This Snowpiercer review contains spoilers.
Snowpiercer Season 2 Episode 7
There’s always someone to fear on Snowpiercer. Till establishes it well during her cold opening narration. Seven billion lost in the deep freeze versus eight people killed by brutal violence on board the train. Death seems like it should be a familiar friend for the passengers on board, but when humanity’s population is down into four digits at best, it’s not surprising that every loss hits harder than the impossible to comprehend figure of seven billion. Even when that seven billion contains family and friends, it’s not the same as when one of the train’s most crucial departments gets decimated in a brutal surprise attack perpetrated by Wilford knows who.
The suspect in the Lights attack was the breechmen. So when the breechmen get mowed down, the logical suspect would be Lights’ companions in the Tail. When Third Class wants revenge, they have two choices, punch up or punch down. In this case, they have decided to punch down, their shared struggle alongside the Tail for equality and a seat at the table quickly forgotten. All that’s left for Third now is revenge and regret that they ever supported the Tail. They’re out for blood, and woe betide the innocent Tailies caught up in their witch hunt.
That the assault on the breechmen was part of Wilford’s plan isn’t a huge surprise; he’s been operating behind the scenes since Big Alice latched onto Snowpiercer’s caboose, and he’s mentioned having to sacrifice good, loyal servants for the greater good previously. The breechmen were too obviously Wilford loyalists to be behind anything, but they were a convenient catspaw for Wilford to drive the wedge in between the Tail and Third Class and create just the sort of chaos and disorder that would be obvious to him even on the other side of the door. Chaos creates opportunity; sometimes all you need to do is make your own chaos.
One of the smarter choices in Tina de la Torre’s script is that it focuses mostly on the death of the breechmen, with everything else kind of spinning out from around that. The border is closed, so Audrey can’t come back across even if she wants to. The brakemen are spread out throughout the train trying to stop violence before it happens. Till (Mickey Sumner) is still searching for the killers of the breechmen and the mutilator of Lights. Layton (Daveed Diggs) and Ruth (Alison Wright, who is very good this week) and the rest are pulled in any one of a dozen different directions and can’t focus on any one issue until it’s too late and the rioters are at the door.
Focusing on the efforts to disarm the violence before it happens is a clever way to build tension, as you get (mostly) the POV of the leadership and various members of the Tail trying to get to cover before it’s too late. There isn’t anything too stand-out, aside from Ruth’s little speech to the assembled Third Class mutilators and some good Audrey/Wilford and Alex/Wilford banter (Rowan Blanchard in particular has great facial expressions at the end of the episode), but it’s not an especially writer-friendly episode (thought bad writing could have easily derailed it, particularly with the Pastor Logan reveal).
The focus of the episode is purely building tension, and it does so very well. Rebecca Rodriguez does a solid job of adding tension just to scenes of people running through hallways, and the Audrey/Kevin counseling session is also very fraught indeed. Audrey (Lena Hall) is put in a position to have to prove her loyalty by giving Wilford a new toy to play with in Kevin (Tom Lipinski). There’s not really a respite from the tension until Ruth shows up and dismisses the Third Class rioters with angry words and experience with taking arms, saving Layton’s skin in the process. Even then, it’s less of a pressure release and more of a slight lessening, like twisting the release knob on a pressure cooker just enough to burn your hand and not enough to actually release a meaningful amount of pressure.
It doesn’t break out into full-scale revolution, but it’s enough to noticeably shift the balance from Layton to Wilford, as seen at the very end when the train travels through the spiral and everyone on Snowpiercer gathers to look at the train circling the bend in the tracks. There are entirely too many red windows. As Till learned, that’s strong support for the leader they don’t know, Wilford, and the safety and stability that Melanie maintained in his name for seven long years rather than the political unrest and simmering violence that has marked Layton’s time as the boss of Snowpiercer.
The train needs a strong leader; democracy might be the goal, but democracies aren’t exactly the swiftest form of government when it comes to dealing with problems and the dream that got Layton installed as the lead of a revolution—everyone gets a seat at the table and everyone gets a say—is sidetracked before it can even begin. What does it really matter if one strongman dictator is replaced by a different dictator?
For the person laboring away in Third Class, nothing really changes. No wonder they’re not that interested in keeping Layton around and willing to take their chances with Wilford. They’ve thrown off one dictatorship already; how much worse would it be to discard Layton for Wilford? Or Wilford for the next person in line? First Class might want a return to normalcy, but Third Class is going to be doing Third Class things regardless. Working hard every day for a bowl of noodles and a beer or two at the end of the work day continues on no matter who is pulling the strings and flipping the switches at the front of the train. There’s no need to be loyal to someone who won’t improve your situation, and that’s why Layton’s broken promises are coming back to haunt him.