In episode 2 of Snowpiercer, the Tail pays for episode 1’s rebellion with several men in drawers and the removal of a significant arm, as promised. The train travels through the tough terrain of the Cascadian Mountains in Western North America. Melanie refuses the engineers’ advice to slow down, leading to an avalanche and a broken window, both disasters in the -100° C weather. Meanwhile, Andre makes significant progress on the murder case and children are chosen for the apprenticeship program.
Josie gets tonight’s opening voiceover, spoken as Ruth takes an arm from one of the Tailies in punishment for episode 1’s rebellion:
“You’d think with all we’d lost that defeat would break us, but the only reason we’re here is we refuse to die in the first place. We’re as persistent as the cold, forever trapped beneath the ice. We keep our eyes on the floor, dig our nails in, and prepare to brace… They can take our limbs, our children, our leaders. They keep trying to take our dignity. Any survivor will tell you they check their dignity at Death’s Door. The more they steal from us, the more human we become. Humanity will fill our bellies one day, when we eat the rich of Snowpiercer, 1,001 cars long.”
Ruth, up on her box and in her fur, perfectly groomed: “Do you think I want to be here, eh? That Mr Wilford wants me to be doing this? Snowpiercer is all that’s left of the world. Each of us has a personal responsibility to the Engine Eternal. You Tailies barely have to do anything. Yeah? Just sit around and don’t rebel. This is your fault. Let’s get it over with.”
She motions to the guards to take the little girl who helped with the rebellion the day before by picking up a severed hand and using it to open the door to the next car. “Mr Wilford”, in his benevolent wisdom, has decided the significant arm will be that of a 4 year old child, Winnie, short for Winnipeg (Emma Oliver).
Winnie’s mom, Suzanne, begs Ruth to take her arm instead. She justifies the trade by saying that she was responsible for Winnie and shouldn’t have let her daughter be involved with the rebellion. Ruth is impressed that Suzanne is willing to take responsibility, so she allows the trade.
Winnie runs back to her brother’s arms. A metal cuff is attached to the top of Suzanne’s bare arm, then her arm is wet down and pushed outside through a porthole the size of the cuff. We see her arm freeze solid white while Josie screams in pain and Ruth dispassionately holds a timer. When the time is up, Suzanne’s arm is pulled inside, then a guard smashes it to bits with a sledge hammer.
Josie, in her voiceover, promises to eat the rich. I’m not sure she’s speaking metaphorically. “Mr Wilford” should be very careful about removing all of the calming voices from the Tail, leaving only anger and despair behind. Like Winnie, Josie was part of the group of rebels, but she wore a bandana over her face and wasn’t recognized. She melted back into the Tail instead of being captured.
Meanwhile, at least 3 Tailie men are prepped and lying in Drawers. The Notary (Ellie Harvie) reads their sentence:
“Unticketed passengers- Mr Wilford has found you guilty of insurrection, murder and disturbing the order of the train. As stowaways, you have no right to trial or the established appeals process. It is only by the largesse and mercy of Our Engine Eternal that you have been allowed to live thus far. So, by the authority of Wilford Industries, you are hereby sentenced to indefinite suspension in the drawers. May God have mercy on your Spark.”
Melanie is doing paperwork in her cabin as the train crosses over a cliffside stretch of mountain track and a small avalanche rocks the train. She hides the binder she was working on in the top of her closet, then fondly touches a photo of a female hanging inside her closet door.
Is any part of Melanie’s real life public or is everything outside of the engine and her cabin a personna?
She moves on to the Engine, where Ben is in the Engineer’s chair and Javier (Roberto Urbina), an analyst-engineer, is at the rows of computers that line the walls of the Engine. They tell her their speed is triggering avalanches- there have been 2 in the last hour. Javier hacks into old Russian satellites to predict the weather on the track ahead, but the storms have become so extreme that the information he gets is nearly useless.
Melanie tells them to keep Snowpiercer’s speed up, despite the risk of avalanches. She needs to spend the day out in the train dealing with the 3rd Class murders, Tailie rebellion and First Class tension. Javier warns her against keeping the train at full speed, strongly suggesting that they slow down by 12%- remember that number. She refuses, since the train’s speed creates the electricity used by the passengers. Slowing down will create rolling blackouts, which would just increase the trainwide tensions she’s trying to diffuse.
