Snowpiercer: 1.09 The Train Demanded Blood, 1.10 994 Cars Long
Netflix serves up a double dose of Snowpiercer this week to bring its premiere season to a close. A stalemate has been reached aboard the train after the violent uprising led by Layton stalls in the face of opposition from Grey and his jackboot thugs. Melanie languishes in a cell and the whole train is now aware of her role in keeping the secret of Mr Wilford's absence. The intrigue, however, has not stopped and soon new factions are formed. Gray and Ruth team up to take control and plan on using the Folgers; who are also looking for their chance to seize power. An almost unthinkable plan is devised to take care of the tailies once and for all. Meanwhile, the tailies and the third class passengers launch their own counterattack which, if successful, will radically change life forever aboard the last hope of humanity, the one thousand and one car long Snowpiercer.
There's a lot going on in the penultimate episode of Snowpiercer, The Train Demanded Blood. After all the build up to the revolution it has all come to a screeching halt pretty quickly. Up in first class the passengers are displaying their true colours, by executing some of the captured tailies in gruesome fashion. In a variation of the previously seen torture methods, this time the unfortunate victims simply have face masks attached into which the freezing air from outside is pumped. It only takes seconds for the condemned to become a tailie popsicle.
Secondly, a devious plan is hatched where deadly gas will be pumped into the third class carriages, killing everyone on the train from there downwards. A simpler plan of just detaching all the occupied carriages is dismissed as a lot of essential supplies would be lost. Lilah Folger deems the occupants as being much more expendable. The whole Folger family have really become the pantomime villains of this show. At one point in this discussion about killing thousands of people I swear LJ Folger literally breaks the fourth wall and grins maniacally at the camera. If she had a moustache I have absolutely no doubt that she'd be twirling it in glee.
Also doing his best to bring a little over the top madness to proceedings is Steven Ogg as the recently revived Pike. It's his job to relay the news to Layton that if he doesn't surrender himself immediately for execution, then everyone he has fought for is going to get gassed. The few scenes that Ogg has only serve to remind you that he has been sorely missing for most of the season and hopefully he'll get more screen time during the second. His character is similar to the one he played in The Walking Dead and he does that sort of sleazy yet vaguely charming persona well. He delivers the ultimatum to Layton who must now choose between his revolution and sacrificing himself to save everyone else. It seems a pretty easy choice to make but he only really seems to make his mind up after Zarah finally tells him she's having his baby.
I've found the relationship between Layton and Zarah to be unconvincing and very underwritten this season. She was his ex who he then was briefly reunited with, before then embarking on an ill-fated fling with Josie. I do have hopes however that the future dynamic could be an interesting one. She is carrying Layton's child but she was also the one who gave Josie up and thus ultimately caused her death. This seems like it has potential for some fireworks in the future and I hope this is something explored further.
The relationship between Till and Jinju has been one of the better things about Snowpiercer and it soon gets strained to breaking point. For a while you're not sure what side Jinju is going to come down on. There is a very tense scene where Melanie is strapped into one of the deadly ice gas masks and just as you're thinking are they really going to kill off such a main character, Jinju comes to the rescue and helps Melanie escape. With Melanie and Jinju now having no choice but to side with Layton a plan is formed. Melanie informs them that a switch in the track is coming up and with careful timing they can disconnect the cars carrying Grey, the Folgers and all the jackboots and shunt them off down a siding. The back of the train can then reconnect with the front and the cars left behind will become freezing tombs for their occupants within minutes. This may seem harsh but they were going to gas everyone anyway so it's all fair.
This plan seems convoluted and highly unlikely to work to me but I can imagine the writers needed a way to get rid of the bad guys somehow and it does allow for some tension as everyone has to be in position at precise moments. Roche gets to fight Grey and Layton makes it to his position with the help of some of the tailies who have been freed from the drawers. There is a plot point made that one of the former drawer occupants can now speak Mandarin. It isn't mentioned again but I'm guessing this will become important next season. My first thought is that while in the drawers the drugged occupants are taught various skills via subliminal learning. This would tie in with Melanie insisting that the drawers weren't a punishment but were for the benefit of mankind when Snowpiercer eventually fails. I'll be interested to see where this storyline goes.
One thing Melanie neglected to tell Layton was that the cars that are going to be let go don't just contain their enemies. Unfortunately the captured tailies are also held here awaiting execution. Despite his best efforts to free them there just isn't time and Layton once again has to make a heartbreaking decision. I've been a bit critical of Layton's character this season but I put a lot of the blame on the writers. As a supposed leader of a revolution, he doesn't seem to have the passion or the charm necessary to inspire others. Daveed Diggs is obviously a great actor, his performance in Hamilton is testament to that alone. I just feel he hasn't really been given any great material to work with.
