Sunday, April 03, 2016

ON TV: Showdown - "Hell on Wheels"' Lily Bell v. Thomas Heywood's "The Fair Maid of the West"

I've been binge-watching Hell on Wheels and am glad I came aboard. In fact, I just finished watching season 3, episode 2 ("Eminent Domain") and have decided to lay a stake:   I'll add this richly textured, though occasionally flawed, antebellum western set during the Union Pacific's westward construction of the First Transcontinental  Railroad, to the arsenal of pop culture/mass media resources I draw from (get it?) for various projects.

Today's focus: Showdown - Hell on Wheels' Lily Bell v. Thomas Heywood's The Fair Maid of the West

In the AMC series Hell on Wheels, Thomas "Doc" Durant (a real-life character portrayed by Colm Meaney) references Thomas Heywood's English Renaissance drama, The Fair Maid of the West, or a Girl Worth Gold, Parts 1 and 2 (1631) to promote his Union Pacific Railroad, by publicizing Lily Bell* as "The Fair-haired Maiden of the West" and exaggerating the extent of the travails she endured during a Cheyenne Dog Soldiers massacre. However, though Bell actually was beautiful and blonde (and, therefore, both fair and fair-haired), had been seriously wounded by the brave who intended to kill her, had been stalked by a posse of warriors aiming to finish her off, and had to be  rescued by not one, but two heroes on horseback (Joseph Black Moon and Cullen Bohannon - both of whom, like Bell, were spreading their wings beyond their socially constrained molds and finding a mis-fit with the worlds they found themselves in), the widow generally behaved more like the maiden in the first half of Heywood's drama than either the heroine in that quarto's back half or the maiden Hell on Wheels' Durant fabricated.

There's no two ways about it: Bell was avant-garde, adventurous, brave, liberated, and resourceful. She looked and acted like a lady but drove hard bargains, was sexually aggressive, didn't hesitate to slap a b* (male or female), assumed her late husband's role as chief surveyor in addition to increasing responsibilities in running the railroad, was neither a bigot nor a snob, and bested Durant when he and his wife tried to oust her from the railroad enterprise (that would have failed without Bell and her husband's contributions). Nonetheless, in the season 1 finale ("God of Chaos"), Bell granted Durant's request that she assume the fair damsel image, to garner support at the event Durant hosted to impress railroad stakeholders.

*Love the name, like that of "Sweet Polly Purebred"