After Melanie leaves, Javier asks Ben how long he thinks Melanie can keep up her crushing schedule. Ben says she’s been doing it for almost 7 years, with no end in sight.
Melanie is a couple of minutes late with her morning announcements. Andre notices, just like he notices and catalogues everything. Till brings him breakfast in Roche’s office. She’s still angry about being held hostage, then knocked out, during the rebellion the night before.
Will this be called the Year 7 Rebellion?
A couple of men from the Tail are brought forward to work on the sanitation detail. The Tailies cross Andre and Till in the hall, just as they are quarreling over the rebellion. She’s mad that 6 brakemen and security who were her friends were killed, while he points out that 14 people from the Tail died.
The passengers in the First Class dining car are grumbling about the rebellion, led by the Folgers and Rajiv Sharma (Manoj Sood). They also know that a Tailie is acting as train detective to solve the 3rd Class murders. Lilah Folger feels she should have been consulted, since she was an attorney for 25 years. Her family laughs at this suggestion, so she must not have been in criminal law, but it’s still an insulting thing for them to do to her.
Erik (Matt Murray), who is armed and always lurking next to the Folgers, shows off his gun and tells LJ not to worry. He appears to be either one of the security guards for First Class or a personal bodyguard for the Folgers.
Melanie explains that everyone is a suspect, so she can’t share details of the case with the passengers, even Lilah. They need to leave the police work to the professionals.
Till brings Andre through the Chains to a lunch counter where Tunnelman Jakes Carter (Brent Stait), who discovered Sean’s body, is having soup. When Jakes balks at telling the story again, Andre invokes Wilford’s name like a pro. While Jakes talks, Till orders soup for herself, but not for Andre.
He says that it was a regular day and he was doing routine maintenance. He popped a floor panel and found Sean, with all of the amputations. Andre asks who would have access to the subtrain. Jakes says hundreds of people of all classes use it every day. Andre asks what the checkpoints between classes are like, but Till won’t let Jakes answer. Andre says he was trying to figure out how hard it would be to move a body through, not casing their security.
I think we all know he was totally casing their security, but it’s still a valid question for a homicide detective on the case to ask.
Andre asks what Jakes is eating. Jakes replies that it’s the best beef noodle soup on the train. Andre does a double take at the beef.
Why should it taste any different from all the other beef and why can they even get beef in 3rd class? Think it through.
Andre was all eyes when they entered the Chains, soaking up the atmosphere. It seemed like he could picture himself living there and was hungry for it.
Nikki Genet is coming out of her coma slowly, but is still in bad shape. Jinju notices that her arm is severely damaged, possibly even necrotic, where the medication line went in. Nikki mumbles in confusion about the Night Car. Jinju suggests that they put the entire Drawers/Suspension program on hold, but Klimpt won’t hear of it.
Melanie asks if the issue is with the medication or the duration of the suspension, but Klimpt doesn’t know. He insists that Nikki will come out of it, just slowly. They go look over his data.
After lunch, Till and Andre visit the Night Car, the club car, where Miss Audrey (Lena Hall), who’s the manager, is currently performing a song, Say It Ain’t So Joe, singing before a live band playing real instruments. This is the place where his wife, Zarah, works. She left him and the Tail when she was offered the opportunity to move up to 3rd Class and take a job here.
In episode 1, couples slow danced happily to Old Ivan’s recorded music just before he hung himself. Andre had already left the Tail, but he was probably present for similar scenes. Now couples happily slow dance again, juxtaposed with Josie caring for Suzanne’s severed arm as she recovers without the aid of painkillers, antibiotics or any other modern medical care. Andre still isn’t in the Tail, but he knows what he left behind, and he knows this is what Zarah left him behind for.
It’s almost too much for him. For one thing, in the Tail they’re sure the Night Car is a brothel and this is clearly much more than that. Like the Chains, this is warmth and art and color and soul, a tiny piece of the fullness of human culture that’s almost gone. The Tail has tried to keep it alive, but they have so many fewer resources to work with.
Daveed Diggs does wonders with his facial expressions while Lena sings. He wants to be angry and resentful because this place took his wife, who was his warmth, but this is what’s been missing from his life and he’s so moved by it all, as he was with the simple grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, that he almost can’t hold it in. But he also can’t show vulnerability in front of these people, so he has to hold himself together, no matter what’s going on inside him right now. Diggs manages to show all of that on his face at once. This is also one Tony Award winner playing off another- Lena Hall won for Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Daveed Diggs won for Hamilton.
