Snowpiercer is back with another thrilling season. Whilst keeping the same themes of class revolution, the conversation progresses to focus on the journey society must take after a revolution – and that it is not an easy one.
CW: References to self-harm
To be clear, the second season of Snowpiercer does not live up to the high of the first. However, it perfectly sets up an exciting third season to end the arc. Audiences finally get to meet the near-mythical creator of the train, Mr. Wilford, the worshipped ‘hero’, played by Sean Bean. He is incredible in this role, despite portraying a villain without any redeeming factors; in a way, Mr. Wilford’s con of heroism may somehow transpire to real life.
Snowpiercer as a Dystopian Metaphor
Dystopian stories have always been political in one way or another. From 1984 to the Hunger Games, it is hard to deny that these stories have an underlying message. Snowpiercer is no different. In Season 1, we saw that the last of the human race live on a train protected from the frozen wasteland that is now Earth. The train is split into classes (first class to the ‘tailies’), metaphorically representing the class system in our own present reality. After the revelation that their worshipped leader, Mr. Wilford, was no longer leading the train, the train devolved into a revolution, and the lower classes were able to install a semblance of democracy on the train.
However, societies that revolt rarely get to rebuild without internal or external forces trying to force a return to the status quo. Snowpiercer demonstrates this with the introduction of the real Mr. Wilford in Season 2, as his very presence alone creates division within the new Snowpiercer democracy. His main agenda: to take back his train, destroying anyone or anything standing in his way. In a way, Mr. Wilford is an allegory for capitalist oppressive governments. He is shown arriving with the promise of eternal safety, whilst also exploiting his crew until they are no longer are of use to him, and discrediting or dismantling any rival systems of power.
The decision to bring in this new villain was simply brilliant. In Season 1, Melanie’s (Jennifer Connely) cruel acts were carried out for the goal of survival. This does not excuse her actions, but it does make her a somewhat weak antagonist to Layton’s (Daveed Diggs) ideals of democracy. By contrast, Sean Bean plays Mr. Wilford and all his villainy in a terrifyingly brilliant way as a man that cares only about power and will hurt anyone to get it. This creates a perfect duality between Layton and Wilford, as ‘good’ versus ‘evil’.
Wilford’s dictatorship versus Layton’s Democracy.
Wilford’s promise of Order against Layton’s dream of Freedom.
And, most significantly, Wilford’s rule of fear against Layton’s symbol of hope.
In this tragic series, a glimmer of hope is found in every darkest place. Whether that’s a surprise pregnancy in a broken relationship or the sign that the earth is warming, this sense of hope permeates through the show. This is potentially the best message this show can have in the current climate. Yet, ironically, the majority of the scenes where there is an orange glow that stands out from the grey and gloom of Snowpiercer seem to be associated with Mr Wilford and his nefarious plans.
What Went Well – And What Was Lacking
The best character arc of this season goes to Alison Wright’s Ruth Wardwell. I will admit it, Ruth was painful to watch in the first season with her unwavering loyalty to Mr. Wilford and a rather insufferable superiority complex. I’m glad she lived to see Season 2 because this allowed her to evolve as a character – we see her turn from this misguided loyalty to recognising the humanity of the tailies. Stylistically, the development of Ruth’s redemptive arc is shown throughout the show – in one of the key scenes, the creators include memory flashes coloured in a sepia tone that contrast with the colour and chaos of the present-day scene. I personally loved this transformation and think this was probably the best development we see in the show.
Additionally, one of the most impressive visual presentations of Mr. Wilford’s sinister ‘heroism’ is found in episode 9. As Mr. Wilford, Sean Bean dances through each scene in a thetrical showman-esque style, and in this episode we see him get to take on an actual role of a showman at a carnival. Whilst his entrance is meant to be glorifying, what the audience sees does not reflect that. We zoom in on a silhouette slowly sauntering through a hypnotizing tunnel with zigzags of red and blue. This scene feels straight out of a horror movie, and the creepy circus music certainly does not help. Mr. Wilford is then revealed to his audience, supposedly like a hero stepping out of the shadows. Yet he is illuminated in a green light which is followed shortly by a view from above as fake money falls down. Whether intentional by Mr. Wilford himself or not, this scene presents him to the viewer as anything but the hero displayed to the passengers of Snowpiercer.
The story, however, was far from perfection. The most major issue was handling the parts of the story that could be triggering. We discover that Wilford wants complete obedience from each of the passengers as well as full control of the train. This is demonstrated through multiple intense scenes, either involving self-harm or references to the act. These scenes were arguably more intense than they needed to be and could be potentially triggering. Yet, Netflix only gave trigger warnings on episodes including self-harm, and not for the multiple episodes with call-backs to the act.
In addition, in the attempt to make Mr. Wilford a great villain, the writers underplayed Layton to the point he felt like a side character. Unlike the first season, he wasn’t a big part of the story despite being the leader of the train. Though this gave us more time to connect with new characters such as Mr. Wilford and his subordinate Alex (Rowan Blanchard), Melanie’s daughter, any development that could have been used for Layton’s story was wasted.
Overall, this was a great season. The story of Snowpiercer, despite being a TV series, seems like a film trilogy and the current ending sets the story perfectly for one final season. A final clash between hope and fear.
Words by Ayomikun Adekaiyero
Support The Indiependent
We’re trying to raise £200 a month to help cover our operational costs. This includes our ‘Writer of the Month’ awards, where we recognise the amazing work produced by our contributor team. If you’ve enjoyed reading our site, we’d really appreciate it if you could donate to The Indiependent. Whether you can give £1 or £10, you’d be making a huge difference to our small team.