Finally, as the season reaches it's end he's given some scenes he can really work with. You can feel his rising panic as he quickly begins to realise that he isn't going to be able to save the prisoners in time. Despite their pleas he can do nothing but leave them to their fate, as he abandons them and disconnects their car from the train. It is a tragic scene and Diggs puts in an excellent performance, full of anguish as he does the only thing he can do and condemn his friends to death in order to save everyone else. The plan has worked and the revolution has won, but at what cost?
In the immediate aftermath of the revolution and the decoupling of the enemy section of train it becomes readily apparent that things will not be all smooth sailing moving forward. Layton wants to set up a completely democratic system of government but already cracks are starting to appear. Old grievances flare up between classes and people have already started looting and hoarding as much food as they can get their hands on. A new security team will have to be put in place quickly and herein lies the problem. You can strip away a ruling class but history tells us that a new regime will just fill the vacuum that is left. You can only hope that the replacement will be more benign than its predecessor. In a closed ecosystem like the Snowpiercer, where food and supplies are already in short supply, the odds of this happening are probably going to be slim. When you throw Big Alice into the mix things are really not going to go the way you expected. Big Alice you say? Yes, it seems that the Snowpiercer may not actually be the only train in operation, and she's closing in fast.
I thought a reveal involving Mr Wilford would be the big surprise for the season finale but as it turns out the writers went one better and introduce a whole new train. A smaller supply train to be precise, the prototype to the Snowpiercer, Big Alice. It races up behind them, attaches itself and starts cutting its way in to the tail. When the bulkhead falls away a lone figure stands and offers yet another ultimatum, surrender control of the Snowpiercer or all systems will remain shutdown and everyone freezes to death in thirteen minutes. The identity of the stranger will come as no surprise to anyone paying attention to the beginning of the episode where Melanie laments about the daughter she left behind when she had to choose between her or the train. When a previously unmentioned character is suddenly talked about you just know it won't be long before they magically appear.
So this is where season one leaves us. Snowpiercer has been boarded, Melanie's long lost daughter has turned up and Melanie herself is outside the train, having been thrown off when attempting to cut the connection that Big Alice was using to take control of it. Only an environment suit is preventing her from instantly freezing to death. As season two was greenlit while the first was still in production a cliffhanger ending was probably to be expected, and I'm surprised to say that I'd actually quite like to see what happens next. Snowpiercer is by no means a classic show. I had reservations going into it about the need to stretch a two-hour class analogy into a 10 part series. Some of my fears were realised, and other things turned out better than I thought they would.
The introduction of a murder mystery plot seemed like a novel idea to pad things out but that quickly fell by the wayside. The middle episodes dragged slightly and it wasn't until the actual revolution got underway that everything got far more exciting. A lot of background characters remained barely sketched in which made it hard to relate to them or feel any real emotion when they were threatened or killed. Jennifer Connelly has been the shows greatest asset by far, closely followed by Mickey Sumner's portrayal of Till. As I've previously mentioned, Daveed Diggs got hampered by a script where he was left to mope and growl his way through a lot of bland dialogue. Hopefully with him not in situ as head of the train he'll get better treatment next season.
The main problem with Snowpiercer is caused by its premise. When all your action takes place aboard a train that you can't leave you really need to take advantage of set design as you're going to be stuck there for almost all the running time. I don't feel that this was pushed far enough. The more observant among you will have noticed that nearly all the screenshots I have used in my reviews mainly just show a couple of people standing around looking pensive in a train carriage. There is a very good reason for this. I would have loved to have seen something along the lines of Mad Max: Fury Road. The designs in that film are sublime and immediately let you know everything about the different characters you are seeing using a visual shorthand. Too much of Snowpiercer looks the same, from the dingy tail section to the slightly less dingy third class section.
Having various factions dressed wildly different would also have helped easily identify people and lent much needed visual interest. I'd also liked to have seen the religious aspects of the train explored further. Ruth, among others, has an almost religious awe for Mr Wilford and the Engine Eternal. She sees him almost as a messiah and in a great moment in the finale leads a choir of schoolchildren to meet the new train which she is sure contains the great man himself. A cult dedicated to Mr Wilford and his wondrous creation seems tailor made for a show like this and hopefully it's a theme that can be developed more in later seasons.
So the train pulls in at its final station for the time being. The journey has been bumpy at times but ultimately satisfying. I look forward to seeing where Snowpiercer takes us next.
Dir: Christophe Schrewe, Clare Kilner, David Frazee, Everardo Gout, Frederick E.O. Toye, Graeme Manson, Helen Shaver, James Hawes, Leslie Hope, Rebecca Rodriguez, Sam Miller, Scott Derrickson | Cast: Alison Wright, Annalise Basso, Benjamin Haigh, Daveed Diggs, Iddo Goldberg, Jennifer Connelly, Katie McGuinness, Lena Hall, Mickey Sumner, Roberto Urbina, Sam Otto, Sasha Frolova, Sheila Vand, Susan Park | Writer: Graeme Manson