After she sings, Miss Audrey tells Andre that the first murder victim, Edward, was a regular client of Nikki Genet. Miss Audrey found his body in a Night Car private room with a drugged and disoriented Nikki. She thinks the real killer drugged Nikki to frame her for the murder. Mr Wilford wanted the murder solved quickly, so there was no serious investigation. They stuck Nikki in the drawer to make the whole thing go away.
Andre asks what Melanie’s role was then. Miss Audrey says it’s Melanie’s lips to
God’s Wilford’s ear. They serve Andre a shot of the good stuff, pre Freeze liquor, to thank him for his service. They’re hoping he’ll reverse a Wilford injustice and get Nikki set free. They don’t have many reasons for hope in 3rd Class.
Zarah appears outside of one of the private rooms. Andre wonders what they do in there. Miss Audrey says, “We offer epiphanies, darling.” She asks Till to let Andre have a turn in a private room with Zarah. They talk Till into giving him 20 minutes, on the grounds that she has to give him some leeway if she wants this case to turn out different.
Miss Audrey takes Andre to Zarah. They explain that it’s not a brothel. People need more of a healing experience, a way to connect with everything that was lost when the world ended. Miss Audrey has created a multisensory experience to help passengers work through their grief and loss collectively and alone.
The walls of the room become covered with moving images of bright blue water, as if they’re inside a pool or tropical sea. The sounds of waves fill the room. Zarah tells Andre to close his eyes while she talks him through a guided meditation about the elements of nature. After a minute he’s brought back to a memory of a time they met in a park. Then he remembers when he proposed marriage to her.
They come out of the memory remembering how in love they were and how much they’ve missed each other. They make love, as much a goodbye and closure on their relationship as it is a confirmation of love.
After, she tells him that she thinks Sean was a government informant. He was too lucky and got too many perks for it to just be chance. He won the 3rd Class baby lottery, for example. Usually that means you know someone important. Zarah had agreed to have a baby with him.
Andre: “Did you love him?”
Zarah: “It’s Snowpiercer, Andre.”
He tells he that her won’t let them frame her for murder, but he still has a responsibility to the Tail. She asks him to stay in 3rd Class with her. Till bangs on the door. “Times up!”
Yeah, it probably is. Zarah seems like a bit of an opportunist. Even in the flashbacks, it seemed like he was the one who was all in and she was hedging her bets. She wants him now because she needs his help. Whether she wants him later will depend on how cushy his circumstances are compared to her own.
Till tells Andre what he just did is called taking a mile. She’s a little jealous that her Night Car experience didn’t go that way, reminding us that usually sex isn’t involved.
Andre and Till attend Sean’s autopsy next, performed by the train medic, Doctor Pelton (Karin Konoval), an ex Navy medic who informs them that this is her first autopsy. She left her deployment in Afghanistan to sign on with Wilford’s Dreamliner for a 1 year contract. Now the job will last forever.
Let’s stop and think about what that means for the crew and the train population as a whole. People such as Pelton, Till and Oz are doing jobs they’re barely trained for and don’t necessarily want or like, for the rest of their lives, with little to no chance of moving on to something else. When they took the jobs, they weren’t informed they were signing away the rest of their lives. Now, it’s work or die. What happens when they age out of their jobs, become physically unable to do them or crack under the mental strain of their situations? Can the train support an elderly and disabled population or will there be more accidents, delicious beef noodles and increased rations of protein bars for the Tail?
Andre points out signs he’s noticed already that give clues to how Sean died. Blood pooled in his face shows he lay face down right after he died, then his body was moved later and placed face up under the floor panel. Multiple ligature marks on his neck show the killers dragged out his death. Chop marks on his legs show they were cut off later, after he was face up, using a large knife like a butcher’s cleaver.
Andre has to lead Till and Pelton through the implications of these findings- they point to cannibalism. He brings up the scraps of meat in Till’s noodle soup. Till insists that there’s no cannibalism in the front of the train. But they’ve all heard the rumors about the Tail.
