This Snowpiercer review contains spoilers.
Snowpiercer Episode 7
The cold opening to this week’s Snowpiercer opens up with none other than LJ Folger (Annalise Basso) discussing human nature. Specifically, how to her one of the core tenets of human behavior is to be self-involved, and how the individual person is never the most important person in the world, no matter what they might think. That’s easy for someone like LJ to say, because she’s only important because her family is important. But what about someone like Melanie (Jennifer Connelly)? In the world of Snowpiercer, she’s the person on the train with real, ultimate power, and that’s why she is involved in every plot, scheme, and silly little game; when you’re one exposed lie away from getting your head stuck out a porthole by your enemies, you tend to take those things seriously.
However, at a certain point in “The Universe Is Indifferent,” Melanie is forced to choose between two brewing crises, and in the process she seems to make an enemy of one of the people she should depend on for her survival and the survival of the train. A large part of Melanie’s job is, of course, prioritizing; she gave over handling of first class to Ruth for a reason, and she trusts her to execute that job, but when she snaps at Ruth (Alison Wright) and tells her to handle whatever problem is going on in first class in such an aggressive way, it’s clear from Ruth’s facial expression that keeping Melanie safe is no longer her top priority, and that Ruth herself might be willing to take on that top spot once Melanie’s secret is exposed (or at least after the Folgers sic their killer daughter on her).
Keeping one huge secret just might be what brings about Melanie’s downfall, whether she successfully keeps it or not.
Throughout the episode, Jennifer Connelly’s prowess as an actor is on full display, as Melanie has to tamp down her human side and embrace the character she plays every time she ties her hair back and pulls on her hospitality smock. Connelly does a wonderful job in projecting Melanie’s intimidating coolness throughout; no matter who she’s interacting with, be it Terence (Shaun Toub, appropriately slimy at all times), the tailies, or a defiant Josie (Katie McGuinness) in the interrogation suite. When she’s just scheming for information about Layton, and trying to capture Layton, she’s fine, but when she’s forced to engage in Snowpiercer’s version of enhanced interrogation with Josie, the cracks begin to show in the character, but Melanie pushes through with iron discipline, even when it takes a very real physical and mental toll on her. Josie’s trying to protect her friend and lover; Melanie is trying to preserve the very train Mr. Wilford built, and as she tells Miles (Jaylin Fletcher), it’s a thankless, friendless job.
The interrogation scene in and of itself is a pretty impressive thing, as it combines both emotional drama and body horror without leaning too heavily into Grand Guignol territory. Helen Shaver shows a light touch with the actual disfigurement aspect, but just enough gets shown to get the point across, and when Josie shatters her frozen hand and attacks Melanie with her stump, it’s a weirdly triumphant moment, despite Josie sacrificing a hand in her effort to keep Melanie from tracking down Layton. It’s not often that bodily disfigurement can be a hero moment (and, if she wanted to, Melanie could have probably gotten out of the cuffs with only losing a couple of fingers, but it looks much cooler to smash a frozen hand in one swift movement), but it’s done well here, with a completely different reaction in the audience than the frozen arm punishment from earlier in the series, or from the frozen head smash made famous in Jason X. Shaver also shows a solid hand with the performers, particularly Melanie when she’s having her private breakdown, Mickey Sumner when Till is having her change in loyalty from her partners in Second Class and the people she comes from in Third, and Ruth as she has to choose between her loyalty to Wilford and her own desire to be treated with the respect that she feels she deserves.
The script, from Donald Joh, makes it clear that there are enemies on all sides of Melanie, and she has to choose who to go after and who to ignore (for the time being). She ignores Ruth, not knowing that the Folger conspiracy to topple Melanie has also compromised Commander Grey (Timothy V. Murphy) and by extension the most hardcore security force on the train. The Folgers scheming, and third class scheming, are things that can be ignored, but when one of the sides has the military behind them? That’s when Melanie’s position gets more than just complicated but legitimately threatened. On a train where only the super rich and their bodyguards have guns, making enemies of the one group with guns is never a good idea, especially if they’re organizing with the train’s ersatz military. Then again, with the weapons kept by the tail and the ability of Third Class passengers to cut off electricity, water, food, and other vital resources to the front of the train, Layton needs to be stopped, too.
Melanie has a choice to make, and she chooses the more immediate threat of Layton, but like most people in desperate situations, she does far more than she ever thought herself capable of. She’s pushed, hard, on all sides, and she reacts poorly, as the stress of dealing with insurrection on all sides and no real support from her fellow engineers becomes overwhelming. It’s only a few moments, but they’re moments that are going to resonate throughout the next three episodes and into the show’s second season. That’s all it takes for the status quo, the carefully-maintained balance, to be shattered for good.