The last two episodes of Snowpiercer’s second season dropped this week on Netflix, bringing to a close another bonkers and highly enjoyable journey that I am braced and ready to make fun of, with love.
The season 1 finale was utterly mad, and by contrast, season 2 was generally quieter, with a few disturbing and gruesome exceptions. At the end of season 1, Layton’s Tailie Revolution barely had time to celebrate its success when the supply train, Big Alice, caught up to Snowpiercer bearing the dramatic gifts of Melanie’s long-lost daughter, and the man himself, Mr Wilford. Papa Dubs. How would Wilford react to seeing his train in the hands of an unticketed passenger, not to mention the woman who left him for dead? Mini spoiler: not well. If you haven’t watched episodes 9 and 10 yet, pull the brakes, because there will be a veritable avalanche of big spoilers coming along any minute now. Plus, let’s play another game of ‘spot the fake spoiler’, for funsies!
After some technical sabotage, the two trains were stuck with each other, with Snowpiercer at the front and Big Alice bringing up the rear, and as all the surviving humans on the two trains are stuck with each other, an uneasy détente is struck. The former Tail is now the border, and there’s trade — both legit and naughty — between the two trains. And it is definitely a tale of two trains. Snowpiercer bears Wilford’s name, and was run in his name, but first by Melanie, who was appalled by Wilford’s attitude to ‘saving’ humanity, and then by Layton, who wanted to restore democracy and free the Tailies. Melanie’s approach was Wilford-lite in practice, but underpinned by a different set of principles. In my season 1 review, I said that Melanie wanted to be Noah, and Wilford wanted to be Dystopia King. Both ways would have oppressed those in the Tail; Melanie let them live where Wilford would have had them shot before departure, but other than that, the structure of train life under Melanie was Wilford-esque. Layton’s revolution has freed the Tail but destabilised the train in the process, and because he hasn’t had a chance to set up the New Train Order, the arrival of Wilford has many a ticketed passenger longing for the ‘good old days’ of the Wilford way. The trouble is, they never experienced True Wilfordism, only Wilford-lite under Melanie, and they are in for a rude awakening. Ruth — last seen assembling a choir of children to serenade Mr Wilford on arrival — is looking for certainty after being shocked by Melanie’s lies. The person who knows Wilford the best — Audrey from the Night Car — is drinking heavily and looking scared. That’s not a good sign.
Sean Bean has an absolute riot of a time playing Mr Wilford as The Worst Human Being Of All Time. Imagine that Joffrey and Ramsay Bolton raised a child together, and that child grew up and was in charge of saving the world… Layton calls him “an old white dictator with a train set;” Wilford describes himself as “morally dyslexic,” and that’s the most self-aware he gets. Bean keeps Wilford just the right side of pantomime villain, which is tricky when scenes literally call for him to make a grand entrance at a train carnival called ‘Willy’s World’, with a top hat and cane, so that he can show Punch and Judy-style propaganda to kids while they eat their candy floss.
Wilford’s leadership style is based on the three Os: Order, Obedience, and Oh My God Did That Just Happen. This is the guy who designed the arm-freezing port-holes in the original train, because Order. He’s the guy who psychologically torments his crew by bathing with them, brandishing a razor, because Obedience. And he’s the guy whose masterplan includes the development of Warrior Ice People, because OMG.
Season 1 took a while to find its rhythm because it was mixing its genres; it was dystopian and a whodunnit but also a whole bunch of other things rolled into one. Season 2 has a clearer idea of what it is: a survival story. The Walking Dead and Battlestar Galactica did something similar — using a gateway genre of horror or sci-fi to explore what happens when you need to rebuild a society from scratch, and to weigh up philosophies behind the new or re-imagined social structures. Snowpiercer’s angle, in season 2 at least, examines the two opposing forces of hope and power. Because this is Snowpiercer, this is made literal: two engines at either end, which can either battle each other, or work together. Up in the front of the train, Layton’s engine represents hope. The new science suggests that the earth is getting slightly less cold, which means there’s a chance life on board the train will end some day. In Big Alice, Wilford’s engine represents power. If life on board the train ends, then Wilford’s power ends too. By the end of season 2, that conflict has literally split the train in two.
