Season 1, Episode 3
A New Birth of Freedom
Cullen’s search for the sergeant is diverted by an unexpected obstacle. Durant organizes a search party to retrieve the missing Lily Bell.
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In the foreman's tent, Cullen finds a photo of Johnson standing with eight other Union soldiers. Gazing at the image, Cullen recalls murdering three of the soldiers, including the one shot in church. An inscription identifies a fourth man as "Sgt. Harper."
The next morning, Sean laments that business is falling off. Mickey dares Sean to talk with local prostitute Eva, a white woman reputedly sold as a girl to Indians and known as “the Savage One.” The tattoo on Eva's chin startles Sean, who slips and falls in the mud as she curses him in Cheyenne.
Cullen assigns the white and Black rail gangs to different sections of the cut, but the Swede entices the men away by offering a $100 bounty for the return of Lily Bell. Cullen warns any takers that he'll fire them if they leave the cut. Elam suggests that Cullen let the white workers go; the freedmen will manage both workloads. Before the white men depart, Cullen asks if anyone knows Frank Harper and learns that he's west of the cut with the logging crew. Privately, Elam asks if Cullen plans to kill Sergeant Harper.
In the Pullman, the Swede informs Durant that men are abandoning railroadwork because of the massacre and complains of Cullen's reluctance to let the rail gang join the posse. The Swede concedes, however, that Cullen is getting the railroad built. Meanwhile, the new engineer proposes straightening the railroad's route to meet the 40-mile deadline. Durant orders him to stick to the meandering route and dictates a telegraph to Senator Crane appealing for federal troops. "To heal the nation," Durant maintains, "we must displace the savage."
In Nebraska, Cullen comes across Joseph and the unconscious Lily, whose wound is getting worse. Lily wakes up shrieking as Cullen slices out the arrow sliver causing the infection.
Psalms, a freedman at the cut, complains that Elam isn't working alongside the gang and doesn't know his place. Elam stares Psalms down, then starts swinging a pick. They're doing double work, Elam shouts, not for the white men but for themselves because the white men "want us to fall."
Lily's condition stabilizes. Cullen leaves but then reluctantly returns, realizing that if Joseph brought Lily back to town he'd be murdered. Everyone knows about the massacre and would assume Joseph, an Indian, was responsible. Cullen decides to bring Lily back.
That night at Hell on Wheels, Elam enters the whorehouse intending, he tells an Irishman named Mr. Toole, to "spend some hard-earned money. Same as you." After Eva dismisses Elam with a laugh, Mr. Toole taunts that even a "cheap-ass whore who's been plowed by every heathen" won't have him.
Lily awakes and immediately looks for the maps, which Cullen tosses to her. When he acts aloof, she asks if she's offended him. "You ain't whore nor squaw," he replies. "You shouldn't be out here."
In his Pullman, Durant drinks whiskey while pondering a telegraph in which Senator Crane mentions the troop request, concerns about the pace of railway construction, and Robert Bell's murder. While mumbling in despair about the entire project, Durant spills whiskey and calls in his butler, Henri. Durant senses Henri's disdain and declares that unlike men who drink to numb themselves he drinks to fuel “the fire in my belly."
Durant ambles through Hell on Wheels and ends up at the magic-lantern show. Sean offers Durant a private performance and compliments him for being a great capitalist. As he watches the slides of Ireland, Durant asks Sean why he and Mickey left a beautiful country to "wallow in this filth." Mickey describes a youthful adventure riding the train to Dublin. "The railroad gave you freedom," muses Durant.
Joseph returns to the church tent. "I prayed you'd stay away," says Reverend Cole, fearing for Joseph's safety. The massacre wasn't his fault, the reverend assures Joseph, who disagrees, admitting that his brother was among the attackers. Never speak of this again, instructs Cole. Alone, Joseph cuts his hair short.
Bolan and two other men attempt to "rescue" Lily, who then learns about the bounty out on her. Cullen shoots the men one by one. In the confusion, Lily escapes on a horse. Cullen races after her, eventually catching her. Lily dismounts and breaks into tears.
At Hell on Wheels, Reverend Cole conducts a funeral for the massacre victims, quoting the Bible as he pleads with the townsfolk to forsake revenge. Durant replies with a different biblical passage, describing situations that justify war. Robert Bell gave his life so that men like them would have the "freedom to make your fortune in this untamed land," says Durant, taking over the sermon and telling the men gathered not to let "Stone Age primitives" stand in the way.
Praising Joseph for adopting the white man's clothing, language, and religion, Durant reflects that there may be peace if other Indians follow suit. If they don't, he adds, then Indians are the authors of their own destruction.
Cullen escorts Lily to the edge of Hell on Wheels, then tells her where to find a doctor. "What about the bounty?" she asks. Cullen replies that he has business in Cheyenne territory and only four hours of daylight to get there.