Well, that wasn't what I expected. The pilot of Hell on Wheels is well-shot and looks great, but it's missing something every good Western needs--good characters. Aside from the main character Cullen, who's harboring lots of darkness, the other characters are drawn very poorly.
There's Elam played by faded rapper Common, who acts as a major plot device. Right as Cullen is about to learn from Daniel the name of the sergeant who killed his wife and, conveniently, is in the same exact camp, Elam kills him. With that, Daniel is made into a plot device--the necessary impetus for Cullen to continue his search to exact revenge--and Elam is turned into the guy who has ridiculously bad timing.
Colm Meaney is good, but his scenes are just bizarre. He spouts off these long monologues with flowery speech to no one in particular, with no goal in mind. While the other characters have conversations and walk around, Thomas Durant sits and talks about making money and railroads. Really unnatural and baffling.
Oddly packed into the episode is Lily and her husband drawing maps for the railroad company. There is an Indian attack leaving everyone but Lily dead and she's left wandering out there. It seems to me like it'd be better to place her story in the second episode, so there'd be better focus on both ends.
Although there is little to like of Hell on Wheels so far, there are distinct reminders of Deadwood. Yes, there's almost no chance it'll ever be as good, but one can hope.