Andre: “Oh, those aren’t rumors. First couple of years, there were kill cults. One gang in particular, they would kill anyone, eat anyone. Had no choice. The rest of us, we ambushed their leader. Each of us ate a piece of his heart, so that no one could say they were innocent. Anyway, your lunch was good?”
The camera flashes directly from a shot of Till’s disturbed face to a close up of a cow. Take from that what you will. I think it confirms that people make the best beef noodle soup.
Andre related his tale like a ghost story, just to let them know how hardcore EVERYONE in the Tail is. You eat the heart to gain the strength of your enemy, not because you feel guilty. They had to do it to prove to the cannibal gang they were worthy of being the new bosses after they killed the old bosses.
Wonder what happened in the Engine after Melanie “took over” from Mr Wilford.
Moving on to the cattle cars, which preserve cows as a species but are not the most efficient use of resources overall (chickens or rabbits would do a better job of providing meat and manure using fewer train resources). Andre and Till knock on the door, since they need to inspect the butchers’ freezers for Sean’s missing body parts. The butchers are doing their thing today and won’t let Till in without the Notary present, which is the train version of a search warrant. Andre and Till leave the butchers to the slaughter while they go back uptrain to find the Notary.
Jinju, Klimpt and Melanie are still going over Nikki’s condition and the suspension formula data without making any progress. As Melanie walks back toward the drawers, she feels an avalanche starting. Javier and Ben get the alarm and realize it’s a class 3. The whole side of the mountain is falling and they might not get through the debris.
The train gets through, but a window breaks in the cattle cars, freezing cows and people to death within seconds. Melanie and Ben hurry there to inspect the damage while wearing thermal space suits.
Till and Andre talk their way into the butchers’ freezer. He notices a loose screw on a vent cover. They find 3 of the 4 missing limbs hidden inside. While Till is distracted with the carnage inside the vent, Andre pockets a stray nail.
When Ben and Melanie come out of the cattle cars, Breachman Bojan Boscovic is waiting. He’s surprised Melanie is there, since she’s just a Hospitality worker and not an engineer. Ben tells him that Mr Wilford asked her to inspect the situation.
They explain that this is an extinction event. The window needs to be fixed first, so they can determine if it’s structurally sound. They can reduce speed by 10% while the breachmen work. Boscovic asks for a 25% reduction, since it’s mountain work. Melanie says she can only go as high as 12%- the number Javier asked for that morning. She tells them the train will be on rolling blackouts, starting with the Tail.
The Tail goes dark during a math lesson for the kids. Suzanne’s son, Patterson (Dylan Schmid) is giving Oz a blow job in exchange for pain killers and kronole for his mom. (Kronole is an addictive, train specific drug that “kills the pain of everything.”) Oz pushes him off, since higher ranking jackboot soldiers will likely arrive soon to help maintain order in the Tail during the blackout. He gives Patterson kronole, but not the regular painkillers.
Patterson doesn’t want to bring kronole to Suzanne, since it’s a dangerous, life-sucking drug, but there are no other options. He gives Josie the black lump. She puts a bit of it between Suzanne’s cheek and gum. It starts to take effect immediately.
Melanie, Ben and Jinju discuss how to work around the loss of the cows and the current reduction in energy. Jinju notes that they used the cows in multiple ways, so the loss affects many aspects of agriculture, plus they’re losing the methane the cows produced. A reduction in power to the crops will cause some to fail. The breach in the hull will also cause a severe water shortage, since it affects water flow.
Melanie won’t let the crops fail. She orders them to make sure rationing affects the people, not the crops. 2nd and 3rd Class will get 15 minutes of running water a day and the Tail will get none.
1st Class will be unaffected by the extinction event.
They all agree that the situation is dire, but they need to keep it between themselves. They’ll choose the new apprentices and bolster faith in Wilford to help keep morale up.
Ruth is sent to the Tail to announce the choices for the apprenticeship program: Mikala Mwanza, Mia Kaischeck and Miles. The apprentices are given an hour to say goodbye.
After Till calls Roche to inform him that they’ve found most of Sean’s missing parts and the butchers are dead, Andre continues talking her through the case. The marks on Sean’s body tell them that the murderer killed him for the thrill of the murder and castration. Selling parts for meat was a side benefit and happened much later, so it’s likely that none of the butchers were the killer.
