Hell on wheels Wiki

"Immoral Mathematics"

Season Number: 1
Episode Number: 2
Airdate: November 13, 2011
Director: David Von Ancken
Writer: Tony Gayton
Joe Gayton
Producer: Tony Gayton
Joe Gayton
Jeremy Gold
John Shiban
David Von Ancken
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"A New Birth of Freedom"

"Immoral Mathematics" is the second episode of the first season of the AMC series Hell on Wheels.


Cullen Bohannon must defend himself against murder charges while Lily Bell, wounded and weary, struggles to survive after the Cheyenne attack on the survey camp.



A Chicago Tribune reporter takes photos of the aftermath of the Cheyenne attack. Thomas Durant and several men ride up. Durant berates the reporter for not taking more photos citing the "just the one won't do". Durant's men stage the scene, replacing the bodies on the field and Durant sticks arrows into several of the corpses, much to the photographer's horror. Durant replies "he [the victim] can't feel anything. He's dead, for God's sake".

Durant locates Robert Bell's body but not the maps he is desperately searching for, though he does find a silver pocket watch with Lily Bell's picture inside the cover.

Act I[]

Bolan and Dix bring Bohannon to speak to the Swede

Back at the Cut, Cullen Bohannon watches the men work but is spooked by Bolan and Dix riding up, his hand going to his gun. Elam Ferguson informs Bohannon that Daniel Johnson's body has been found, to which Bohannon responds by angrily telling him to get back to work. Bolan asks if Bohannon has heard about Johnson's murder. When he doesn't give a direct answer, Bolan asks why he's so spooked. Bohannon replies "I guess I still ain't quite cottoned to the sight of Union blue riding up on me". Bolan informs Bohannon that their boss wants to see him about taking Johnson's job as foreman.

In Hell on Wheels, the denizens are busy setting up their tents and businesses. Bohannon rides to the Caboose with Dix and Bolan, passing the hanging corpse of a man. Inside the Caboose he meets Thor Gundersen, head of Durant's security force, who tells Bohannon everyone calls him "the Swede", though he is actually Norwegian. He interrogates Bohannon, under the guise of friendly conversation, about his relationship with Johnson and his whereabouts right before he was murdered. Bohannon refuses to answer questions, as the Swede has no actual authority. The Swede continues interrogating him, even giving him the out of accusing one of the Negro workers, though Bohannon declines to speak on the matter and decides to leave. When Dix and Bolan try to prevent him from leaving, Bohannon stabs Dix in the side and holds a knife to Bolan's throat. The Swede responds by pulling out a double-barrel coach gun from under the table with the name "Beauty" inscribed on one of the barrels. The Swede throws Bohannon into an empty box car and chains him to the floor, telling him he's going to give him a chance to confess.

Meanwhile, Lily wanders along a riverbank, her husband's maps in tow. She narrowly avoids a party of three Cheyenne braves and hides behind a fallen log. Among them is Pawnee Killer.

Back in the boxcar, Bohannon tries to pull out a loose nail with his fingers. He has a flashback of his wife sitting on the porch cross-stitching a scene of their house in Meridian.

Act II[]

Lily nods off, still waiting for the war party to leave. Joseph Black Moon confronts Pawnee Killer, who is his older brother. He rebukes him for attacking a white woman and demands to know where he has taken Lily. His brother says he does not have her and mocks Joseph for acting so pure, though he had once killed and scalped people before converting to Christianity. Pawnee Killer reminds him that even though Jesus has forgiven him, his white friends will not be so understanding.

Night has fallen on Hell on Wheels and Bohannon is still pulling at the nail in the floor boards. Elam visits Bohannon and asks him if he's going to tell the Swede that Elam was the one who killed Johnson. He attempts to blackmail Bohannon by informing him he will testify about what he knows about the other murders Bohannon has committed, including that of the Buckton Prescott in the confessional. Bohannon implies that no one will believe Elam's story over Bohannon and it won't really matter since he doesn't plan on hanging.

Sean and Mickey McGinnes end another successful magic lantern show. The Swede lingers afterwards and introduces himself to the McGinnes brothers. Sean quickly picks up on the fact that the Swede wants something. The Swede compliments their prime location in town and he proposes they pay him for protection. When the brothers balk at the price of $2 a week (half their earnings), the Swede reminds them they could move next to the slaughterhouse. Sean asks what will happen if they don't move, the Swede replies "and I thought you was the smart one".

