This Snowpiercer review contains spoilers.
Snowpiercer Season 3 Episode 9
From the very opening moments of Snowpiercer, it’s clear that the train that couldn’t slow down is in for some big changes. Ben (Iddo Goldberg) talks about how people build their lives around loved ones, and when those loved ones are lost, we lose part of ourselves and turn inward to examine who we are, if we did enough, and where we belong in this new world without that person in our lives. For Ben, that person has been Melanie (Jennifer Connelly), out in the frozen wilderness and presumed dead until signs of her active presence are uncovered. For Melanie, she’s lost everyone she’s ever known, depending on suspension drugs and stimulants to hope against hope that she’ll live long enough for someone, anyone to notice her presence and keep her from becoming just another frozen corpse among 7 billion or so.
We rebuild, Ben says, piece by piece, and forge a new path forward with new bonds, like the one Layton (Daveed Diggs) has formed with Zarah (Sheila Vand) and new baby Liana. Like the one Alex (Rowan Blanchard) has forged with Carly Roche (Esther Ming Li). Even like the one Till (Mickey Sumner) has forged with Audrey (Lena Hall). Ones that Melanie Cavill has not been a part of. In fact, Melanie has missed a lot over the past six months or so of drugging herself into a coma to stay alive, and the more she finds out about what Layton has been up to, what Layton is risking, the more concerned she seems to grow about the one thing that hasn’t changed: her mission to keep the human race alive.
The gang on board Snowpiercer worked very hard to track her down and recover her, uniting both Team Wilford and Team Layton in the effort to capture the mostly automated track scaler and recover the person who may or may not be alive on board. As it turns out, Melanie is alive, but Layton might wish she wasn’t by the end of “A Beacon For Us All,” because the two have very different leadership philosophies. The returning conquering hero trumps visions of paradise in Africa and a cute new baby in a ‘what have you done for me lately?’ setting like Snowpiercer. The grass is always greener on the other side, even if it’s covered in several feet of snow and ice.
Wilford built the train and recruited the rich investors personally. Layton freed the third class and tail from the oppression of first class and installed something that looks like democracy if you squint. Melanie kept the train running for years without help, kept relative peace between the factions, and served as the public face of normalcy. It’s not a surprise that the train’s populace would start to pick sides, with die-hard Wilfordites like LJ (Annalise Basso) working against the interests of both Melanie and Layton, while Melanie and Layton come to a train-splitting ideological difference.
The script, from Audrey Nealon and Michael Kraus, does a good job of establishing the whys for Melanie’s betrayal of Layton’s dream. Alex might have talked herself into believing it over the months, and the rest of the train followed suit, but if the Great Engineer Wilford thinks it’s risky, and the science itself is almost as iffy as the track leading to the Horn of Africa, it’s not a surprise that Melanie will do what she needs to do to keep the train safe and damn the cost to Layton and his associates who kept his lie alive. It’s well done because it doesn’t skimp on the affection; everyone’s glad to see Melanie until she decides to seal herself and Javi into the engine and let the train know that Layton’s been selling them wolf tickets. The hype of New Eden is very real, but New Eden itself might not be, and the trip to New Eden is risky enough that the train might not survive it even if it is habitable surface area.
One of the better elements of the show is the way that director Christoph Schrewe and the post-production staff makes such good use of music to create tension. We know Melanie is alive, we see her slowly getting closer and closer to running out of chemicals to keep herself asleep and wake herself back up, and we know that Snowpiercer is right on her tail, but there’s still a lot of tension as the crew manage to hook up the scaler and bring it on board the train. It’s not the sort of show where a screw-up like this can kill a main character, and yet the environment is created where that feels like a risk and while the characters are competent, there’s still an element of risk in what has to be a pretty dangerous rescue mission.
Things seem to only get more tense as Melanie wakes up and starts putting together just where the train is, what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it. At least there’s the chance for the reunion moments to breathe between Alex and Melanie, Ben and Melanie, Layton and Melanie, and so on. Jennifer Connelly lifts anything she’s on, and her reunion scene with Rowan Blanchard and Iddo Goldberg is a beautifully done bit of acting on her part, and her scene partners don’t disappoint. Ditto her more fractious meetings with Sean Bean’s Wilford and Daveed Diggs’ Layton, both of which feel awkwardly real in terms of their energy and allow Diggs’ natural charisma to shine through as he tries to sell Melanie on his plan. Schrewe has a good hand with the performers.
Melanie’s concern is couched well enough that the third-act twist is actually a successful twist. Everyone seems caught by surprise by it, and she has a core of supporters that she can tap into, just like Wilford when he engineers his own escape. As we’ve seen during Ruth’s stint as a revolutionary leader, Snowpiercer is surprisingly easy to disappear on, which is a surprise considering it’s an enclosed space with no exit save death. If anyone can find a place to hide, it’s Wilford, and if anyone can track down a hider, it’s Layton, but both of them have Melanie and her supporters to deal with at the same time.
Things were tense enough on the train when there were only two camps in opposition. A third camp will only further destabilize things and probably kick off yet another round of terrorist attacks, murders, and uprisings as people vie for control of the train. It seems that unrest is the only true constant on board Snowpiercer. The last time this happened, all the fish went extinct; now humanity is at risk of joining our finned friends.