In 2013 we got the Korean / American produced movie Snowpiercer. Set on a train in a future in which the world has frozen over. Only those on the train can survive, as long as it keeps rolling. To top off this already weird plot premise there is class inequality onboard, depending on your choice of ticket. The wealthy live at the front, near the engine while the poor at the tail. The latter live on starvation rations. In essence Snowpiercer is a microcosm for our world.
It was a good movie, featuring notable roles by Chris Evans, Ed Harris and Tilda Swinton. However, it was not a movie I associated with a sequel or series adaptation. But here we are a series produced by for TNT by Josh Friedman. In the past he has worked as creator for The Sarah Connor Chronicles. He also wrote The Black Dahlia, Terminator Dark Fate and the War of the World movie.
The first episode of Snowpiercer
The first episode of Snowpiercer is entitled “First, the Weather Changed“. It starts by depicting the very messy onboarding procedure when Snowpiercer was about to leave. The train was considered by most the only way to survive. We see families being torn apart as some fail to board. The high contrast photography, a dark sky and heavy snow with artificial illumination, makes me think back to the holocaust when Jews were loaded onto cattle cars by the Nazis. Even in this moment it becomes clear there is a distinction between rich and poor. The latter loaded onto the train as its working class. The story than makes a six year jump. the tailies as we will call them live in absolute squalor. Food is little more than preprocessed goo and is divided along caloric needs. The children have no school and are only educated in-situ.
The leader of the tailies is Andre Layton (played by Daveed Diggs). He is reluctantly planning a revolt, but has to contend with others who question his leadership. Meanwhile Melanie Cavill is the spokesperson for Wilford Industries. It is her task to maintain order and as such she had absolute authority. Despite her powers to do so she has not killed all of the tailies, though Commander Grey (Timothy V. Murphy), a former SAS argues to just that.
Why not kill the tailies?
On the face of it there is little holding her back. The planned revolt by the tailies is put on hold when Andre is summoned forward, beyond the security gate separating the tail from the rest of the train. There has been a murder on the Snowpiercer and as Andre is a former homicide it is his task to solve it. Andre pays hard to get, he is not about to help anyone if the tailies are not helped.
As the murder mystery becomes the plot focus point for the series we are introduced to an eclectic set of characters. For a start there are brakemen Bess (Mickey Sumner) and Oz who alternate between beating up Andre and helping him. Then there is Roche, their boss who feels Andre’s poking around might threaten the established order. In one train car where polyamourus relations are the new norm we meet Zarah. She knew the murder victim, Sean, and is considered a possible suspect.
One salient detail about the murder is that his genitals were removed. Andre was living with Zarah before boarding onto Snowpiercer and she accuses him of dropping him into this hell instead of dying with her friends. Andre is also shown a prison in which the inmates are kept in stasis. Melanie Cavill then admits the latest victim was not the first. She orders the woman convicted of the first to be released from prison.
A truce to save the order
Andre and Melanie come to an understanding. The tailies will get food and reproductive rights in favor of his help to solve the murders and save the established order. It is then that the tailies mount a bloody revolt in Andre’s absence. They butcher their guards with resulting blood and gore I was not expecting to see. Their advance is halted by Commander Grey when a standoff ensues. Andre manages to arrange for a truce, and actually start his investigation. After a long day Melanie retires, but only after meeting the mysterious Jinju (played by Susan Park) who enjoys nude swimming in her aquarium compartment. She appears acutely aware of all events on Snowpiercer and is privy to a lot of its secrets.
Melanie’s quarters are in the engine. We watch as she dresses into something casual. The walls if her quarters are lined with puzzles, math equations and references to life before the big freeze. In the final scene we see her in the pilot compartment talking with Bennett. He excuses himself and calls her Mr. Wilford – thus revealing the real Mr. Wilford has been long dead.
Snowpiercer is a good show
In short the first episode of Snowpiercer was better than expected. I considered there would be some mystery, and some action, but no further than the thin premise would support. In contrast we got 50 minutes of world-building. We see how the first class passenger live as well the tailies. Then, we see the rivalry between these groups as well as between themselves. We see how in the 1001 trains compartments food is growing. We see how new social structures are created, with groups living in polyamorous relationships. All this feels very new for a series. The show creators have done everything in their creative power to make us look beyond the thin technologic premise and focus on character development and drama. Snowpiercer has thus made an effective start as a high-concept series.
Snowpiercer does remind me of other Sci-Fi classics such as Brazil and 12 Monkeys. There is also a resemblance to Ascension starring Tricia Helfer. At the back of my mind I am already considering how this show will end. One day the train must stop. Its focus on the class struggles in a world of shortages means there must come an end. It would be great if the solution would also consider how the world of Snowpiercer got to the point it is in. But all that is in the future. I am just filled with glee that we have a new high-concept series to entertain us for the next 10 weeks. In fact, its second season has already been confirmed. Return here next week for the second episode of Snowpiercer entitled “Prepare to Brace”.