The Swede chats with Bohannon in the pig car

The next day, the Swede again visits Bohannon. He chats with Bohannon while eating a bowl of stew. He reminisces about being a book keeper before the war and a Union quartermaster during the war, stating he was always better with numbers than with people because he could control numbers. During a raid on his supply train, he was captured and sent to Andersonville Prison, where he suffered from severe malnutrition, dropping from 200 lbs to 86 lbs. After being attacked by one of his own men, the Swede realized he needed to exert control over people like he did with numbers, learning to "practice a sort of immoral mathematics". He asks Bohannon if he's ready to confess but Bohannon says he's going to hang any ways so it doesn't matter. As the Swede stands to leave, Bohannon insults him and kicks the bowl from his hands. Quickly regaining his composure, he tells Bohannon he will hang as soon as they cut down the horse thief from the gallows. After the Swede leaves, Bohannon retrieves the spoon that he kicked from the Swede's hands and uses it to pry up the nail from the floorboards.

Act III[]

As the Swede and his men cut down the horse thief, Bohannon makes quick work of pulling up the board he is manacled to and then the two surrounding it, creating a hole large enough to slip through. He jumps down just as the Swede opens the door. He conceals his chains under his hat and slips into the crowd in Hell on Wheels.

Meanwhile, on the road from the survey camp, Durant instructs the Tribune reporter on what he should write up for his article, including the false statements that Lily had been "sullied" by the Cheyenne and that the surveyors were out numbered ten-to-one. He also coins the nickname "Fair-Haired Maiden of the West" for Mrs. Bell. Durant wants to highlight not only that the railroad is bringing civilization to the West but also that he will need more troops to defend against the Cheyenne.

Lily, wounded in the wilderness, waits for Pawnee Killer and his men to leave

Lily wakes and finds Pawnee Killer and his party gone and she goes to the still smoldering fire. Finally relatively safe, she sees to her shoulder wound by stitching it up using a makeshift needle of a piece of boning from her corset. The process is excruciating and Lily barely makes it through before passing out.

Back in town, Bohannon is still on the run from the Swede and hides in Reverend Nathaniel Cole's church tent. Cole meets the Swede outside the tent. Bohannon, unsure if Cole is going to turn him in, grabs a heavy crucifix from the alter and lies it wait for the Swede to enter. Cole distracts the Swede and he leaves. Cole tells he will give him sanctuary but will not remove his cuffs. Cole attempts to get Bohannon to pray for forgiveness but Bohannon says he won't because he "doesn't deserve forgiveness".

Elam attempts to break Bohannon's chains

Sean and Mickey argue over using money their mother gave them to pay the Swede. Mickey worries that the protection racket will never end. Sean brings up an incident in Boston but says they'll get out of their current situation, just like Boston and that it won't be long until they are successful enough to replace the money their mother gave them ten times over.

In the Negro workers' tent, Elam attempts to remove Bohannon's cuffs using a hammer and a railroad spike. Bohannon notices the scars around Elam's wrists. Elam says that he tried to escape and his master made him sleep in chains. He breaks the chains and Bohannon slips under the tent walls, making his escape.

Act IV[]

Joseph keeps Lily from screaming as Pawnee Killer and his men pass

Lily lies, delirious, and sees of Robert sketching on a hill and then holding her in a prairie field. She reaches out her hand to him but only buzzards circle overhead. Down the riverbank, Pawnee Killer sees the birds and turns back towards the camp. Lily, hearing them coming, runs into the treeline where she is grabbed by Joseph, who prevents her from screaming.

The Swede meets Durant and the wagon returning from the attack site. Durant tells him to circulate news of a $100 reward for the safe return of Mrs. Bell but to keep quiet about the missing maps. Durant returns to his train car only to find Bohannon waiting for him. Bohannon tells Durant that he wants Johnson's job and that he is the man for the job because building the railroad is like fighting a war and that he has plenty of experience, especially in times where there was not enough men or supplies. Bohannon also claims to know a lot about railroads and to blowing up the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad bridge over the Monocacy River. When Durant still protests, Bohannon informs him that he knows that he smuggled cotton from the South during the war.

