The lesbian reporter from “Hell on Wheels” has affair with the bad guy

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Remember last year when we told you about the badass lesbian reporter on AMC’s Hell on Wheels? Well there have been some recent developments in the story of one Louise Ellison. However, they involve her sleeping with one of the town’s biggest bad guys.

After Louise writes an unflattering story about the town’s Governor, John Campbell, an ex Army general and all around bastard, shows up at her office to confront her. The two of them have a very coded conversation about how they both see the world in shades of grey. “That’s what makes it both daunting, and at times, alluring,” Louise tells him. “Not to mention surprising,” he responds before inviting her to lunch in his room at the hotel where he resides.

HOW1

When Louise approaches Campbell’s room, she steels herself before knocking. What happens next is altogether confusing. The two exchange no words, but after a moment, Louise takes his hand and places it on her breast. Their exchange is at times rough, with Campbell yanking off her dress and pushing Louise onto the bed. I have heard a few interpretations of this situation and I wanted to be sensitive to all viewpoints, so I took great care in analyzing the scene. Louise does look nervous, but not frightened. She gently lets down her hair, and is ultimately the one who initiates anything physical between them. Afterwards, they lay together laughing and talking. Campbell acknowledges that he is well aware of Louise’s attraction to women, which does not appear to threaten him. “Considering your past romantic predilections…” he comments. Louise doesn’t deny her orientation.

Louise: When I was younger, I used to think it made me abnormal. Then after my time covering the way, I realized there were men who were as equally…
Campbell: Confused?
Louise: Curious.

They fall asleep and Louise rises first, and tries to make a quiet exit. Campbell wakes soon after and helps her get dressed. She explains to him that this was the first time she’d ever done anything like this. She calls their dalliance a “triumph of curiosity over experience.” He promises to be discreet, but doesn’t assume to have changed her in any way.

After a shootout and massive fire, Louise and Campbell sleep together again. This time, there is no flirtation or chit chat between them afterwards. Louise calmly informs Campbell that she will be writing an expose on the corruption of law enforcement in Cheyenne. “I don’t think you’re going to like it,” she tells him as she walks away.

HOW 4

Could Louise have been getting close to Campbell so she could keep herself safe in order to write the kind of stories she wants to? It could be that she was genuinely interested in him as well. What is clear is that Louise is queer and her affair with Campbell doesn’t change that.

I think our concern with storylines like these is that a character’s queerness will be erased or taken away. Labels weren’t exactly common in the 1860s, and it is a rarity that Louise’s sexuality was as accepted as it was. I think that Louise being clear that it was a matter of curiosity and not confusion was very important. Whether Louise is bisexual, lesbian, queer, pansexual or refuses to claim one thing or another, it does feel as if she is in control of her own destiny. In the brutal world of the Wild West, that in itself is pretty remarkable.

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