Snowpiercer: Was the Finale a Cop Out?

Dept. of Endings and Beginnings


The weekly delivery of fresh Snowpiercer came to a literal halt last night with the end of Season 1.

Over the course of it’s 10 episodes the series appeared to reshape the world of Bong Joon-ho’s adaptation into a police procedural, before swinging back around to reexamine similar class structures to the original, but from a different perspective. The cliffhanger ending to this season sets up some intriguing new possibilities for Season 2 (which had almost completed filming prior to the COVID-19 pandemic), but I can’t help but feel that the finale failed to live up to some of the meaty possibilities that were promised earlier this season.

A big change from the plot of Bong Joon-ho’s movie – Andre Layton’s promotion from tail section straggler to the only homicide detective on the train – seemed to indicate that Snowpiercer on TV would follow a more standard track, that of a police procedural. While that didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the series, thanks to fantastic performances all around (especially from Daveed Digs and Jennifer Connelly), it was still slightly disappointing.

From early on in the season there were hints that Snowpiercer had greater ambitions than just “Apocalypse PD”. Odd retreads of elements from the movie, like North England accented disciplinarians and the shattering of frozen arms, soon gave way to a fresh take on humanity’s ice cold ark.

Where’s Wilford?

Instead of being kept as some central mystery for the series, “The Perpetual Engine” and it’s crew, were revealed very early on. This was a far more grounded looking space, more like an aircraft cockpit, as opposed to the almost religious chamber inhabited by Ed Harris’ Wilford in the film. Despite the rigid, almost fanatical, devotion to the status quo by the passengers of first class and “Hospitality,” the Engineers appeared to be far more rational, and even seemed to be trying their best to work towards “the greater good.”

Melanie’s twin revelations that Wilford never intended Snowpiercer to be anything more than a personal luxury playground to live out his final days and that she had stolen the train and left him behind, set the TV show on a vastly different path to the movie.

With Andre’s escape from the drawers, which also seem far more concerned with preserving humanity than simple punishment, the series set in motion a slightly less murderous class uprising between the tail and 3rd class passengers on one side, and the 1st and 2nd class passengers, along with their army, the jackboots, on the other.

I’m thankful this plot wasn’t dragged out for 6 seasons and another movie, and I applaud the showrunners for following through on it this season. But with the revolution over by episode nine, the new citizens of Snowpiercer faced a lot of hard decisions.

This Isn’t a Bed and Breakfast. This Is the Last Remnants of Humanity

Justice for Josie.

Atoning for the multiple, horrific injustices of the recent and distant past, redistributing the “wealth” on the train, figuring out how to reorganise their limited resources more fairly, and finding a way to live together while assuring the survival of humanity as a species, were just some of the thorny issues to be addressed, when suddenly, along comes a new train, and a new threat. Enemies become allies once more and conveniently all those difficult problems are pushed to one side.

It’s not that I’m not excited about the arrival of Big Alice and the supply train, presumably carrying Wilford himself and a fresh trainful of guest stars and plot-lines for future seasons, but we rarely get to see reconciliation narratives in this kind of show, or anywhere really outside the headlines of terrible real life situations.

As well as trying to figure out how to make life better for the former inhabitants of the tail section, now (unelected) leader of the train Andre also has to take on a host of extra viewpoints and opinions. The sacrifice of the tailies in the prison car, while ridding the train of the jackboots and the Folgers, is sure to weigh on him heavily. While this may have granted him some insight into the hard choices Melanie has made running the train, it still leaves plenty of room for a reckoning over her horrific treatment of Josie and how she died. There’s also the question of whether Andre will do any better than Melanie at resisting the corrupting influence of power.

My Way Didn’t Work, Maybe yours Will

Even before Big Alice’s arrival, Melanie was apparently being packed off to some kind of comfortable semi-retirement in the Engine. Hardly a fitting punishment for her crimes against humanity, even if they were in service of it.  

It also feels slightly too convenient for Melanie’s daughter Alexandra to turn up almost immediately after Melanie visits the night train to try and come to terms with leaving her behind.

To my mind Babylon 5 or Battlstar Galactica are probably some of the only shows that attempted to tell the story of what happens after the big, life altering war, but with limited success. Neither really had to deal with such strong opposing, yet understandable viewpoints, or put them in such cramped, inescapable conditions together.

Too often in history, civil war follows revolution, as one oppressor gets replaced with another. Hopefully Season 2 will proceed as quickly as this first has and move past these external threats to return to these plot lines. At least I certainly hope so. It would be far more interesting than just more fighting. Especially at this moment in time when we desperately need role models, fictional or otherwise, to show us how to tear down entrenched, unjust power structures, and replace them with something better.

This is the world of Snowpiercer, 994 cars long.

Netflix, Season 1, 10 Episodes
Showrunners: Graeme Manson and Josh Friedman
Cast: Daveed Diggs, Jennifer Connelly, Alison Wright, Katie McGuinness, Mickey Sumner, Mike O’Malley Lena Hall, Susan Park, Annalise Basso, Vincent Gale, Kerry O’Malley, and Timothy V. Murphy

Snowpiercer season 1 is now streaming on Netflix

Irish Film lover lost in Malaysia. Co-host of Malaysia's longest running podcast (movie related or otherwise ) McYapandFries and frequent cryer in movies. Ask me about "The Ice Pirates"

Episode 29
Previous Story

The Goggler Podcast #29: Young, Scrappy, and Hungry

Diane Guerrero plays 64 different characters (kinda) in Doom Patrol.
Next Story

Doom Patrol: A Conversation with Diane Guerrero

Latest from Opinion TV