The Swede and his men approach Durant's railcar and attempt to arrest Bohannon. Durant tells the Swede that Bohannon is the new foreman and to "find [him] someone else to hang". Bohannon smugly smiles at the Swede and tips his hat to Elam, who is nearby, for helping him. As Bohannon approaches his new tent/office, one of the workers offers to clean out Johnson's old things but Bohannon declines. As he settles in, he spots a pit of fabric in one of Johnson's bags and recognizes it as the cross-stitch piece his wife made of their house.




  1. Anson Mount as Cullen Bohannon
  2. Colm Meaney as Thomas Durant
  3. Common as Elam Ferguson
  4. Dominique McElligott as Lily Bell
  5. Tom Noonan as Reverend Nathaniel Cole
  6. Eddie Spears as Joseph Black Moon
  7. Ben Esler as Sean McGinnes
  8. Phil Burke as Mickey McGinnes

Guest Staring

  1. Diego Diablo Del Mar as Dix
  2. Christopher Heyerdahl as Thor Gundersen
  3. Ian Tracey as Bolan

Also Staring

  1. Dave Trimble as Durant's Man
  2. Tefari Thompson as a Freedman
  3. Bruce Ramsay as the Journalist
  4. Kassia Warshawski as Mary Bohannon


  1. Gerald Auger as Pawnee Killer


Opening credits

  1. Joe &
  2. Tony Gayton - Creators
  3. Gustavo Santaolalla - Theme
  4. Kevin Kiner - Score
  5. Todd Desrosiers - Editor
  6. John Blackie - Production Designer
  7. Marvin V. Rush - Director of Photography
  8. Mark Richard - Consulting Producer
  9. Paul Kurta - Co-Executive Producer
  10. David Von Ancken - Executive Producer
  11. Jeremy Gold - Executive Producer
  12. John Shiban - Executive Producer
  13. Joe Gayton - Executive Producer
  14. Tony Gayton - Executive Producer
  15. Chad Oakes - Episodic Producer
  16. Michael Frislev - Episodic Producer
  17. Tony Gayton - Writer
  18. Joe Gayton - Writer
  19. David Von Ancken - Director

Closing credits

  1. Scott Schofield - Associate Producer
  2. Jami O'Brien - Executive Story Editor
  3. Bruce Marshall Romans - Staff Writer
  4. Linda Rogers Ambury - Unit Production Manager
  5. Philip Chipera - First Assistant Director (AD)
  6. Lorie Gibson - Second AD
  7. Cathy Sandrich Gelfond &
  8. Amanda Mackey - Casting
  9. Cami Patton - Additional US Casting
  10. Jennifer Lare - Additional US Casting
  11. Jackie Lind, CSA - Canadian Casting
  12. Alyson Lockwood - Extras Casting


  • Christopher Heyerdahl (Thor Gundersen) was born in British Columbia, but does proclaim himself as half Norwegian and half Scottish. His father's cousin was adventurer Thor Heyerdahl.


Critical reception[]

"Immoral Mathematics" received mixed reviews. Adam Raymond of New York Magazine stated the episode "spent the majority swinging more hammers in an attempt to get to a place that'll allow this train to finally get out of the station."[1] IGN rated the show 6 out of 10 on their website. Seth Amitin said "it looks like Hell on Wheels still isn't sure what it's going to be. The Swede is an extraordinary addition to the series, though, and hopefully the series continues to build and progress as it goes on."[2] TV Fanatic's Sean McKenna approved of the episode: "Thankfully, 'Immoral Mathematics' managed to focus itself on one central storyline and scatter a few smaller ones throughout. It chugged along at a much quicker pace and kept me interested for pretty much the entire episode."[3]


Compared to the previous pilot episode's 4.4 million viewers, the second episode dropped in viewership to 3.84 million viewers, but still did strong in 18-49 age range with 1.5 rating.[4]

Advertising and marketing[]

Promotional Photos[]



  1. Raymond, Adam K. (November, 16, 2011). Hell on Wheels: Rebel MacGyver. New York Magazine.
  2. Amitin, Seth (November 13, 2011). Hell on Wheels: "Immoral Mathematics" Review IGN.com.
  3. McKenna, Sean (November 13, 2011). Hell on Wheels Review: The Creepy Mr. Swede. TVFanatic.com.
  4. Gorman, Bill (November 15, 2011). Sunday Cable Ratings: 'Hell On Wheels'. TV by the Numbers.

External links[]

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