When a jackboot passes between them and insults Andre, Till mashes his face into the wall in retaliation. Andre tells her not to get them both beat up. She tells him to just blame the butchers and move into 3rd Class. He says he wants to go back to the Tail, and anyway, he wants to solve the case for real.
It’s an odd conversation, which disarms Till. She explains that she was on the first murder case, too. The authorities pinned the murder on Nikki from the start and took only 3 hours to convict her in a Tribunal. Till was helpless to stop the injustice. She wants this time to be different.
When they return to Roche’s office and Andre’s cell, it’s 8:02 PM, 12 hours after the start of his day. Roche is cheerful because they recovered Sean’s limbs from the freezer. Till does a quick pat down on Andre while he jokes around, then she and Roche leave him alone in the cell. He pulls down his pants and removes a pen and some string, then tears off the bottom of his Tshirt. He draws a train diagram on the strip of fabric, including every detail he can remember about the cars he’s seen so far.
Andre uses the nail to pick the cell lock and slips into the hall in time to catch the Tailie sanitation detail on their way back to the end of the train. He draws a symbol on the floor to get the Tailies’ attention, then drops the diagram a few feet further down the hall. When the Tailies get close, he starts a fight with the guards, hoping to give the Tailies a chance to grab the diagram. It doesn’t work.
Miles tells Josie that all he remembers about his mom is that she smelled good. Josie is his Tail mom and the only mom he remembers much of, so she’s more real to him.
Miles’ birth mom died getting him on the train, giving him a second chance at life, so she’s still deserves to be called his real mom, too.
Miles says that he’s not a little kid anymore. He reminds Josie that Andre says they need allies uptrain, so Miles is ready to become an apprentice and help the Tailies when it’s time. Josie tells him she’ll keep fighting from the Tail, but they might never see each other again. Miles is confident that they will, after the revolution. They hug and say goodbye.
Andre is bloody and in handcuffs, back in Roche’s office. Melanie asks him what he sees when he looks at the train.
Andre: “I see a fortress to class.”
Melanie: “Is that all? Well, I see 3000 souls surviving on a planet that’s determined to freeze all life in place. We’re still in motion, alive and kicking. And it’s not thanks to chance or fate or God. It is thanks to order, meticulously maintained by Mr Wilford. A balance of need and greed and speed and you Tailies, who seem to have forgotten that it is 117 degrees below zero outside of this metal tube and Mr Wilford is awake 21 hours a day just to keep the GD heat on.”
Andre: “Guess that’s why he needs informants like Sean Wise. Wise was a Wilford rat. He got paid in perks, like the rigged baby lottery. Why else would you care so much about a Thirdie’s murder? So, what you really want to know is, when he was tortured, what Wilford secrets did he spill? Y’all got killers and cannibals and God knows what else up here so don’t you lecture me about balance. My people found ours years ago.”
Melanie: “Okay. Very perceptive. No wonder Mr Wilford wants you as train detective. But that’s the only reason you’re still here now.”
Bringing True Balance to Snowpiercer
Yikes that final scene was intense! Melanie finally showed us who she really is- strong, tough and in complete control. Willing to accept the burden of keeping Snowpiercer alive, but not particularly willing to share that burden. Andre also revealed himself more fully, by showing just how clearly he sees the flaws in Melanie’s system. He has to stay on Snowpiercer to stay alive, but he has no interest in the classist way of life in the front of the train.
Both of them referred to the Tail as a completely separate country from the rest of the train. He sees it overall as a better country, but one that’s been deprived of resources by it’s wealthy, greedy neighbor. She sees the Tail as her dependent child, who she’s willing to support, barely, but who’ll never be able to take care of itself.
They are both strong, capable leaders and the equal of each other. Andre has had support from others since he’s been on the train, because of his natural ability to work with others and look for consensus. As a result, he’s stayed reasonably mentally healthy, for a man in his situation. Melanie lives a secret, lonely life. Not only does that deprive her of chances to find emotional support, it also hinders her ability to find others who can share the leadership burden.
Javi’s concern for Melanie in the beginning of the episode seems justified, especially since no one else seems to even see Melanie clearly enough to notice how badly she’s fraying around the edges by the end of this episode. The perfectly put together woman we met in the pilot looks ready to shatter by the time she confronts Andre.
