Before Bong Joon-ho made the Oscar-winning film Parasite (2020), he gave audiences the cult classic Snowpiercer (2013). People who saw it knew he was on to something. In the film, the earth is frozen. The survivors, rigidly divided according to class, circumnavigate the desolate world in a massive train that never stops. A thoughtful and fun movie, it was under-appreciated. The Snowpiercer series, which was recently released on Netflix, is a new story set in the film’s post-apocalyptic world. It retains the setting and themes from the movie, but fills the train with new characters and swaps the bloody rebellion by the train’s oppressed tail-folk for a whodunit.

Drug trades and compartment passes

In the introductory scene of the third episode of Netflix’s Snowpiercer series, entitled ‘Access is Power’, a glass vial that inexplicably allows people to move freely between compartments of the train is shown. The train is not a closed system. There are loopholes that allow people (the resistance in the train’s tail included) to move through it.

Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly), the woman in charge of hospitality on the train, introduces a fight night as a distraction for passengers from the murders, avalanches and other things that are going terribly wrong all around them. We finally see what happens when passengers from different classes come together for the purpose of entertainment. The entertainment itself is violent — two men beating each other to a pulp. The arresting scene begs certain questions: how do passengers get admitted to these events? Do they pay money to watch or are lots drawn? It seemed as if the show briefly abandoned the opportunity to make the world feel real and lived-in in favour of spectacle.

Murder on the apocalypse express

Melanie finally agrees to tell Andre Layton (Daveed Diggs), the former homicide detective she enlisted to solve a murder on the train, what information the victim Sean Wise was providing the train’s administration. He was informing the administration about the trade of a drug called Kronole. It is unclear as to why Melanie was withholding information about the case from the detective she hired to solve it. This drip-feed of exposition by the train’s management is of course a device to keep audiences curious with small doses of information, but it does raise one big question. If Melanie is so keen on getting to the bottom of this mystery and removing this from her list of problems, shouldn’t she simply give the detective the information he needs to solve the case and keep trusted security detail on him to ensure he doesn’t use the information against them? Either there’s more to why Melanie is playing things close to the chest or this is an obvious plot contrivance.

Layton also meets with Zarah, a former resident of the train’s tail and an old flame. With her connections to the trains underworld, he learns two valuable pieces of information. The first is that Nikki, the witness to the first murder, is now conscious. However, it turns out that Nikki can’t yet offer her account of what she witnessed for Layton’s investigation because she hasn’t fully recovered. A look at Nikki’s black gums leads the detective to conclude that there’s a connection between Kronole and the sedative used on people in the drawers, places where convicted criminals on the train are cryogenically frozen and stored.

Zarah’s second tip: Layton should look for a janitor, Terence, to find the connection between Sean Wise’s death and the Kronole trade. Terence provides a description of the murder suspect as well as another item being traded. For Layton’s final manoeuvre to help the rebellion in the tail, he declares his love for Josie, his co-conspirator in the tail, with a kiss through the compartment’s door slot. This is a ruse to slip her an implantable pass he acquired in that trade with Terence. With the chip in their hands, rebels can now move freely between compartments of the train.

Creator: Graeme Manson, Josh Friedman
Cast: Jennifer Connelly, Daveed Diggs
Seasons: 1 (2020)
Streaming on: Netflix

For previous recaps of the show, see here.