Killer has stolen their horses and killed one of their men, and is just waiting to pick them off one by one.
Back in town, the sisters are doing it for themselves. After Reverend Cole begins to lose his faith and turn to drink, Ruth Cole stands up for herself and for her dead mother and doesn't flinch one bit when he nearly slaps her. Lily decides to strike out on her own rather than become Doc's "kept woman." She sets up a tent across from the brothel. It's muddy and depressing, but the locale affords her the opportunity to become friends with Eva, and it is pretty fantastic. Lily's independent resolve soon begins to falter, though, and it looks like she might be considering accepting Doc's offer. Somehow, it's more suspenseful than Cullen's impending showdown with Pawnee Killer. Stay tuned for the full recap.
Previously: Cullen Bohannon shot some of the former Union soldiers responsible for killing his wife and son. Elam got cozy with a tattooed prostitute named Eva, which didn't sit well with the white workmen in Hell on Wheels. Some of them tried to kill Elam, but Cullen rode in and save him from the noose. Reverend Cole's daughter Ruth came to town after her mother died. Cullen taught Elam how to use a gun, which he then used to kill Mr. Toole for trying to hang him. Doc Durant asked Lily to be his mistress.
Currently: Doc's train is heading west. As they chug along towards Hell on Wheels, Doc takes out some paper and a dip pen to compose a letter to his wife.
My Dearest Wife,
All is well. Heading back to Nebraska with five million dollars in my pocket. Picked up a pretty young blond lady to be my nookie on the side. On the down side, I'm making a mockery of our marriage. On the upside, at least you don't have to sleep with my fleshy, brandy-soaked self any longer.
Well, that's probably what he would have written, except in language befitting the era, but he gets no further than the salutation. He's distracted by Lily's presence. She stands at the window, looking all golden and beautiful in the sunlight, watching the scenery blur past. She sees four Cheyenne men on horseback, waiting not far from the tracks. She starts to say something to Doc, but the train suddenly lurches. The wheels screech. A glass rolls across Doc's desk. Drops of liquor spill across his interrupted missive, blurring the greeting to his wife. Symbolic! Or maybe not!
When the train comes to a stop, Doc and Lily step out to see what the holdup might be. On first viewing, I thought it was part of Doc's train that had crashed, but now I (and Doc and Lily) see that their own train had to brake in order to avoid a second, wrecked train ahead of them. Boxcars lie in splinters all over the tracks while the engine lies off to the side, still gasping out puffs of smoke. Many men are injured or dying. Lily shakes off her horror and goes to check on some of the wounded. Doc staggers around, taking in the sight of all the destruction, and hears something hissing. Steam builds up from the still-burning fire inside. What's left of the engine explodes, sending debris rocketing into the sky. Cue the opening credits.
After we return to the show, enough time has passed for the Swede to have made his way to the wreckage. "We're gonna make them Injuns pay for derailin' this train," he says, clambering over a chunk of train. "I want you to get back to Hell on Wheels," Doc says, "and rouse those useless, drunken cavalrymen." The Swede is happy to do just that, until Doc calls him back: "Oh, and get Bohannon! I want him to go with them." You'd think someone would have telegraphed a message to Doc at some point about what's been going on, but apparently not. When the Swede tells Doc that Cullen is a fugitive, it's news to Doc. So the Swede explains about what went on a couple of episodes ago, with a bunch of guys trying to hang Elam and Cullen killing one of them during the rescue. Doc is still baffled, so the Swede says Elam was caught with a white woman. "You mean one of the whores?" Doc asks. "You were going to hang a Negro for screwing a whore?" He's more baffled than ever. The whole time the Swede was recapping the situation, it was clear that this was the first time he'd said any of these things aloud. Only then did he realize it was one of those things that sounded better in his head. "It seemed appropriate at the time," he says weakly. Doc lowers his voice to scold his bookkeeper about the economics of the matter. "Those freed slaves work twice as hard for half the pay," he says. He's worried that they'll leave now, but the Swede assures him that only the one has left, along with Bohannon. He makes things worse by telling Doc he sent a posse after Bohannon. Bohannon, Doc says, is the man he wants hunting down the savages.