Season 4, Episode 12

Thirteen Steps

Cullen grapples with Ruth’s unexpected decision. Louise jeopardizes her reputation to fight for a story she believes in.

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Ruth is sworn in by Cullen on the floor of the casino, which has been converted into a temporary courtroom. Judge Webber presides over the hearing, with Campbell seated next to him. Ruth is accused of "unlawfully, feloniously and of malice aforethought shooting into Sidney Snow two mortal wounds." Asked to respond to the charges, Ruth unexpectedly answers, "Guilty."

Campbell presents a statement from Cullen stating that Ruth "aided and protected an officer of the law from an armed felon," which would leave her declared innocent. Campbell asks again, "What say you?" Ruth again responds, "I say I am guilty." Campbell then declares Ruth not of sound mind to defend herself, but she insists: "I murdered that man, Governor. Not out of fear, nor aiding the law, but for no purpose other than to end the man's life who took my son's. I am guilty. I've pled so." Ruth is sentenced to hang.

Campbell orders Webber to have a gallows constructed in the town square. Cullen approaches and tries to reason with Campbell: "Hanging a grieving mother doesn't serve anybody." Campbell replies, "Neither does allowing a confessed murderer to walk free." Cullen asks Campbell to pardon Ruth, but Campbell points out that "the woman in that courtroom did not appear to be interested in clemency." Campbell finally agrees to sign a pardon if Cullen can get Ruth to accept it.

George Maledon, the hangman, and his son, George Jr., travel to Cheyenne by train.

Cullen pushes Ruth to take the pardon, but she declines: "Pardons are for cowards, like Sidney Snow." Cullen says dying is the coward's choice, but Ruth insists the choice is hers, and her choice is no.

Louise catches Campbell dancing alone in his room. "My father was a judge," he says, "After a bad ruling he'd sneak off and take my mother dancing." He asks Louise to dance, but she declines and says she's come "for comment on the kangaroo court you authorized on your arrival, and your acquisition of McGinnes's casino thereafter." When Campbell asks if this is the story she said he wouldn't like, she responds, "It starts and ends with a federally-approved hanging." Campbell points out that Ruth's refusal of a pardon is her decision, and Louise asks if Sidney's appointment as marshal or the burning of her church were also Ruth's decisions. Campbell says, "You'll cast her as some saint?" "I'm still deciding on the devil," Louise answers.

Cullen tries to send Ruth to New York to "put this all behind," but she insists on staying in Cheyenne. Cullen then attempts to carry her out of her cell, but she resists. "I was ready to leave!" Ruth screams at him. "After Sean died. I was ready to go back to Omaha with Ezra. You asked me to stay. And I stayed. For you. This time, I stay for me."

At the train works, Cullen angrily pieces together the last parts of the nearly-completed steam shovel. When Cullen says there's nothing he can do for Ruth, Durant counsels, "The thing to do is be with her."

Mickey and Shea watch as George and Junior's train arrives in Cheyenne.

Campbell enters his room at the Palmer Hotel and pours a drink. Mickey and Shea appear from the shadows. "The Church lady's not gonna hang," Mickey announces. Campbell says they can keep the casino, but they can't prevent him from enforcing the law. Mickey tells Campbell to find a way to save Ruth.

Cullen sees George and Junior erecting the gallows in the town square and shoves them aside. Cullen rips the gallows apart board by board, then storms off. George starts over again, and works into the night.

Cullen visits Ruth in jail. Neither of them are able to sleep. When Ruth asks if he would do anything differently if he could change the past, Cullen says he'd be a better father. Ruth says she'd be more patient with Ezra. Cullen assures her, "They don't come more patient than you." Cullen adds, "I would have let the both of you go to Omaha... I would kill Sidney Snow." "So would I," Ruth says.

Cullen tells Ruth about watching a botched execution after the war. "There ain't no worse way to leave this world," Cullen claims. Ruth shakes her head and says, "Burning alive is worse."

Ruth reminisces about Ezra, and tells Cullen she believes God intervened to stop her from confessing her feelings to Cullen when he returned to Cheyenne with Naomi. Ruth is convinced God "was telling me I already had a family of my own. Ezra and me." Ruth also says she was surprised to see Cullen show up at the church that night. Cullen promises, "I'll always show up."

Cullen calls Ruth over to the window. The entire town has gathered outside to hold a candlelight vigil. "This town needs their preacher," Cullen says. "I'm nobody's preacher anymore," Ruth sighs. She returns to her cell as Cullen watches, defeated.

The sound of hammering stops. The gallows is finished.

Ruth and Cullen lie head-to-head in the cell. Ruth tells Cullen she loves him, but she was a coward for not saying it until now. She asks if Cullen loves Naomi. He answers, "I think I might." Ruth tells him to go to Naomi. Cullen is afraid Naomi won't have him back, but Ruth says, "The brave choice is always family."

George and Junior dress for the execution and test the gallows.

Campbell brings Ruth's death warrant to the jail, awakening Ruth and Cullen. Ruth again declines a pardon. Campbell instructs Cullen to read the warrant aloud, but Cullen heads for the door. Ruth calls to Cullen, and he stops. "Say you'll be there," she pleads. Cullen walks out, not looking back.

George measures Ruth for the noose and tells her what to expect. Ruth asks if it will hurt. "You don't got to worry, I'll be there," George says.

Ruth, now in a new dress, tells Louise to donate what's left of her money and belongings. Louise promises Cheyenne won't forget Ruth, but Ruth tells Louise not to write an article about her: "It won't be remembered, and neither will we."

George marches Ruth to the gallows, surrounded by a crowd. Cullen is conspicuously absent. Ruth slowly climbs the thirteen stairs. George binds her hands and feet, then tightens the noose around her neck as she trembles with fear. Just as George is about to put the hood over her head, Ruth sees Cullen pushing his way to the front of the crowd. "Wait!" she screams. Ruth eyes lock with Cullen's. Campbell asks if she has any last words, but Ruth simply smiles. George puts the hood over her head and pulls the lever.

Cullen tells a gathering of women who are prepared to escort Ruth's body to Council Bluffs that he's already buried her, next to Ezra. He steps up onto a flatbed loaded with workers and the steam shovel.

Campbell asks Louise not to print the article about Ruth's hanging and says if she does, it will be the end of their relationship. She refuses to acquiesce: "This is far more important."

Cullen tests the steam shovel. After a tense moment, it successfully lifts a large pile of rocks.

Cullen comes to Durant's tent. Durant instructs him to send for more workers and lumber, and to wire General Grant that they'll reach the summit by month's end. Cullen responds, "I quit."