Snowpiercer’s Season 2 finale was served up as a double booking of episodes, and those who weren’t exhausted by the overwrought carnival / dinner nonsense in the first hour were treated to a high-speed emotional rollercoaster for its second. Did much it make sense? Not really (more on that in a moment), but it was true to the spirit of Snowpiercer as a whole: good ideas executed unevenly.
In its second season, Snowpiercer introduced a new force that necessarily changed the game: the advent not only of Wilford himself, but the supply train he co-opted and re-speced to become the Goliath known as Big Alice. The union of the two trains had fascinating significance. On the one hand, Snowpiercer had just successfully survived a coup, an elimination of class, and a “one train” mentality that was meant to herald a utopia. Instead, it was compromised almost immediately. That’s not surprising, but it is interesting to explore through the lens of the heroes we’ve come to support. Unfortunately, Snowpiercer preferred to focus on the increasingly unhinged figure of Wilford, whose battle against Melanie and Layton was both ideological and mechanical. The two trains needed each other both in terms of power and resources, and because peace was fragile on Snowpiercer while loyalty to Wilford was still strong.
This played out best, initially, in Audrey’s storyline. A survivor and supporter of the revolution, she was willing to go back to an abusive relationship with Wilford in order to infiltrate his growing base of support. The flashbacks to Wilford’s psychological control of Audrey and his sadistic damage was brutal, and spoke more to who he was than the subsequent retelling of the story through Kevin, when Wilford just became Jigsaw from the Saw franchise. But pretty soon after, Audrey was no longer an agent for change, or even a double agent. She just… reverted back to who she was, screwing over her friends and the people of the train to become Wilford’s “floozy,” derided especially by Alex. It was just one of a number of promising female-driven storylines that were cut short; let us not forget Tilly’s interest and investigation into faith (and what faith looks like in an apocalyptic world), only for that to be shattered when the priest turned out to be a murderer working for Wilford. Sigh.
Even when Snowpiercer started to lean too heavily into plot, leaving all of its interesting characterizations behind, it still managed to give us stand-out episodes like “Many Miles from Snowpiercer.” That excellent bottle episode explained why and how Melanie stole the train, left Alex behind, and chronicled her present-day horror story making her way to the research station—a creepy mini-survival mission that was one of the only examples of Tailie-esque life we got in Season 2, which preferred instead to luxuriate uptrain, leaving the fate of its most forgotten citizens, well, forgotten.
Still, when things subverted a third time (Wilford took power back, Melanie was reported as dead, Layton and Ruth were sent to Compost, Roche and his family were put in drawers), it suggested a fresh shift in alliances that would reveal new things about these characters and their supporters. I don’t remember Ruth’s neck tattoo being visible before, but I thought we might learn something about her pre-B&B past, like that weird revelation that Oz apparently was not just a footballer but also a professional-level singer and pianist? Sure, give us more context! The show is at its best when we get little moments like Ruth’s delight at seeing a bath, Javier’s hula girl joke, or Melanie fashioning a rat trap.
Instead, once again, interesting ideas were teased but discarded for more quick-fixes. Layton was in Compost for what, two days? Meanwhile, what did the common folk of Snowpiercer think about all of the power jockeying, explosions, rough track, and other general insanity (the carnival??) happening on the train over the course of the last five or six episodes? Our Tailie connections have either become uptrain leaders or given superpowers (Josie, The Cold Woman). None of these things are bad on their own, but the whirlwind pace at which we hyper-focused on trains being stolen back and forth alongside Wilford’s insane ringmaster violence (RIP Javier, someone had to be sacrificed but I wish it hadn’t been you) was ultimately hollow. Too many scenes relied on silly leaps of logic, like Wilford trusting former revolution leader Josie to do his bidding, or making Tilly his advisor (??) for no discernible reason.
And then there was the coda, where a portion of our heroes (godspeed Ruth, you’re going to have a hard time being left behind) chilled—or rather, roasted—on the train while Layton and Alex went to collect Melanie. Except Melanie was gone; she saved the drives so that her allies could get the weather info they needed (global warming, the good kind, was on its way), and then just … walked out and died. According to her logbook, at least. But even that was hollow and anticlimactic. Further, when it comes to television, if you don’t see a body (and sometimes even if you do!) you can’t be sure a person is really dead. There could be other geothermal caves! Either way the impact was lost, because it was a tacked-on non-closure for one of the show’s most important characters. And frankly, Snowpiercer simply isn’t as strong without her, and that’s worrying going into Season 3.
Often when talking about a season finale of a cable or premium series, it’s with the uncertainty of whether a show will return, or even if it should. There is no concern on the former count regarding Snowpiercer, which TNT renewed at the start of Season 2. But where the show goes from here is uncertain. With Snowpiercer and Big Alice divided physically, it feels like a good opportunity to dig into the character work that makes that show compelling. We need more time with people like Tilly, Bennett, Oz, and Cold Woman Josie, as well as some new characters still on Snowpiercer who can give us a sense of what life is like for those not actively involved in revolution. (Including kids! Introducing Roche’s school-aged daughter just to put her in a bin was such a wasted opportunity). A time jump might also help; the last thing I care to see is Wilford brutally reestablishing power and bathing in oysters while drinking aged tiger’s blood, or whatnot.
The goal of Snowpiercer is to get off-train and start rebuilding life on Earth. That is unlikely to happen in Season 3, but enough solid character building that actually reignites our interest in these players and makes us care about what happens to them in this potential New World—and the many, many problems that are sure to arise before and during that transition—could carry us through for seasons to come. For now, Snowpiercer the show feels a bit like Snowpiercer the train: one small, solid engine versus a careening behemoth. They need to reconnect, in more ways than one.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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