This Snowpiercer review contains spoilers.
Snowpiercer Episode 6
A broken window is, normally, an inconvenience. The rain might get in, or bugs, but a little duct tape and a piece of cardboard or plastic wrap and the window is whole enough to serve its purpose until it can be replaced. A broken window on Snowpiercer wiped out an entire species. A bullet hole in some sort of fluid tank created a drip. The drip trickled down into an electrical conduit. The electrical conduit fried. The resulting cascading failure is enough to create a drastic problem on board the 1,001-car train that will require immediate maintenance. Routine enough, until something else goes wrong, and what starts out as simply a locked-out brake puts Wilford Industries’ super train, and the human race, on the siding towards extinction.
Given the short margins on which Snowpiercer operates, the planned work stoppage by Third Class passengers is something that the train and Melanie cannot abide, so she personally visits third class to let them know the risks of their strike. If they go on strike, ten of the strikers will be chosen at random and sent to the tail of the train, and ten Tailies will be promoted to take their place. Collective action is strong, but the way management stops collective action is stopping it before it can begin by putting the fear of retribution into employees. It works that way at Walmart, and it works that way on Snowpiercer. Fortunately, or unfortunately, a much more serious emergency takes place on the train and class grievances are forgotten as a result of potential eminent death. As Melanie tells Layton during their wrestling match in the undercarriage of the train, choices were made by everyone on board that train, and all of them abandoned loved ones in order to stay alive.
It’s one of the better scripted moments in the episode, with Aubrey Nealon and Tina de la Torre’s teleplay building nicely up to it by establishing that Layton (Daveed Diggs), still under the effects of the drawer but slowly coming out of them, isn’t his usual self. He’s more aggressive, agitated, short-tempered in a way that he typically isn’t. Layton normally thinks and plans, but after regaining his mobility and some of his strength, he’s quick to grab a weapon and go after Melanie while she’s distracted keeping the train from derailing and killing everyone. Melanie (Jennifer Connelly), Jinju (Susan Parks), and Bennett (Iddo Goldberg) have some cute moments to strengthen their relationship, and Breachman Bojan (Aleks Paunovic) gets to be a hero to the kids, and to the train, in the wake of the accident that causes the engine replacement to go awry and put everyone at risk. However, it’s Melanie’s admission to Layton of what the Drawers are actually for, and just how desperate the train’s situation truly is, that stays his hand and allows her to climb under the train and repair the broken hydraulics linkage.
The bulk of the episode is mostly people being knocked around by rough track or holding onto one another as the train hurtles towards a bridge and death, but the little moments throughout—Oz (Sam Otto) and Till (Mickey Sumner) stuck together in train jail, holding hands so they don’t die alone, LJ (Annalise Basso) being the only person not to brace herself or fall to the floor as the train tilts dangerously to one side, and Ruth’s (Alison Wright) hopeful, positive address to the train in its moment of danger—land really well, because the trouble is well established and the ticking clock is set into place courtesy of Helen Shaver’s solid direction. The risk is well established, but not overly so, in the script, and the physical actions of the people on the cars, both name actors and extras, give the whole scene a definite edge that some shows cannot replicate. Given the series has already killed off the world’s supply of beef, it’s not entirely certain that all of the train’s cars will make it to the second season intact, and Snowpiercer has plenty of characters it can kill off should it come to that.
The train is hanging on by the skin of its teeth, and Melanie is hanging on by the skin of her teeth as well. Unrest in First Class that one of their own was charged with a murder. Unrest in Third Class because several of their own were killed with no justice. Second Class caught in the middle, trying to work around resource constriction. And, as always, the Tail, struggling for a seat at the table rather than just hand-outs. It’s a rolling powder keg, and the fuse is lit with every inter-class incident that happens.
There’s no way for Melanie to make everyone happy. Happiness wears off eventually. Fear, on the other hand, is much easier to propagate, and as she sees at the end of this episode, the fear of (and subsequent escape from) death can buy someone in a tricky situation a lot of good will when it is needed most. Good will is the key to getting out of her current predicaments, plural, and the key to making sure she doesn’t get tossed out of the nearest door to freeze to death and shatter beneath the wheels of the train she’s dedicated her life to keeping safely on the tracks.