This Snowpiercer review contains spoilers.
Snowpiercer Season 2 Episode 8
Andre Layton has had to give up a lot for the greater good. He’s lost friends and lovers in the intrigues prior to the war, and more once the conflict turned bloody. He’s given up food to maintain Strong Boy. He’s struggled and scrapped, cashed in favors and given out new ones. He’s done everything he can do to get control of Snowpiercer and build a better world on Wilford’s train. And yet, when his revolution is about to turn full democracy, Wilford shows back up and kicks off an ersatz constitutional crisis, forcing Layton to declare martial law and become the very thing he overthrew: a benevolent dictator. Sure, things are different, but a dictator is still a dictator, and Andre Layton is just a Tailie; Mr. Wilford is the great engineer.
One of the good things about Snowpiercer is the ability the show has to create tension using its environment. Just watching workers scrambling to emergency positions, pushing through hallways and past rooms to get to the subtrain, is harrowing. I’ve been on trains and on cruise ships, and whenever I saw someone on the crew moving faster than a leisurely walk, it was concerning. I’ve been lucky and I’ve never seen someone running while alarms blare and lights flash in warning. No wonder everyone looks terrified; this is the first time Snowpiercer has ever had to be manually shut down for repairs.
Fortunately for the train, and unfortunately for Layton, the only person who can repair the damage to the train and make sure it keeps rolling down the track is Mr. Wilford. That he caused the damage he’s repairing isn’t really common knowledge; he’ll make sure the world knows about his repair, though. Wilford giveth and, as the train will undoubtedly figure out by the end, Wilford taketh away whether you were on his side or not.
In the first season, most of the focus was on Layton as he went around solving the murders and planning a revolution. When the revolution hit, it was shocking and violent, even if pretty much everything else stayed the same aside from the change in leadership. First Class might have to rub elbows with the occasional Pike, but they’re still eating on white linen tablecloths with actual silverware while Third Class is still eating noodles and hardboiled eggs. Only the Tail seemed to improve their station very much, but after the death of the breechmen and the fallout of the attack on Lights, they’re back in their familiar hiding spot like everyone else. We got a little of Melanie’s view on things, but she was harder to relate to than Layton, because Layton is the underdog.
To watch the other shoe drop is a lot less satisfying when it’s landing on someone who is only trying to save humanity from a despot, and Renee St. Cyr’s script makes the hopelessness of Layton’s situation all the more apparent even before Wilford gets on the horn and announces to the train that he’s saved them all a second time. Audrey makes a good point in her brief conversation with Josie; you sleep a lot better when people aren’t depending on you to tell them how to survive. That stress is clear on Layton’s face, and in the wake of Wilford’s triumph, Daveed Diggs nails that look of relief and fear.
Layton is relieved because the train has survived; he’s afraid because that means the people who have been agitating for Wilford’s return will be able to put themselves into position to make that happen, and everything his friends fought and died for will have been in vain. Sean Bean also deserves credit for being able to go from convincingly scared for survival in one moment to the smug, preening Wilford a moment later when the crisis is averted. The performances of those two actors, and a committed performance from Mike O’Malley as the caught-in-the-middle Roche, help carry the story forward.
Everyone has something to live for, to fight for. Roche has his children, Layton has his baby on the way, Alex has her mother, Josie has her people in the Tail, and Wilford has his train (and his life). Those things that hang in the balance are made all the more obvious without the light on them, with Rebecca Rodriguez using the red emergency lights of the shut-down train as a great way to heighten the tension on Daveed Digg’s face in the final moments prior to his arrest. He’s saved the train, but he might have just lost everything; the cascading restoration of lights and power will only hurt Layton and the Tail’s chance at becoming a full-fledged part of Snowpiercer’s ecosystem.
Wilford describes it, as he turns the power back on, as games on games. With a little help from sleeper agents on the inside and Icy Bob on the outside, Wilford has taken back his train, and the people who helped Layton (or stayed neutral and had the misfortune of working alongside him) are going to face serious repercussions for their actions. As the flare Layton fired from the front of the train stains the night sky red, it’s already too late. The warning is meaningless. For the moment, at least, Wilford has won the day. But if there’s one thing we know about Layton, it’s that he doesn’t give up, and he’s got friends plural on Big Alice.