I’ll admit it. Even after we mercilessly derided Snowpiercer’s first season over on the pod and I was initially hesitant to devote more time to the TV drama, I can say that this show has come a long way. Yes, it’s still flawed with entirely too many nonsensical character decisions and some overall bumpy week-to-week execution. But, despite all that, I enjoyed this season and find Snowpiercer, at the very least, thoroughly watchable.
The big two-part season finale slots right in with that cautiously humble expectation. It’s imperfect, a bit tedious at times with one or two cringey moments sprinkled in, but, overall, a good watch. So let’s get to it.
Caution: Spoilers ahead!
The Show Must Go On
Ruth cues it up with a little message about the virtues and perils of hope. She’s traveled a long road, these last two seasons, and seems to be hedging her bets. But, as a character that started out as one of the more unlikeable onboard Snowpiercer, I’ve enjoyed watching her transformation into someone you want to root for. Seeing that she’s at the head of a new, fledgling resistance feels right.
This isn’t the Ruth from season 1 who would have happily embraced the return of Wilford and the order his rule provided. She’s seeing with clear eyes now and unexpectedly, alongside Bess Till, has become one of the train’s moral compasses.
Meanwhile, Wilford is wasting no time stamping his authority on Snowpiercer’s population. As Ruth notes, things have never been so orderly onboard. But there’s a darker side to Wilford’s well-oiled machine and what he has planned is far more insidious than simply re-establishing the old class structures.
Driving wedges between old adversaries is Wilford’s order of the day. He’s playing Ruth and Kevin against each other and looking to isolate other’s who stood with Layton and Melanie. In the engine, Ben tries to comfort Javi by telling him that Wilford “can’t afford to lose another engineer.” Yup, poor Javi is a goner.
Given Till’s history and her tight relationship with Layton, it’s a leap to accept that she’s roaming free while her old boss toils away on Big Alice. But with Roche in a drawer and Sykes busy watching Ben in the engine, it appears Wilford sees the value in gaining another close advisor, as unlikely as that outcome might be.
But there’s more at play here. A steady thread for Wilford throughout has been his penchant for toying with and psychologically torturing his adversaries. He might not have much hope in turning Till, but the process of trying appears satisfying enough for him.
Speaking of psychological torture, Wilford unveils his carnival car and it is exactly the horrifying spectacle you expect. No one’s having fun here, except for Kevin and L.J. Speaking of L.J., she’s locked into the wild-eyed crazy girl routine throughout these two hours and it is not especially compelling to watch. It’s one-note and dull, which is a shame.
By the way, if Ben, Alex, and Wilford are all here and Javi’s presumably still over on Big Alice, who exactly is driving the train? Oh well, I guess we’re meant to just shrug off that little detail. Ultimately, the cruel puppet show appears to serve only as a contrived means of snapping the final bond Alex has to Wilford.
The Last Supper
While the rest of the train gets to ‘enjoy’ the carnival, Wilford hosts a perfectly normal and not at all insane dinner for a few not-so-random guests. This contrived mess seems to be assembled for no other reason than to allow Wilford to demonstrate his continued awfulness. The setup here is trite, but we do end up with one of the oddest scenes of the series thus far.
Wilford’s menacing L.J.’s poor boyfriend with what actually seems like some fairly legit questions when Oz eyes the piano and we’re suddenly in some discount version of Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! It’s a lovely song and utterly nonsensical but does seem to have a moving effect on the assembled characters.
Of actual note, Alex has the big reveal of the episode when she blurts out that Wilford culled half of Big Alice’s population to preserve resources during the bad old days. I guess that answers the question as to how he managed to keep order and hold onto power for so long on the lesser train.
You’d think that bombshell would have effectively ended the evening, but Wilford’s not done with the business of manipulation. He’s choosing Ruth over Kevin for Head of Hospitality and, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t. The catch is that she simply has to announce to the train that they’re not heading back for Melanie.
But it’s a bridge too far for Ruth and her intro monologue primed us for her decision. She’s choosing integrity over comfort this time. The weight of the price she pays for that choice, surrendering her teals, feels heavy thanks to Alison Wright’s wonderful performance, and her march off of Snowpiercer proper is a highlight of the episode.
What Fresh Hell Is This?
The collapse of Layton’s pseudo-democratic government has landed him in some unpleasant surroundings. Of course, Big Alice has a compost pit that, apparently, only requires a single worker to keep running. As with Till, there’s not much of a believable reason to keep Layton alive. But at least the show admits as much. And Wilford takes pleasure in having this sort of captive audience, musing openly that “I suppose there must be something uniquely wrong with me,” while making the case for his brand of tyrannical social engineering.
Layton sees him for what he is, “an old white dictator with a train set,” and it’s never been so obvious that Bean’s Wilford is styled very much as a Trump analog. I prefer more subtlety with my villains and it’s a little hard watching Bean having to play it this way. Right about now, the show’s high-water mark from the previous episode feels miles away.
When Ruth ends up with Layton, you know these two aren’t going to be stuck in Compost for long. But to tell you the truth, I could have stood a good deal more time with just these two characters. Seriously, Ruth and Layton, covered in shit, swapping stories from before the freeze and of the terrible things they’ve done. That might be a more winning recipe than what we’ve had over most of Snowpiercer’s run.
But word from Javi up in Big Alice’s helm is that Melanie is alive. There’s no time to waste, so let’s get on with this.
