Season 1, Episode 5
Bread and Circuses
Durant’s answer to the railroad’s latest financial problems spurs a bare-knuckle brawl between Cullen and Elam.
Hell on Wheels is currently not in season.
Chief Many Horses leads Pawnee Killer into the woods for the Sun Dance ceremony. Tethered to a pole by long leather straps attached to his chest, Pawnee Killer must pray staring at the sun for a full day. If he succeeds, he will be granted a vision.
Outside the Pullman, Lily informs Cullen that the men of Hell on Wheels consider him a hero for risking his life after the explosion. Durant emerges from the car, and Cullen informs him that the men are unhappy about the missed payroll. Durant instructs him to pay the walking bosses to keep everyone working quietly.
Ruth, Cole's long-lost daughter, arrives with news that her mother has died. "You're not staying here," says Cole, who then, at Joseph's suggestion, relents and permits her to stay in the church tent until he and Joseph return from Cheyenne country. He orders her not to leave the tent unless it's on fire.
The Swede chops down Sean and Mickey's tent while they are still inside. They asked for a little more time, he says, and that's what he gave them.
Lily and Durant picnic on a hill overlooking the cut. Cullen draws the walking bosses aside and conveys Durant's instructions. After Elam joins the group and declares himself a walking boss, Toole grumbles that Elam needs to be put in his place.
Above, Durant muses to Lily that, without Robert's surveying results, Durant will be remembered as a failure and Robert won't be remembered at all.
Upset about the pay situation, Elam storms off the cut and dares Cullen to force him back. The two men start fighting, but Durant orders them to cease and insists to everyone that the payroll is en route. As for Cullen and Elam, he proposes that they fight for real that evening.
In Cheyenne country, Cole proposes that Chief Many Horses come to Hell on Wheels to discuss peace. The chief agrees to but only if Joseph makes the request, which he does.
That night, free whiskey flows at the saloon compliments of Durant, and people place wagers on Cullen and Elam. Nearby, a man sells Sean "enough peppers to make a Mexican cry."
Mickey wraps Cullen's hands with bandages and says that Sean has bet all their money on Cullen. There's still time for Cullen to bet on himself, Mickey adds. Cullen replies that he's not fighting for money but to put Elam in his place.
Eva warns Elam that, win or lose, he'll be killed if he fights. Elam describes the conflicting messages he's received all his life about whether he's a slave or free. "Tonight I say who I am," he says.
The Swede permits the freedmen to enter the saloon "for one night only." Elam arrives to boos from the white attendees, Cullen to their cheers. Psalms urges Elam to win the fight "for us."
The Swede lays down the rules, and the fight begins. Cullen lands several early punches and bloodies Elam's nose.
Meanwhile, in the Pullman, Durant learns that his bank has denied a credit extension. Durant dictates a return telegraph threatening to destroy the bank financially.
At the fight, Cullen continues to pummel Elam. "He ain't fightin'," Cullen tells Mickey. Over in Elam's corner, Psalms compares Cullen to Elam's former slave master and reminds him of the man's evil deeds. Kill him, urges Psalms, not "for us. Do this for you." Elam begins landing heavy punches and knocks Cullen to the floor.
Drawn by the commotion, Ruth enters the saloon. Cullen lands a hard punch, and Elam's blood spatters her face.
Outside, Lily insinuates that Durant engineered the fight to distract the men until the payroll arrives. Durant says that she's overestimating him. "I hope not," Lily replies, "for all our sakes’."
Back inside, Mickey tries to revive Cullen and notices Sean whispering to Psalms before slipping something into his hands.
Outside, Lily reveals to Durant that she rescued Robert's maps, which show the route through the Rockies and beyond. Durant's initial jubilation dims when she declines to reveal their whereabouts. "How much?" Durant asks. "What Robert is owed," she says.
Shortly after the fight resumes, Elam lands a punch to Cullen's eyes, causing him to stagger and lose focus. Elam knocks Cullen to the floor and wins the fight.
Afterward, Sean informs Mickey that he bet all their money on Elam and they're now rich. Mickey protests that Sean cheated and Cullen was their only friend, but Sean responds that money is his only friend.
Lily brings a bucket of water to Cullen, who lies alone where he fell. As he washes his eyes, Cullen tastes the residue on his fingers. Realizing that it's pepper, he laughs.
The next morning in his tent, Cullen pays the walking bosses. Toole demeans Cullen for losing to Elam, who enters and identifies himself as a walking boss. Cullen holds onto Elam's money bag slightly longer than necessary, the men staring silently at each other until Cullen releases it.
Pawnee Killer collapses after completing his Sun Dance and tells Chief Many Horses that he was blessed with a vision of the "great steel beast." "I killed it," he says.