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Snowpiercer: Was It All Worth It?

After nine wild weeks, Snowpiercer has finished out its first season with a few unseen twists, some deaths, and the ever-present spotlight on just how traumatic class structure is for everyone. Turning the last two episodes into a two-hour season finale event, Snowpiercer doesn’t give itself the chance to lose focus. The chaos never ends, even when the war for the train seems to be won; the problems continue to arise.

The last two episodes of Snowpiercer feel like a mini-movie inside the show itself, so it was nice to have the opportunity to not have to wait a week between them. In the first hour, Layton grapples with the fact everyone’s’ life in third and the tail is resting in his hands, in the decisions he makes. Melanie faces death at the hands of the monsters she created while Ruth, The Folgers, and Commander Grey become desperate to keep hold of some sort of order. They send Pike down the train to offer Layton a deal, either he surrenders or Commander Grey is going to kill every single person from the third class down. Since alliances have shifted once again, Layton manages to keep the upper hand but only by falsely giving the impression that he is willing to give up his life in exchange for no more bloodshed; especially not of his people. With Melanie and her engineers on his side, Layton is able to devise a plan Grey and his soldiers aren’t prepared for. Layton, Melanie, and the have nots come out on top for the first time ever. Change is finally here and the tallies have the train.

By the time hour two starts, the hopefulness that there’s a newer, brighter future doesn’t seem too far fetched. But this is the post-apocalypse and nothing is easy. With the growing unrest throughout the whole train, Layton is realizing that keeping the peace is a lot harder than it seems. Between the rebels looting and running wild because they’ve never had this much freedom and the upper classes refusing his leadership at every turn, he and Melanie have to come together more than they ever have before. After all, they have always had the same common goal; they just approached it in vastly different ways. As the train prepares to pass through Chicago, the original spot of departure, they are met by another train. A prototype supply train called Big Alice, that is more than likely run by Mr. Wilford himself. He is coming for them and clearly planning on docking, which will truly split the passengers on Snowpiercer in two. Layton gathers as many soldiers as he can and they prepare to greet whoever comes through the door. Meanwhile, Melanie, who wants nothing more than to never have to deal with Wilford again, puts her life on the line by attempting to push the train to outrun Wilford’s. But because Bennett withholds information from his peers, Wilford’s supply train catches Snowpiercer in no time and easily attaches itself to them. At the tail end, it’s not Wilford waiting to greet Layton, Ruth, and the others, but a surprise for Melanie that no one saw coming. The rebels may have won the battle for Snowpiercer’s engine but the real war has just begun.

I really enjoyed the first season of Snowpiercer, it hit many nails on the head and got a lot of things right. There were also a few subjects I hope to see explored more in the second season. The build-up and careful construction of classism is without a doubt the season’s biggest win. It’s not often tv shows are given space to critic something so relevant to real-world issues with such an intense gaze. All of Snowpiercers’ problems stem from classism and the enforcement of it, all of them. Whenever a character made a conscious choice to choose the class system of the train over the greater good, the end results grew more traumatic. The breakdown of that system, however, could prove to cause even more harm if it isn’t handled correctly. And no one aboard Snowpiercer is really equipped to handle it, especially after seven years. This is more evident after the Rebels take control and Layton is put in charge. He wants to make real change but it’s hard for everyone to be on the same page when they’ve all grown accustomed to how things used to be. It’s in a sense the conditioning of the harsh environment they’ve all be subject to.

Where Snowpiercer falls short in its first season is its handling of race and the issues that come with it on the train. Because Daveed Diggs is the leading man, it cannot be ignored that he is the only main Black character on the show. Sure there are background characters given more than just a few lines and tiny bits of a plot but the only fully fleshed out Black character is Layton. And because racism is as ingrained in humans as class structure is, there should have been an episode or two that focused fully on what life is like for those of color aboard this train. Since classism didn’t just magically disappear with the massive decrease of population, it’s safe to assume that racism wouldn’t either. A Black man is now head of Snowpiercer, he is in charge and it was because of him that the revolution even happened in the first place. It’s a missed opportunity that Snowpiercer didn’t lean more into the fact most of the first and second class would protest to him simply because of his skin tone alone. Because they most certainly would have. Had the show given itself space to talk about race it could have also addressed the way white women are often given more grace and chances to be imperfect. Melanie made continuous mistakes after mistakes but it only started to really catch up to her in these last two episodes. Also, it would have been nice to see a Black woman get a main role. While Layton’s dynamic with the women he comes into contact with is always enjoyable to watch, there could have been a real connection and a different perspective made between him and a Black woman. If any could be found on the show for more than a second or two. The only Black woman we see throughout the show is Sykes and she’s given the bare minimum to do. Hopefully, there are a few aboard Big Alice and will come into play in season two.

My complaints about Snowpiercer are mostly far and few between, first seasons are both the practice test and the final exam all wrapped in one. Very rarely does a show get everything right in its first season, so it’s nice to know that Snowpiercer will be back in 2021 with its second season. I’d like to see a better wig for Layton, Black women characters with actual plotlines and a bigger discussion on race but the reveal that Wilford is still alive, has his own train, and has Melanie’s daughter on his side makes the possibilities for season two nearly endless. I look forward to another ten episodes of brutal realities meshed against festering emotions that have no place to go because everyone is stuck on the eternal engine.

Snowpiercer will return with a second season sometime next year.

-Danyi

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