Immoral Mathematics

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"Immoral Mathematics"
Hell on Wheels episode
The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl) checks in on a prisoner.
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 2
Directed by David Von Ancken
Written by Tony Gayton & Joe Gayton
Produced by Tony Gayton, Joe Gayton, Jeremy Gold, John Shiban, & David Von Ancken
Production code 102
Original air date November 13, 2011 (2011-11-13)
Guest actors
  • Christopher Heyerdahl as The Swede
  • Ian Tracey as Bolan
  • Diego Diablo del Mar as Dix
  • Dave Trimble as Durant's Man #1
  • Tefari Thompson as Freedman
  • Bruce Ramsay as Journalist
  • Dave Brown as Walking Boss
  • Kassia Warshawski as Mary Bohannon
Episode chronology
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"A New Birth of Freedom"
List of Hell On Wheels episodes

"Immoral Mathematics" is the second episode of the first season of the American television drama series Hell on Wheels, which aired on November 13, 2011 on AMC. The episode centers on Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) fighting for his life as he answers for his recent deadly actions. Lily Bell (Dominique McElligott) struggles to survive in the wilderness, as Thomas Durant (Colm Meaney) attempts to spin tragedy for political gain. Joseph Black Moon (Eddie Spears) tracks down the Cheyenne braves responsible for a massacre only to find one of them is his own brother (Gerald Auger).


Durant (Colm Meaney) arrives at Robert Bell's camp after the massacre only to discover Bell's body in the woods. The survey maps are nowhere to be found. He does, however, find a pocket watch with a picture of Lily (Dominique McElligott) inside.

Cullen Bohannon (Anson Mount) gets introduced to a man known as “the Swede,” Durant's head of security at Hell on Wheels. The Swede (Christopher Heyerdahl) questions him about Johnson's murder. Cullen declines to implicate anyone on his crew, thus taking the fall for the crime. Cullen is chained up inside a freight car, where he sees a loose floorboard nail and tries to pry it out. While doing so, he thinks back to Meridian and his wife Mary (Kassia Warshawski) stitching needlepoint.

Joseph Black Moon (Eddie Spears) finds the Cheyenne braves responsible for the massacre - one of which is his brother, Pawnee Killer (Gerald Auger). Joseph warns him that they will be hunted if they capture the white woman (implying Lily). Pawnee Killer doesn’t care and reminds Joseph that he too once scalped white men. Joseph later finds an ailing Lily cowering from some nearby braves and decides to help her avoid his brother's group.

The next morning, the Swede slowly eats in front of Cullen while describing his former bookkeeping duties. He was kept as a southern prisoner of war and began using "immoral mathematics" to control people. Cullen kicks the Swede’s meal to the floor, and he leaves without recovering his spoon. Cullen uses the spoon to pry up nails in the car’s floorboard, and escapes through the hole. Reverend Cole (Tom Noonan) aids Cullen in eluding the Swede, then instructs Cullen to beg God's forgiveness before he is caught. Cullen refuses, stating he does not deserve forgiveness, and leaves. Elam (Common) later hammers the chain free from Cullen's wrists.

Out on the prairie, the Swede finds Durant's caravan. Durant asks him to offer a $100 reward for Lily’s return, adding his orders to not say a word about the missing maps. Durant is greeted by Cullen upon returning to his quarters, who boldly requests Johnson's job. Comparing railroad building to the civil war, Cullen boasts of his having motivating outnumbered troops during battle, then stresses Durant's current predicament: the government funding doesn't take effect until Durant lays 40 miles of track. Cullen mentions Durant’s war profiteering and ends up getting the job. The Swede sees Cullen leaving the Pullman and draws his gun, however Durant orders him to stand down, proclaiming Cullen as his new foreman.


The episode was co-written by series co-creators Tony Gayton & Joe Gayton. It was directed by David Von Ancken. Producers of this episode include: Tony Gayton, Joe Gayton, Jeremy Gold, John Shiban, and David Von Ancken. The T'suu T'ina Native Indian Reservation, an Indian reserve in southern Alberta, was the location for most of the exteriors.


"Immoral Mathematics" received mixed reviews. Adam Raymond of New York Magazine stated the episode "spent the majority swinging more hammers in an attempt to get to a place that’ll allow this train to finally get out of the station."[1] IGN rated the show 6 out of 10 on their website. Seth Amitin said "it looks like Hell on Wheels still isn't sure what it's going to be. The Swede is an extraordinary addition to the series, though, and hopefully the series continues to build and progress as it goes on."[2] TV Fanatic's Sean McKenna approved of the episode: "Thankfully, 'Immoral Mathematics' managed to focus itself on one central storyline and scatter a few smaller ones throughout. It chugged along at a much quicker pace and kept me interested for pretty much the entire episode."[3]

Compared to the previous pilot episode, the second episode dropped in viewership to 3.84 million viewers, but still did strong in 18-49 age range with 1.5 rating.[4]


  1. ^ Raymond, Adam K. (November 16, 2011). "Hell on Wheels: Rebel MacGyver". New York Magazine. Retrieved November 21, 2011. 
  2. ^ Amitin, Seth (November 13, 2011). "Hell on Wheels: "Immoral Mathematics" Review". Retrieved November 21, 2011. 
  3. ^ McKenna, Sean (November 13, 2011). "Hell on Wheels Review: The Creepy Mr. Swede". Retrieved November 21, 2011. 
  4. ^ Gorman, Bill (November 15, 2011). "Sunday Cable Ratings: 'Hell On Wheels'". TV by the Numbers. Retrieved November 18, 2011. 

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