Find out if the chilly sci-fi show picks up the pace or grinds to a halt…
I’m happy to admit when I’m wrong when it comes to shows I thought I wouldn’t enjoy. I never expected the Snowpiercer TV show to go anywhere; I thought at the least it would be a short-lived cash-grab tie-in, and at the worst it’d soil the reputation of Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 masterpiece by association.
The start of the first season certainly didn’t assuage my fears. The first episode was very nearly a shot-for-shot remake of the first act of the movie, but toned down in drama and quirkiness. Then it bizarrely shifted to a low-stakes murder mystery, with the politics of the train becoming a subplot. The whole revolution was done with an episode or so to spare, leading me to wonder just where the heck this planned to go next.
At the end-of-season revelation that Wilford and Alex were both alive and on a second train catching up to Snowpiercer, I was faced with the realisation that this (like many US adaptations of international works) had no plans to end until the money runs out. Which led to a decision – do I keep going and ride the train as far as it’ll take me, or do I walk away and decide to spend my time watching a story that’s more likely to have an ending rather than a cancellation cliffhanger?
What’s The Verdict?
Obviously, I stuck with it (I’m just a sucker for anything Daveed Diggs touches), and I’m pleased to say that it was the right decision. Bravely stepping out from the shadow Bong Joon-ho cast, the showrunners have genuinely created something entirely their own, and it’s all the better for it. The two trains differ so much now that I can’t even compare this to the movie anymore.
Everybody in the season turned in a stellar performance, and I mean everyone, down to the smallest character. Alison Wright as Ruth very nearly stole the spotlight from Jennifer Connelly this season. I’m sure some would argue she succeeded, which is saying something, since Connelly turned in the same powerhouse she started the show with. Steven Ogg as Pike gets a nice opportunity to do something other than menacingly scheme for a change, and newcomer Rowan Blanchard as Alex absolutely shines in a nuanced and compelling performance.
How Good (Or Evil) Is The New Villain?
But of course, the real star this season was undoubtedly Sean Bean. What a show he put on! He chewed the scenery so much Snowpiercer was twenty cars shorter by the end. Rather than being a detriment, it fully works to his favour in playing a larger-than-life narcissist right out of American Psycho or House of Cards. Watching the layers in his performance peel back is a delight, going from putting on a smile for the crowd as their supposed saviour, to privately playing what is essentially the game of thrones, to revealing the impulsive, childish monster underneath.
It’s hard to praise things like the set design and costumes, since they’re largely re-used from the first season, but they started strong then and have stayed there. I like the way they blend diegetic and non-diegetic music, but I don’t imagine that’s a clincher for many. Still, a lot of people on the show are great singers and they get to flex. Story-wise, a lot of extraneous elements have been pared down for a far more central narrative that keeps the energy going all the way to the end.
Is It All Good?
If I had to make one point against the show, it’s that metaphor and subtext have mostly been abandoned in favour of pure world-building and drama. There’s a point being made about the dangers of populism and personality politics in Wilford, a point whose impact may have lessened since the departure of Donald Trump from both social media and the regular news cycle. It’s all overshadowed, though, by weird scenes involving bathtubs and mango (too weird to go into).
Not many people can balance compelling action with social commentary like Bong Joon-ho, but there doesn’t seem to be much effort on the part of the writers to explore the concepts of power and class so brilliantly set up by the premise of the train. For some I’m sure this is no real loss, and the thrill of the episode-to-episode drama is more than enough. But for me, it’s a hole at the centre of this story.
A small hole though, and hard to see behind an overall excellent show. If Snowpiercer keeps chugging in the direction it’s going, I’ll happily follow it for as many revolutions as it lasts.
While you’re here, please subscribe to Upside Down Shark on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts!