This Snowpiercer review contains spoilers.
Snowpiercer Season 3 Episode 8
Another day, another environmental calamity on board Snowpiercer that requires valiant intervention to prevent total systemic meltdown. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. It’s not a new situation on board Snowpiercer, but all things considered, that the train is still running this long, and this well, through such terrible conditions is a borderline miracle. I’ve worked places where the Internet broke down every time it rained, and that’s not even in a frozen post-apocalyptic hellscape. I can only imagine the challenge the engineers have had trying to keep the train running through thick and thin, revolution and dictatorship.
It’s a lot of work for three engineers plus an occasionally helpful prisoner in Wilford (Sean Bean), so it’s not a surprise that when the chance to recover a missing person in the form of Melanie Cavill is dangled in front of the crew, they jump at it. Even if it’s not a great use of resources, Melanie is still one of the finest engineers in the world—there’s not a lot of competition for that title, but it still sounds pretty good—and it’s worth delaying the trip to New Eden for a few days to try to scoop her back up. She’s got skills that will be necessary for survival, especially if New Eden pans out.
Even if Melanie wasn’t important to the future, she’s still a living person in a world where that’s a hot commodity, she’s still got connections to the people running the show on Snowpiercer, and she’s a convenient excuse for Layton (Daveed Diggs) to delay the train’s arrival at New Eden for a little while longer while he wrestles with the fact that he might have mortgaged his future on a hallucination caused by lack of oxygen to the brain and untreated trauma. However, to check if she’s the person clearing tracks and throwing switches, first Snowpiercer has to track her down and recover her, and to do that the train will have to travel through a cloud of poisonous volcanic gas.
I suppose the continued activity of the earth’s magma layer is a good sign for the planet. It might not be hospitable for humans, but dig deeply enough and there’s still a little life in the old girl. That means hot springs should still be hot, water should still be unfrozen and moving somewhere on the planet, and the reset will come eventually. Humans have to live long enough for the Earth to warm herself back up, but that’s a we problem, not a planet problem. Fortunately, when everything is working properly on Snowpiercer, she’s a very robust train. However, when things go wrong, entire species die off. Thus, a broken air scrubber means a dire life-or-death situation for Asha and Layton while the rest of the train is confined to quarters and forced to be a little bit more introspective.
Problems have been building for certain characters all season, with Layton and Till (Mickey Sumner) developing the most serious problems in the process. Layton is living a lie, and willing to kill to protect it. Till is struggling with the weight of her past, and the weight of her prison, as she tries to rectify being a hard-nosed, violent brakeman with her current status as train detective and friendly member of the inner circle. Layton has his visions, and Till has her drinking, and Marisha Mukerjee’s script leans heavily on the two of them, with Layton and Archie Panjabi’s Asha have some wonderful conversations in between moments of pure terror and Till and Lena Hall’s Audrey indulging in a little old-fashioned guided meditation like the kind that used to be why people went to the Night Car.
Till and Asha both seem to have been looking for a place, and both seem to have found it by the end of the episode. Mickey Sumner does a good job with Till, and has good chemistry with Lena Hall, who has done some excellent work with very little screen time. Asha has had more opportunity, but this week is the episode in which Archie Panjabi really gets to pull her character together, and by the time Asha closes out her appearance on the show, it’s more impactful than it could be thanks to strong reaction work with Daveed Diggs and Iddo Goldberg. The two performers give the character’s presence more weight beyond what she’s been able to achieve during in-show appearances; Asha has been creepy at times and has had a few good moments, but nothing that would provoke much response in the audience were it not for Diggs’ desperation to get her to safety and Goldberg’s crushed reaction as he listens to her breathing her last breaths via radio connection.
The death of Asha carries the character’s story to completion in an interesting way. She wasn’t born into life on Snowpiercer like Winnie and the other kids. She didn’t fight her way onto the tail like Layton, or find herself drafted into being security like Till. She had no personal connection to the Great Engineer like Audrey. Instead, she was an outsider who found a home long after she’d watched the world die around her. Long after she sacrificed everything to stay alive and keep her nephew safe. As Ruth says to Asha in the cold opening, everyone finds a place on the train eventually. People change, heal, recover, grow or regress within the confines of 1029 cars.
Director Leslie Hope makes good use of the external threat to life while showing off just how tough , and how delicate, Snowpiercer can be. The train handles most of the bad air outside, no problems, thanks to build-in redundancy and resistance to corrosion. Except for when one of the air intakes fails to close due to a bad servo, then the whole train is put at risk. Once that’s closed (with a human life being sacrificed in the process), everything is right in Snowpiercer’s world again. For most of the train, the cool-looking poisonous orange gas outside merely made the windows look interesting while everyone was stuck inside looking at them. The focus is on the performances rather than pyrotechnics or action, and Hope does a solid job of keeping that focus on the actors while keeping the episode moving at a good clip, without getting somber in the process of lots of character-driven self-reflection.
That only one person died is a miracle in and of itself. Asha found a home on Snowpiercer, but Snowpiercer is not a traditional home. Snowpiercer has a price, and that price, like Dr. Headwood’s (Sakina Jaffrey) price for giving LJ (Annalise Basso) information, is bodily sacrifice. Asha was introduced from without, and gave people dreams of a bigger, brighter future. Perhaps the system merely had to balance itself out again.