This Snowpiercer review contains spoilers.
Snowpiercer Season 2 Episode 3
A friend of mine from high school dropped out of college and bounced around multiple jobs before he got a job he loves. He now works as, of all things, an engineer in a train yard. Rather than taking the trains out on long hauls, he drives to the yard and moves trains around from the shed to the appropriate track and back as needed. The work is hard and outdoors in all weather, but satisfying enough that, last time we spoke, he was still an engineer. Even his relatively easy job is still very difficult, as it takes time both to get trains moving and to get them to stop; a train handles nothing like a car. Trying to drive a 1034-car super train with two disconnected engines up the Rocky Mountains seems like a nightmare, and yet, that’s the task given not to Bennett (Iddo Goldberg) or Melanie (Jennifer Connelly), but to teenage Alex (Rowan Blanchard) courtesy of one Mr. Wilford (Sean Bean) on this week’s episode of Snowpiercer.
Even though it’s just CGI, just watching Snowpiercer and Big Alice tilt at crazy angles to go around a curve, snow flying all around them, is intimidating. Perhaps it’s my fear of heights, but just thinking about that track curving around the side of a mountain with nothing between the train and a freefalling death but a couple of pieces of bent steel and the skill of someone who can’t drive a car is one of the most unnerving moments of the series. Given that the people on board Snowpiercer are being forced to huddle together in their emergency muster stations for the attempt only makes things worse; no wonder Audrey is drunk in the night car and everyone’s on edge throughout the train. Melanie’s trip to the research station is a suicide mission for the whole train, not just for her.
Of course, life is nothing but a suicide mission. In the cold opening, as Wilford sparks up a joint and liquors up his coffee, he mentions that the end of life isn’t a surprise. Everyone dies, no exceptions. There is no real way to escape that fate, but there is still power in knowledge, and weapons are very useful. His metaphor is mixed, yet pointed. Icy Bob is the point of a spear, knowledge is used like a sword, and he’s going to either get Snowpiercer back or drive humanity to extinction in the process. And, like Till suspected, he’s got loyalists on the inside of Snowpiercer, and true believers are always a problem when they’re being guided by a self-serving sociopath.
That Wilford is a danger to himself and others isn’t surprising, but Zak Schwartz’s script makes it clear that Wilford was manipulating people long before the earth began to freeze; Bennett and Melanie confirm this in their conversations with one another, with Layton, and with Alex. Alex, who is clearly a smart girl, is smart enough to see her way through Wilford, with a little help from her mother, but also smart enough to make sure that Wilford doesn’t see through her own wall of distain for her absentee parent.
The reunion moments between Alex and Melanie are well done, with the two working together to both get to the root of their relationship issues while not directly talking about them in an unnatural way. It’s performed well by Connelly and Rowan Blanchard, but also well written. Teenagers in particular are reticent to discuss their feelings directly, so Mel figures out how to solve that problem by working her way around them through their shared interest in the train.
Director David Frazee also does solid work with the other actors, in particular the goodbye scene between Melanie and Alison Wright’s Ruth Wardell. Melanie doesn’t ask for forgiveness, and Ruth doesn’t offer it, but there’s enough there between the two of them that Ruth has to keep her façade up at that final moment, all the same. Wright does a wonderful job here of not giving away too much of what Ruth is feeling, only letting her voice quaver a little bit, and her eyes mist up just slightly, while keeping the Head of Hospitality appearance ship-shape in front of the assembled passengers of Snowpiercer. Melanie isn’t dead, but everyone seems to be mourning her in their own way all the same.
Melanie knows when Wilford is most likely to make a move on Snowpiercer, and it’s while she’s gone. She’s careful to warn Layton of that, and give him good advice on taking Ruth into the fold as a confidant because of her straight-shooting mentality. She warns Alex to be wary of Wilford, as well, with full knowledge of his mind games and tendency to abuse others out of boredom rather than any pressing reason. Wilford’s interest in Icy Bob doesn’t seem to bode well for Melanie, or for Snowpiercer, though he’s still a work in progress. The Headwoods are busy sharpening the point of the spear for Wilford, even as they seem to be rooting for Melanie’s mission to succeed (or are just looking for something new to turn their attention to when not doing mad science).
Then again, Wilford needs Snowpiercer for more than just the egotistic reasons he suggests as he calls it “my train” over and over. From the brief reveals of the cold open, Big Alice’s crew seem tired, hungry, and most importantly, over Wilford’s big talk—you can’t fill a belly with deft wordplay and rousing speeches—while the breechmen on Snowpiercer remain true believers simply because they haven’t had to deal with Wilford all this time. A change in leadership on the big train would benefit Big Alice immensely, so while Wilford’s crew is smaller, they’re motivated because the alternative is canned meat and the rages of a despot.