Snowpiercer season 2: An uneven premiere sets up Sean Bean's Mr Wilford as the new Big Bad
The citizens of Snowpiercer have been to the brink: An all-out civil war led by the 'tailies' against the oppressive caste system on the train has led to a fragile and inchoate democracy, but barely is the new system in force than there's a new threat to contend with.
A well done post-apocalyptic narrative is intriguing at any time, but throw in the fact that the world has been going through what feels like the end days, and these stories gain a keener edge.
Snowpiercer's debut season on Netflix came out last May, two months into the coronavirus pandemic. Season 2 premiered on Tuesday, 26 January — eight-months-that-feel-like-a-lifetime-later. It seems like we've been to the brink, and (as the vaccine rollouts begin) back.
The citizens of Snowpiercer too have been to the brink: An all-out civil war led by the "tailies" against the oppressive caste system on the train has led to a fragile and inchoate democracy, but barely is the new system in force than there's a new threat to contend with. Season 1 ended with a new takeover bid for Snowpiercer, from the original creator and enigmatic "deity" Mr Wilford (Sean Bean). He's got a supply train called Big Alice anchored to Snowpiercer and has commandeered their systems such that they're helplessly tethered to his whims.
Big Alice is about 40 cars long to Snowpiercer's 994, which shouldn't make it a big threat — if it weren't for the latter's severely stretched systems. With Big Alice effectively acting as Snowpiercer's new engine, their survival is dependent on the smaller train.
And what does Mr Wilford want? Why, his train back of course. He wants Snowpiercer, with a side helping of revenge on Melanie (Jennifer Connelly) who wrested the train's control from him. He's got the perfect mechanism for twisting the knife too: Melanie's daughter Alex, who she gave up for dead, has been with Mr Wilford all along. Now Melanie is in his custody too, forced to board Big Alice when her rescue mission for Snowpiercer leaves her out in the cold for too long.
Meanwhile, over on Snowpiercer, Layton (Daveed Diggs) is dealing with the consequences of the new social order, and with Mr Wilford's ingress. He's found that being responsible for the last of humanity means his decision-making may not always be as egalitarian and participative as he'd want it to be. Martial law is imposed on Snowpiercer as Layton and the others attempt to fight back against Mr Wilford. Coupled with Melanie's machinations on Big Alice, the Snowpiercer folks realise they're stuck with Mr Wilford — just as he's stuck to them —- and they have to find a way to survive together.
That's the layout of most of episode 1 of season 2. While it's not a particularly strong opening episode of television, it does lay out the groundwork for what will be the major questions explored over this season:
1. What exactly is the connection between Melanie and Mr Wilford? He says she was "mucking around with tractors on her father's farm" until he found her. And then what? Did he sponsor her engineering education? Was he her mentor, or was there a personal relationship there? Melanie makes it sound in season 1 as though she is the sole creator of Snowpiercer's system/s while Mr Wilford was more a marketing front. But Big Alice's existence indicates that Mr Wilford has an engineer's mind too, even if it isn't as finely honed as Melanie's.
2. Snowpiercer's tail section is no longer the tail, rather it's the part that immediately connects with Big Alice. This makes it strategic boundary territory, and any traffic between the two trains — whether malicious or benevolent, commercial or otherwise — will pass through the tail. This will clearly change the fortunes of the tailies (especially those who've chosen to stay behind rather than move up front after the revolt) and will further skew the power structure and classes on board.
3. Are there some sort of medical experiments on live subjects going on over at Big Alice? We've already seen a Frankenstein's Monster-type character who is impervious to the cold and has unmatched physical strength. We've also been introduced to two very creepy doctors who treated Melanie with some "tissue gel" that could be a synthetic skin variant.
4. Layton's going to have to carefully feel his path ahead as he balances his roles as leader of the people and liberator of a besieged train. His relationship with a pregnant Zahra has caused some friction with tailie comrades who've learnt about her role in betraying Josie. He'll also have to possibly stave off some opposition from Ruth, who has always been quite the Mr Wilford acolyte.
5. The most momentous arc, possibly, will involve what's happening outside the trains. Melanie is certain she saw snowfall while out in the drift, which means the earth could be warming again. Will it ever become suitable for human habitation again? Melanie, for one, is determined to find out.
A new episode of Snowpiercer season 2 will release on Netflix every Tuesday.
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