Snowpiercer is a post-apocalyptic dystopian thriller television series based on the 2013 film of the same name, as well as the 1982 graphic novel Le Transperceneige, written by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, Olivier Bouquet and Alexis Nolent. The show was created and developed by Josh Friedman and Graeme Manson. The screenplay is written by Bong Joon-ho and Kelly Masterson. The show premiered in 2020, with two seasons now out, and a third on the way.
The show’s large cast consists of Jennifer Connely as Melanie Cavill, Daveed Diggs as Andre Layton, Mickey Sumner as Bess Till, Alison Wright as Ruth Wardell, Annalise Basso as LJ, Lena Hall as Miss Audrey, Iddo Goldberg as Bennett Knox, Sean Bean as Mr. Wilford, and many others. They play the passengers on board the fictional Snowpiercer, a 10-mile-long train with a staggering 1001 cars. The train is the only remaining refuge in a world that has become a frozen wasteland after a climate catastrophe. The train’s engine is a perpetual motion machine that generates heat and electricity for as long as it is allowed to move forward without stopping and has been going for a number of years by the time the show’s events start to take place.
One of the show’s major themes is class warfare. While the train is massive and has enough resources and space for all of its passengers to live in comfortably, it’s divided into three classes. The First Class has a beautiful aquarium and a dining car in which guests are treated to the finest of cuisine, and each family has spacious quarters all to themselves. The Second Class is designed to care for many of the trains’ needs, as it includes classrooms, a spacious clinic, an entertainment center called The Night Car, and a prison in which inmates are held in suspended animation. The Third Class is the industrial and agricultural part of the train, divided from the rest of the train by a Border Car, and ending in The Tail.
While the Third Class is already immensely crowded, with people having to separate its open spaces with makeshift barriers to have any privacy, the residents of the Tail have it the worst. This is a section of the train that wasn’t designed to house people, but various cargo and batteries. However, as the Snowpiercer was starting its long voyage, a group of stowaways made it on board. They are treated horribly by the rest of the train, who don’t feel they belong on board. They live in perpetual darkness, guards are let through with miniscule portions of the worst food available that aren’t enough to feed everyone, and personal hygiene and privacy are completely foregone. The only way out of the Tail is to be selected to do a job on the train, in the most difficult manual professions that currently lack workers, whereas children are sometimes separated from their parents to be educated to do more complex jobs on the train.
From the beginning, we see that there is a great deal of injustice occurring on the Snowpiercer. The train didn’t have to be separated in the ways that it is, but Mr. Wilford, the person responsible for building the train and selecting its passengers, designed it that way. The passengers who donated immense sums of money to the train’s construction guaranteed for themselves a comfortable life on board the train, whereas people who worked various necessary professions were selected seemingly at random from the populace by Wilford. Because the standard of living diminishes the further along the train you go, these parts are also rife with corruption, with smugglers gaining prominence as local leaders, as Wilford’s influence wanes.
The main storyline starts as an inhabitant of the Tail called Andre Layton, a former detective, is given the task of solving a murder case on the train. He steadily follows the clues leading to the murderer, gaining the trust of the head engineer Melanie Cavill. Yet all the while he is also planning a revolution – learning about the train, gathering various objects he will require to make it happen and bargaining with shady folk to ensure the Tail’s freedom. And by the end of his investigation, he learns a secret that could shake up the entire train. The show is filled with plot twists like these that are as unexpected as they are satisfying, and it’s best you experience them watching the show yourself.
What’s really striking about the show’s characters is that they are rarely truly evil or purely good. While you may start out hating a character for their seemingly vile actions, they turn out to have everyone’s best interest at heart and make completely altruistic sacrifices later on. And those that start out as the idealistic protagonists of the story are eventually faced with impossible choices, after which they become morally questionable. It’s incredibly interesting to watch the constantly changing character arcs of the train’s inhabitants, and every new obstacle on their way places them in relationships with other passengers that you never thought likely.
The train’s cramped hallways and quarters are all that you’ll see in the show’s first season, and it’s more than enough room for its characters to flourish and its thrilling conflicts to keep you on the edge of your seat. The second season brings a new twist to the show, raising the stakes higher than they’ve ever been and introducing the charming Sean Bean into the mix. Its finale is also one of the most memorable I’ve ever seen in a television show, acting as a climax for several storylines and characters arcs, and the perfect setup for the show’s continuation. There’s rarely a dull moment on the Snowpiercer, and with another season on track, I can but recommend you hop onto this wild ride now.
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