Warning: Full spoilers for the premiere episode of TNT’s Snowpiercer follow…
It was a certainly a slippery, icy trek along the way — what with the change in showrunner two years ago (from Sarah Connor Chronicles’ Josh Friedman to Orphan Black’s Graeme Manson) and an entire pilot episode directed by Doctor Strange’s Scott Derickson mostly being scrapped and rewritten/reshot — but the Snowpiercer TV series is finally upon us. And, considering the global conditions we all face now, it’s one of the last big “event” TV shows we’ll get to see for a while.
Snowpiercer, as a series, is mostly effective reworking of Jacques Lob’s Le Transperceneige graphic novel (which was famously adapted into a feature film by Oscar-winner Bong Joon-ho in 2013) that’s a sort of pared-down, semi-simplified version of the premise with a murder mystery squared-pegged into the story so as to manifest a spine for a TV series.
The set-up — which involves a massive climate shift bringing all of humanity to war, scientists over-correcting Earth’s temperature and freezing everything, and then a psychotic visionary named Wilfred developing a “Noah’s Ark”-style perpetually-moving train for the most privileged members of our species — is all pretty much the same as the comic. The idea of a non-stop “balanced” ecosystem consisting of 1001 cars enables the show to feel, most of the time, like a space saga as “Snowpiercer,” the locomotive, is basically a spaceship. A craft that is supposed contain within its narrow walls all the elements of our main characters’ former planet (as well as some new realms – like, um, orgy zones?).
When you combine that design with the necessary evils of a caste system, and then add to that a number of unwanted stragglers who violently forced their way onto the train as it was starting up, and who’ve now lived for years in a caboose of abject squalor, and you’ve got a story that’s primed and ready to mirror many of our ongoing modern societal ills in the way only sci-fi usually can. Snowpiercer feels insane as a logline but it’s really just an excuse for an awesome, claustrophobic revolution that leads its characters, and us viewers, toward hard truths about civilization as a whole.
The series teases the original “rebellion” arc that Bong Joon-ho created for his film by giving us a palpable powder keg of poor folk living in the rear of the train (“Tailies” as they refer to themselves, which is reminiscent of Lost) who, after enduring seven years of desperation and awfulness, are ready to brutally escape their confines and battle their way through enough cars to get to the engine. They’ve got the “world’s last Australian,” a large man named Strong Boy who they give most of their food to so he can act like an RPG-style Tank, an old man who remembers the joys of being alone, and Daveed Diggs’ Layton – a former homicide detective who forcefully boarded the train with his wife (who has since left him to become a plaything for folks in a fancier car).
Diggs’ character is the centerpiece of the show while also representing where the story tries to twist and transform itself from a revolution to a demolition. As in Demolition Man. Layton gets spirited away from his fellow Tailies, right on the precipice of a huge bloodbath, so that he can solve a murder case that the perfect society in the front of the train is ill-equipped to handle. Like Demolition Man or The Village or any number of films with similar themes, Snowpiercer showcases a “utopia” unable to predict something going awry, somehow ignorant to the fact that “sometimes people just kill each other.” Here, Snowpiercer strains a bit to find its legs as an ongoing series by literally halting and interrupting a massive ambush right before it starts so the story can shift into a “whodunnit?”.
When you combine that with the Wilfred reveal happening at the end of the episode, where we learn that Jennifer Connelly’s Melanie – aka the “voice of the train” from Hospitality – is Wilfred, or in the very least acting as Wilfred because something happened to the real person and she’s now maintaining the illusion, and the series starts to lose some of its steam. Let’s hope the show has bigger surprises on the way now that’s given up who’s driving the train.
The show looks great and the action all lands well, but there’s a spark missing. At least so far. Diggs is good as our hero and Connelly is cool as his uneasy First-Class ally (who also happens to be secretly running the show), but the murder mystery is nestled in between two mostly-unlikable factions: the privileged dopes living in the long stretch of cars designated for the rich and powerful and the temperamental hot-heads who stew in the butt of the train. Layton’s the only semi-likable presence and he’s not quite enough to make us fully care about solving the case for the one-percenters or saving the lives of the Tailies.
SHOPPING DISCOUNT UPDATE: