This Snowpiercer review contains spoilers.
Snowpiercer Season 3 Episode 4
In a world where extinction is a cracked window away, it’s only natural that the survivors on Snowpiercer spend a lot of time dealing with ghosts, but rarely is that more explicit than on “Bound by One Track.” Granted, the returning Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly) isn’t a literal ghost, she’s just the manifestation of the fears and pains carried around by multiple characters in the episode. She’s far from the only ghost haunting Snowpiercer and Big Alice in the wake of multiple revolutions and several terrible accidents/decisions, but she’s the most prominent ghost for both Wilford (Sean Bean) and Alex (Rowan Blanchard).
It could be worse, she could be one of the three ghosts from A Christmas Carol, or a face-hungry rottweiler like Javi (Roberto Urbina) is dealing with. I’ll take a comforting—or at helpful—ghost over a snarling dog any day. Alex’s opening voice-over mentions that, by their very nature, trains run in a loop. There’s nowhere new Snowpiercer or Big Alice can go; they’re constantly retreading old ground, with the past and the future doomed to follow the same cycle. The only thing that can really change is a person’s response to events. By accepting the traumas of the past and learning from them, rather than running from the pain, growth is possible, even if Snowpiercer isn’t about to grow wheels and trade the track in for moto-crossing around the Horn of Africa.
“Bound by One Track” makes great use of Snowpiercer‘s three seasons of history, and the implied history before the show, by using Melanie’s vision as a way for both Alex and Wilford to come to face some hard truths about where they are and how they ended up there. For Alex, Melanie is the perfect guide to help her walk through her complicates feelings for Wilford. She hates him, but loves him. He raised her, but also left her best friend to freeze to death when he cut three cars full of people from Big Alice a year after the collapse. For Wilford, Melanie gives him someone to talk with about his attempts to figure out just where on the track Snowpiercer is and deal, in some small way, with the decision he made to abandon Alex’s friend, and a whole lot of other people, to frozen death (and to face the realization that Alex is the one over in the three corpse cars, facing the results of Wilford’s decision).
The use of Melanie allows Renee St. Cyr’s script to truly work, because she’s such an important figure in the lives of Wilford, Alex, and pretty much the rest of the train. She’s been the bogeyman, the box, the obsession, the abandoning parent… for Alex, her complicated relationship with her mother is matched only by her relationship with Wilford. For Wilford, Melanie might be the only person he sees as his equal, or close enough to it to have a talk with her in such an open way. Both of them use her as a way of dealing with their past, with Alex eventually opening up to Ben (Iddo Goldberg) about what happened on Big Alice and Wilford watching her stand by impassively while he slowly dies thanks to Roche’s (Mike O’Malley) attempted poisoning.
Even for the characters not seeing Melanie’s ghost, or the ghost of Wilford’s attack dog, the past is something they all must confront in some way. Ruth (Alison Wright) and Pike’s (Steven Ogg) budding relationship might be hindered by Pike’s inability to face down his criminal past. Ruth’s determination to return to her duties on board the train might very well be seen as a retreat from the burden of leadership she took on leading the resistance. Layton (Daveed Diggs) and Zarah (Sheila Vand) have to confront the decisions made in the recent past by dealing with the fact that their child was used as a test subject by Wilford. Asha (Archie Panjabi) might be able to keep up her end of Layton’s lie, but she’s struggling to deal with her past pre-Snowpiercer. Roche, his wounds still fresh from waking up, lashes out in a way that will have repercussions for him going down the line, because he didn’t allow himself a chance to deal with his past constructively and acted rashly.
It’s always nice to have Jennifer Connelly on a show, doubly so in something like Snowpiercer where she’s been such an integral part of the series. Her scenes with Rowan Blanchard and Sean Bean are really well shot, and her interaction with Blanchard in particular shines as the two make good use of the parental abandonment trauma in St. Cyr’s script for good emotional effect. Blanchard especially makes a lot with her moments, as Alex is able to finally let go of some residual guilt and have a true emotional expression while alone on board the discarded train cars.
Leslie Hope wisely gives the moments plenty of room to breathe. Alex and Wilford get to have space to think about what they’ve done and will do, and other characters, like Javi, Asha, and Roche, don’t get any space because their traumas are more recent (quite literally in the case of Javi, who hallucinates the dog right beside him at several points, and Asha, who is crowded by people in the Night Car). Distance helps make the act of processing old traumas easier, assuming you just don’t stay on the run from them forever.
Being trapped on the tracks of Snowpiercer makes that impossible; what goes around comes around, quite literally, and eventually you run out of sidings. There’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. Surviving only goes so far.