Let’s try to sum this up really quickly.
Melanie’s reunion with her daughter is, uh, frosty. (Sorry.) But Alex comes round in the end! Both mother and daughter are geniuses, and Melanie teaches Alex the trick of touching the wall of the train to evaluate the juddering and diagnose what’s wrong. They really are train-whisperers.
After spotting a snowflake falling from the sky during the ‘oops, I was on top of the train and then…fell off the train’ incident, Melanie volunteers to leave the train (again) for a while, to collect data on the weather from a sciencey outpost in the mountains. She’s gone for much of the season, apart from a truly outstanding episode that focuses on how she survives by eating some miracle rats.
Wilford sets about destabilising Layton’s command of Snowpiercer by having Wilfordites murder and maim train cops, Tailies and anyone else in the wrong place at the wrong time. He also goes on a PR campaign as the Great Provider of Stuff from Big Alice, and offers free medical care to Snowpiercer passengers with severe frostbite. This leads to passengers lighting lamps in their cabins to show their support for Wilford — creating both a stunning visual effect and a Very Bad Sign of things to come.
Wilford’s medical team consists of a couple of mad scientists, who can cure frostbite but also confer superhuman cold-resisting powers on their subjects. Patient 1, Icy Bob, is in charge of Popping Outside And Doing Some Sabotage.
Patient 2 is Josie, who survived her torture and apparent execution from Melanie, and gets not only super charged with ice-resistant gifts thanks to some horrendous surgery scenes, but also gets a bionic hand. Nice one, Icy Josie!
Audrey turns out to be Wilford’s abused ex-girlfriend (of sorts?) and is sent back to him to spy for Snowpiercer, but she changes sides and becomes Dystopia Queen, complete with a tiara. And lots of diamond bracelets to cover the scars.
Icy Bob sabotages the train so badly that Wilford only just manages to save it. He kicks Layton off to the Composting Car, takes over, and has an orgy in Big Alice to celebrate. He’s going to leave Melanie to die — because he’s not interested in hope, and also because he wants her to know how it feels to be left behind.
Wilford orders a census of all his new subjects, so that he can organise a cull. He categorises anyone over 39 as ‘elderly’. We find out that he culled half of the original crew on Big Alice.
Ruth goes from wide-eyed Wilford stan to seeing the error of her ways, sticking up for her principles, getting sent to the Composting Car with Layton, then turning into full rebel. Way to go, Ruth!
Team Hope sets in motion a coup to take over both engines so that they can go and collect Melanie as promised, but Wilford figures it out, catches Javi the engineer at the controls of Big Alice and feeds him to his dog. The rest of Team Hope decide to break off the front of the train and take Snowpiercer to rescue Melanie, leaving the rest of the train with Wilford and Big Alice.
Melanie is nowhere to be seen and is presumed dead. But she left all her sciencey data for Team Hope, figuring she had only enough heat to save the drives but not herself. She left a note for Alex before “walking into the white”.
The season ends with Team Hope ready to “go get our train back”. Whether there’s much of a train left when they catch up remains to be seen. Wilford is not a happy bunny, and might have to do some work to keep Big Alice going: with Melanie presumed dead, Javi chomped on, and Ben and Alex over in Team Hope’s pirated Snowpiercer engine room, he’s the only engineer left to push the buttons. Plus, they took his Queen as a hostage, Icy Josie hulk-smashed the on-board aquarium, no-one’s shovelling poop in the Composting Car and he’s got a teenage psychopath as his PA. Being Dystopia King might be more trouble than it’s worth…
Did you spot the fake spoiler? Yeah, I did it again. It was all real. The recap of events above might sound all over the place, but compared to season 1, season 2 was less like a set of plot madlibs, and much more tense; here’s hoping that season 3 follows in the same vein. I’ll be watching anyway; I’m rooting for an Icy-Bowl showdown between Bob and Josie, or for the final five Warrior Ice People to be revealed, or some dragons, or a dude with a baseball bat or something. Who knows. That’s the fun of Snowpiercer, however many cars long it is now.
Header Image Source: Netflix