Season 5, Episode 3
Cullen contends with violence in Chinatown set off by disgruntled railroad workers. The Swede manipulates Phineas in his plot against the Mormons.
In a flashback, in China, Mei hides in a small room as the sounds of a battle rage outside. She wraps her chest and cuts off her long locks, disguising herself as a boy. Tao comes to get her, and together they flee on a ship across the Pacific Ocean. Finally, they arrive at the Central Pacific camp, where they check in with Chang, and Mei's life as Fong begins.
In present-day Truckee, the Chinese collect their wages from Chang before boarding the train to the tunnel. Chang and Tao exchange a look as Chang collects his pay.
Cullen stops Mei from boarding the train to the grade. Mei protests, but Cullen insists she be put on the sick list.
The Swede approaches Cullen and thanks him for assigning the Mormons hard labor. The Swede claims it is "ordained from on high" that Cullen should make him suffer, just as The Swede was right to put Cullen in the well at the Mormon fort. The Swede believes Cullen is "God's instrument," and that to be tested by him "is the making of my soul."
The Swede calls Chang away from his station to pay for his latest box of guns (concealed in boxes of rice) — and to triple his order. When Chang expresses concern about the volume of "rice" The Swede is acquiring and what might happen if anyone became aware of their transactions, The Swede threatens to find another supplier. Chang negotiates, and keeps The Swede's business, with an increase in price of $10 per box.
Deep in the tunnel, Tao confronts Cullen, threatening to take Mei and leave unless Cullen lets her work. Cullen agrees to allow Mei to come back after one week on the sick list.
As Cullen exits the tunnel, Huntington applauds the progress his steam shovel is making. However, the machine has made three of Strobridge's Irish workers obsolete. Huntington reassigns them to the tunnel and cuts their pay to $1 per day, the same pay the Chinese workers get.
In the depot office, Strobridge breaks the news to his men. They complain that $1 isn't enough to live on, "Like a white man, anyway." Cullen overhears and notes, "I worked that tunnel myself." The Irishmen offer to work for stock like Cullen, and he responds that they can either take what's offered or leave.
A distraught Swede calls Phineas in to look at the Mormon accounting ledgers and suggests there has been a shortfall in the funds they've received from Salt Lake City for several months. Phineas angrily suggests they're being cheated, but The Swede demurs and says he shouldn't have even mentioned it. Phineas grabs the ledgers and storms out, saying, "It is your job to mention it."
Strobridge meets with Huntington to try and get more pay for the three Irish workers. Huntington points out that only five years prior, Strobridge was making significantly less than the Irish workers are now, and says the men are "expensive dead weight" and that he needs all of his resources focused on breaking through the tunnel. Strobridge says the Irish workers are good men with families, but Huntington responds that good men with families get fired every day. "Don't be one of them," Huntington warns.
At the opium den, Chang refuses Tao's money for more of the drug. Tao observes, "Steal with one hand, gift with the other?" Chang quotes a proverb about learning wisdom by experience — the "bitterest" way — and Tao responds, "Wisdom gained through experience is the reason young men must respect their elders." Chang concedes, and Tao slides his money across the table, takes his opium, and walks out.
Cullen takes Strobridge for a drink, and Strobridge chastises Cullen for "gelding" him in front of the Irish workers, saying he had things under control. When Cullen turns to leave, the three laid off Irishmen block his way. Cullen stares them down, then turns to Strobridge. "Got this?" Strobridge nods, and Cullen walks out.
Over cards, the Irishmen complain to Strobridge about the Chinese taking over. Strobridge tells them to stop "bellyaching" and go home to their families. They promise to do so after finishing their drinks.
Cullen walks through Chinatown to Tao and Mei's tent. Mei pours him a cup of tea and tells him about her life before Hell on Wheels, when a rebel leader in the Taiping war took her as his bride. Mei says Chang works for that same rebel leader, who, if he finds her, will make her a prostitute. Cullen mulls over her story, then tells her to report to work the next morning.
The Irishmen enter Chang's opium den, loud and drunk, and argue with Chang's greeter, Chen. Chang intervenes and tries to diffuse the situation by offering the men free prostitutes and opium. The Irishmen refuse, then punch Chen in the face. Chang springs into action, getting in several blows before Matt draws his gun and marches Chang out into the street.
Outside, Chen is lynched from an upstairs window. The Irishmen fire into the air to back off a gathering crowd, tie a noose around Chang's neck, and string him up to die.
Tao grabs a knife from his tent and alerts Cullen that Chang is in trouble. They cut Chang down just as he loses consciousness. Chang comes to, and realizes who's just saved his life.
Phineas brings the accounting ledgers back to The Swede and accuses Brigham Young of cheating them "from the minute we got here." Phineas explodes, blaspheming his father as The Swede tries to quiet him. Phineas stalks out of the tent.
The next morning, Chang reports the attack to Huntington and asks for justice: "The kind reserved for civilized men, free from the danger of a rope." Huntington proposes a trial, and Chang accepts.
Huntington tells Cullen and Strobridge about Chang's importance as their importer of Chinese labor. "We must be perceived to do right by him," he insists. Cullen suggests Huntington telegram his partner, Stanford, a lawyer who could serve as a judge and impanel a jury.
Cullen takes Strobridge to arrest the Irishmen. "Whose side are you on, anyway?" Strobridge asks. "Same side as you. The railroad's," Cullen replies.
Phineas dictates an accusatory letter to his father. The Swede interrupts, asking if Phineas has considered the consequences of sending it. "Truth does not always serve us," The Swede counsels, tearing up the letter. Phineas begs The Swede to tell him what to do: "I have no one to trust but you."
Cullen shows Chang the reply from Stanford, advising against a trial: The only witnesses are Chang and Tao, "and Chinamen ain't allowed to testify against white men under California law." Chang concedes that it may be the law, but it's not justice. Cullen assures Chang that the Irishmen will leave Truckee — and that Chang will let them.