Season 5, Episode 2

Mei Mei

Cullen and Fong find themselves in peril as they transport a locomotive over the Sierra Nevada mountains. The Swede gains Phineas' trust.

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Cullen Bohannon tumbles down a steep, snow-covered mountain slope. As he skids to a stop at the bottom, Fong tumbles past him, stopping perilously close to the edge of a cliff. Cullen tosses Fong a rope, but Fong refuses Cullen's help and doesn't pick it up. Cullen angrily notes that Fong "should have stayed in the damn tent," before finally shouting, "A soldier follows orders!" Fong grudgingly ties the rope around his waist, and Cullen ties the other end around his own.

The mountain rumbles beneath them, and as Cullen turns to walk away from the cliff, the snow gives way beneath Fong. Fong plummets off the cliff, dragging Cullen behind him. Cullen stops their momentum just before sliding over the edge, leaving Fong dangling off the cliff. As Cullen braces himself to pull Fong back up, the rope suddenly goes slack. Cullen reels in the rope to find a frayed end — and no Fong.

Two days earlier, in Truckee: Cullen inspects an abandoned locomotive named the Sacramento, in hopes of using it to mechanize the removal of rock from the tunnel shaft. Strobridge declares it's impossible to get it up the mountain. "Chinamen built the Great Wall — reckon they can build me a sled," Cullen responds.

In the Central Pacific railroad office, Phineas Young balks when Huntington orders the Mormons to take over removing snow on the grade now that Cullen will be using the Chinese workers for tunnel construction. Phineas grudgingly concedes after Huntington threatens to contact his father.

In his rice shop, Chang allows Fong to buy pure opium to help ease Tao's pain from the beating he endured in Episode 1, but only after warning Fong that Tao "must never forget this."

Recovering in bed, Tao coughs as Fong prepares the opium for him. Tao orders Fong to stay away from Cullen, noting "We have been warned."

At the rice shop, Cullen demands that Chang provide an English-speaking foreman to replace the recuperating Tao. Chang says Tao is the only one who speaks English fluently. "You speak it well enough," Cullen retorts. Chang agrees, but notes that he is "not a railroad man." Cullen grabs a cleaver, looks Chang straight in the eye, and hacks the head off a duck Chang is preparing. "Next time you want to send a message," Cullen growls, "You send it to me direct."

Cullen gives a group of uncomprehending Chinese workers instructions on how to dismantle the Sacramento. Fong, working nearby for Strobridge, notices Cullen's failure to communicate and shouts the orders in Chinese. Cullen decides to take Fong along as his new translator.

Huntington tells Cullen that the Sacramento was the first locomotive to ever run on California soil, and bemoans that he won't be able to put it in a museum. Cullen hands Huntington the Sacramento's nameplate as a souvenir.

On the grade, Phineas supervises the Mormons as they clear snow. Work stops as The Swede tends to a worker whose foot has succumbed to frostbite, so badly that The Swede is able to snap two of the worker's toes off. On the verge of mutiny, the rest of the men refuse to work until they receive proper winter provisions. Phineas falters, but The Swede softly suggests that Phineas telegraph Brigham Young to request supplies. Phineas, grateful for the idea, presents it to the men as his own.

On the mountain, snow falls from the trees, startling the horses hauling the Sacramento up the slope on a sled. Cullen shouts for Fong to move the horses away from the trees, but Fong mishears and sends them closer instead. The horses bolt, and Fong is knocked to the ground as the hand brake snaps and the sled begins sliding backwards down the slope. Cullen races after the sled and manages to halt its momentum with a wooden block. As Fong lies on the ground struggling to breathe, Cullen yells, "Damnit, I said away from the tree line! You speak English or what?"

Cullen assesses the damage and determines the hand brake can't be repaired on the mountainside. Cullen tells Fong to have the men take everything off the sled in preparation to go back to Truckee. Instead, Fong orders the men to hook a heavy chain up to the sled, and to tie the other end to a tree. Cullen jumps in to help when he realizes Fong's plan — anchor the sled to trees for a controlled descent — will work.

That night, Fong shares his tea with Cullen, who admires Fong's toughness. Fong says he's a soldier, "Si Bing." Fong winces in pain, and Cullen hands him a flask. They recount war stories over the fire. Fong coughs up blood, hiding it from Cullen.

Phineas curses Brigham Young as he shows The Swede a telegram denying his supply request. The Swede consoles Phineas, explaining that it's Heavenly Father, not Brigham Young, who is testing Phineas "as fire tests and purifies gold." Phineas acknowledges The Swede's kindness, but complains that it will not help his men. "This is what faith is for," The Swede replies, "And we must practice it with open hearts, not bitter ones."

The next morning, Fong doesn't respond to Cullen's call to get back to work. Cullen finds Fong inside his tent, weak and coughing up more blood. When Fong insists he's fine, Cullen pushes him down and lifts up his shirt to reveal a series of thick bandages, wrapped around Fong's torso but above a large wound on his abdomen. Fong frantically resists Cullen's attempts to re-wrap the wound, even brandishing a knife, which Cullen quickly takes away. Cullen holds Fong down, slices through the bandages, and recoils in shock. The bandages are not meant to cover the wound — they're meant to conceal that Fong is actually a woman. "Please don't say about this," Fong pleads, "They kill me." Cullen instructs Fong to stay in the tent and steps outside.

In Truckee, The Swede negotiates a deal with Huntington for boots for the Mormon workers.

Using Fong's chain brake method, Cullen works with the Chinese to lower the sled down the mountain. Fong emerges from her tent and notices that one of the trees to which they've just attached the sled is dying. She yells for them to stop, but it's too late: The tree falls, and the sled begins careening down the mountain.

Fong and Cullen jump on the sled and eventually steer it into another fallen tree to stop it, but the collision violently throws them from the sled, and they begin tumbling a steep, snow-covered slope. As the scene first seen at the beginning of the episode plays out again, it's revealed that Fong cut herself free from the rope with her knife.

Cullen instructs Strobridge to get the undamaged Sacramento to the tunnel while he goes searching for Fong. He finds her, miraculously still alive, in a deep snowdrift at the bottom of the cliff. As he helps her walk back to camp, she reveals that her real name is Mei.

The Swede delivers the boots to the Mormon workers. When they try to thank him, The Swede defers, saying the boots are Heavenly Father's answer to Phineas' prayers.

Mei returns to Chinatown on the back of Cullen's horse. Tao hobbles out of his tent, concerned. Mei gingerly dismounts and walks to her father. "Your son saved my life today," Cullen tells Tao pointedly — Fong’s secret is safe with him.