Into the White
If the first hour of the finale is largely exposition and drawn-out setup, the second moves us along with a more urgent pace. The action is focused and the tension, for the most part, is thrilling as Clare Kilner’s direction recaptures much of what made “The Eternal Engineer” so good.
Alex gets the final monologue of the season and it’s immediately perplexing to hear her contradict her words from just a few minutes earlier. If “Dubs got weird” only after Big Alice had caught up to Snowpiercer and Melanie, what exactly do you call a little casual genocide? But this is Snowpiercer so we’re accustomed to these sorts of narrative quirks.
But the point is that Alex, after glimpsing the kind of world Layton and Melanie’s leadership promised, understands there’s another way of living. And she finally sees Wilford as the monster he is.
Layton and Ruth decide they’re good to go with whatever it takes, making a relatively easy escape from their nearly unguarded prison. After a quick meet-up with Alex to spill the news that her mother’s still breathing, the three decide they’ll need both engines to make the route to Melanie’s pickup spot. No problem!
After Layton and Ruth get medieval on a couple of hapless Wilford mooks, they’ve rescued Javi (for the moment) and taken control of Big Alice. Time is of the essence, but our heroes can’t be expected to topple a dictator in their current state. In Ruth’s defense, she has been shoveling the shit out of that shit down in Compost. You’ve earned that bath, Ruth.
Let’s Go Make Coup
Katie McGuinness has, thankfully, been spared from having to wear a green screen glove. She’s got a nifty new bionic hand instead and seems primed to test out her new abilities.
A little subterfuge from Javi and Ben and we’re a go for Operation Steal-The-Engines-To-Save-Melanie. Boki’s with them and onboard with the plan, which is wonderful. Ben sacrifices a fair amount of his good looks while Sykes beats the living hell out of him, but he manages to get the job done. Sadly, Alex is a miserable liar and fails to buy enough time for the plan to succeed. On the plus side, she’s handy with a razor blade.
It’s a bad end for Javi. I really could have done without that business with Jupiter. She’s a good girl! Leave her out of this, Snowpiercer.
With the original plan in tatters, it’s time to pivot. Once again, it’s Alex who comes up with the alternative plan. The details are complicated, but the key thing here is that they’re planning on breaking off Snowpiercer’s engine along with a handful of cars to swing around and pick up Melanie.
Layton’s rounding up his closest allies but Zarah’s not down with this new play. Inexplicably, she’s choosing to stay with “the devil we know.” Sure. But I suppose when you think about it, there’s some logic to her decision. She’s betting she’ll be able to deflect Wilford’s rage while representing Layton’s interests. Left unsaid is the fact she’s pregnant and choosing to stay with the last few remaining doctors on Earth.
Wilford’s counter is sending Layton’s most devoted ally, Josie, uptrain to breach the engine and kill everyone. Again, what? I know there was a halfhearted attempt to convince us her allegiances might waver, but come on. This is a woman who literally snapped off her frozen hand in season one so she could fight Melanie to the death. It’s ludicrous and no surprise at all to watch Wilford’s Cold Woman deal the final blows needed to decouple the train.
There’s still a cost to be paid for this victory though and I don’t just mean a few dozen last-of-their-species aquatic creatures. Ruth gets sidetracked by her affinity for the teal uniform and doesn’t make the engine in time. Boki’s ambushed by a mob of Jackboots and it’s hard to see how he comes out this alive.
Layton and Alex make the long trek out to the science station but, sadly, Melanie is no longer waiting for rescue. There’s only a final letter for Alex and, more importantly, the collected data pointing to future potentially inhabitable places around the globe.
Melanie’s farewell message serves as a blueprint for where the series will go from here. A message of hope that bookends this two-hour finale with Ruth’s opening words. For a show that is often grim and cynical, it’s a welcome respite, seeing a handful of the core group of characters enjoy the moment.
The immediate task at hand will be to reunite with the rest of Snowpiercer and deal with Wilford. But, for once, the greater goal is a world and a future beyond the train.
- The end here seems to suggest that we’ve seen the last of Melanie. But not so fast. Apparently, Jennifer Connelly is confirmed for Season 3 so she’ll be back one way or another.
- At the end of the first season, Josie and Layton seemed to have a deep bond. The hard turn back to Zarah is disorienting. It’s not totally clear that the two are fully together together, but it’ll be interesting to see where these relationships go from here.
- Audrey’s hard turn to becoming the Marie Antoinette of the train was jarring. A quick heart-to-heart with Zarah revealed Audrey’s more cynic than sycophant, saying she’s merely doing what she needs to do to survive. But it’s a disappointing turn for a character who I felt had a more ambitious agenda.
- Boki’s fate is unclear as well. Things weren’t looking good for the last Breachman, but I sure hope he managed to survive the aquarium car incident. He’s not there with Layton and the others but we also don’t see a body flying off into the cold. I’m holding out hope.
- Stranded with Wilford, it looks like Ruth is in for more tough sledding. But these last episodes have her primed to take on a central role in the resistance. We’ll have to wait and see how she fares without Layton and Till to back her up. Hopefully, she’ll manage to have Roche thawed from his drawer sooner rather than later. She’s going to need the help.
- Sean Bean’s Wilford commands a ton of attention. But with Melanie (at least temporarily) out of the picture, Layton and Ruth are the stars of this show. I hope they lean into that formula next season. It’s just a shame they’ll have to do the work separately.
- Who else is on Layton’s Pirate Train? We know Bennett, Till, Josie, Alex, and presumably, Sykes. But it’s ten cars long so there’s got to be more, right?
- Royal Layton jelly. Come again?