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.

The storm

Episode nine of Snowpiercer begins with Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly) held captive with tailies. As the train calls for her execution, she watches helplessly as one of her fellow prisoners is mercilessly killed by having his lungs filled with freezing cold air through a face mask hooked up to the outside.

With the fight between the revolutionaries and the train’s forces at a stalemate, the first class and working class passengers have very different ideas of how the train should function. Pike, the tailie informant from the last episode makes an offer to Layton, his surrender in exchange for the first class troops not gassing compartments.

An enraged Ruth takes interim control of Snowpiercer while Melanie waits in the execution chair. She is saved by one of the engineers. Layton (Daveed Diggs) finally surrenders. Pike heads back uptrain to deliver the news but as he does, Melanie confronts Layton. She decides to work with him to take the train. With all the first class troops gathered together, it’s the opportunity to take the train. If they succeed, Melanie agrees to step down and hand over the train to Layton. With the plan decided, Layton heads uptrain and declares the surrender. The plan is set in motion and a battle breaks out, allowing Layton to escape.

The raging hurrican

What has kept Snowpiercer circumnavigating the iced planet is not the engine, but the myth of Mr. Wilford. It was in his name that the train’s class hierarchy was built, and with his authority that the petty disputes of its passengers were resolved. The person is charge though was not Mr. Wilford but Melanie, who had left him for dead six years ago and impersonated him, perpetuating the myth.

In the final episode of the season, having survived the bloody revolution, Melanie honours her agreement with Layton. Layton will run the train and facilitate a democratic system, while Melanie will return to the engine to ensure the train itself functions. Of course, the people in first disagree. They believe that they should run the train in spite of the fact that the train only runs because of the labour of the third class.

LJ Folger, the train’s young serial killer, finds her family’s luxurious compartment occupied by tailies. LJ tries to send them away but the Folgers’ quarters have more room than two whole tail cars. Nobody’s going anywhere. LJ gets kicked out of her former home and seeks refuge in third class, where she meets security officer Osweiller. He may not be an outstanding human being, with his habit of offering narcotics to tailies in exchange for sexual favours, but he can peel a boiled egg, something the privileged LJ seems to have no experience with. If the first class passengers are so sheltered, how could they ever take over the functioning of Snowpiercer to fill the power vacuum left by Melanie’s removal?

Back in the engine room, a mysterious signal has begun playing on the radio that could be from other survivors of the apocalypse. Melanie intends to respond to the signal. However, she reveals a problem to Layton. They have to slow down to see where it’s coming from. Slowing the train down presents another risk. The train’s perpetual motion engine uses its own speed to fuel itself. Layton doesn’t hesitate. The way he sees things, if there are survivors, they need help. The train is slowed and the signal is found. It turns out to be from another train called Big Alice. It was a prototype for Snowpiercer run by Wilford, who may still be alive if Big Alice is running. If Wilford takes over Snowpiercer, there’s no telling what this means for the passengers, especially Melanie who left him behind at departure.

Layton, who just got control of the train, needs to keep stability. Big Alice’s aggressive boarding action, latching on to Snowpiercer and cutting into the tail door mean that Layton and his fellow tailies need to be ready for any potential conflict with Big Alice’s passengers. The tailies have to rally, having just fought a violent rebellion, suffering many losses. Big Alice latches on to Snowpiercer and is soon cutting through the tail’s door. Layton is ready to fend off the boarders, but Ruth, Melanie’s former second-in-command worships Wilford. So much so she is ready to make her way to Big Alice, leaving corpses in her wake. Layton decides to bring her into the fold to prevent this from happening. Meanwhile, Melanie plans to climb outside to detach Big Alice from Snowpiercer. Despite the blistering cold and wind, she hangs on and gets on top of Big Alice, but when the trains stop she topples off.

In the final scene the tail door opens. Someone enters Snowpiercer. It’s not Wilford, but a young woman. She asks, “Is Melanie Cavill alive?” When she is given the affirmative response, she introduces herself as Alexandra Cavill, Melanie’s daughter. She’s all grown up and working for Wilford.

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

For previous recaps of the show, see here.