Her argument with Andre, in which she’s able to let loose without holding back much, because she’s not speaking to an employee or Firstie, and to be more factually honest than she usually can, was a release valve she doesn’t normally get. She instinctively knew that Andre could take the brunt of her emotions and reflect them right back at her on an equal, even useful, level.
That was probably the best sex she’s had in 7 years. Does anyone else ever call her on her own manure like that? Is there anyone else on the train who might be capable of catching her when she falls, the way Andre could? They could provide each other and the train with the true balance that’s sorely missing.
But will Melanie figure that out in time?
Both Wilford employee speeches at the beginning of the episode stressed how lucky the Tailies are and how generous Wilford Industries has been with them. Denying reality to the point where they claim the opposite is true is a typical oppressor tactic, seen almost daily in our own current events, but it fans the flames of resentment among the oppressed rather than calming people down.
Failing to acknowledge reality will only work for so long before oppressed people have little or nothing left to lose and they rise up, even if it means loss of life, limb and property. The Tailies are already at that point. Continuing to make their lives worse, while lying to them about it, will only make them more creative in their rebellions.
As Josie pointed out, they are hardened survivors. Once they figure out ways to use guerilla warfare rather than frontal assaults, they will be able to use their toughness as an advantage over the softer passengers in the front. Imagine the places they could hide and survive, coming out briefly to set traps and poisons. (Explosives are a bad, bad idea on the train.)
The train is a perpetual motion machine, using its own motion to recharge its batteries, which explains why it can never stop or even slow down much. But it also makes things like the aquarium, sauna, and swimming pools problematic, when in order to maintain them the train has to keep up a speed that causes avalanches and makes repairs dangerous. If Melanie would open herself up to listen to more ideas and act on them, she could bring the Tailies and their talents into the life of the entire train to enrich the resources available.
Her perpetual motion machine is failing because she’s putting too much pressure on the system, just as she does on herself. It seems like they could streamline the types of food and activities on offer in order to use resources more efficiently so that the train could run at a safer speed when necessary.
If First Class passengers have issues, maybe they’re next up for the noodle pot. 😱
The Night Car
I want to hammer home again the impact that something like hearing and seeing Miss Audrey’s performance and eating real, warm food would have on a sensitive, caring person like Andre after 7 years of living in The Freeze and the Tail. He never thought he’d see sunlight or feel actual warmth again, outside of the physical warmth of another human body. The Tail keeps their own humanity and culture alive through sheer force of will and spirit, but they have very little to work with- the songs and stories they know, a few recordings on phones that will slowly give up, a few books, whatever other knowledge they carry inside them and can pass on to each other, and the customs of peace, unity and sharing they’ve developed.
They’ve done more than most would have been able to under the circumstances, which shows there are some extraordinary individuals in the group, Andre among them, but their culture will always remain limited in such deprived circumstances. They can’t develop a varied cuisine working with their bars and rats or write and perform intricately nuanced musical compositions with whatever small instruments they can make from the scraps available. They are developing their own, valid culture though, by adapting and expanding on the one they left behind, which is useful and is also what’s happening in the rest of the train.
But no matter how valid that culture is, it can’t replace the sounds of authentic, traditional instruments playing familiar songs sung by a beautiful, talented voice. It can’t bring back the smells, sounds and sights of a night out at a club with the one you love. For someone who finds solace in the arts, to have that past brought back to life would be an overwhelming gift, as overwhelming as unexpectedly being given your favorite comfort food when you thought you’d never eat it again.
Just like the taste of real food can’t be fully replicated, the live sound of real instruments and voices can never be fully replicated either. When Melanie calls Snowpiercer an ark, she’s right, and it preserves more than the last of the living beings. It also preserves some of the precious parts of human culture that are best passed down from person to person rather than learned from written instructions.
The Night Car is the Switzerland of the train, where all of the classes mingle peacefully. Miss Audrey has developed the private room experience as place to process the grief and loss they all feel. I suspect that like Andre, they all feel the most nostalgia in the Night Car, when they forget where they are for a little while. The Night Car is a sacred space in a way, where they can leave train life and its strict class system behind for a while and become their authentic selves again.
Mr Wilford’s Train vs the Tailies’ Community
Andre’s story about cannibalism in the Tail and how it ended was important because it also showed how the Tail became “One Tail”, an egalitarian community which makes decisions through consensus and shares resources equally among all members. They all shared One Heart, drew strength and courage from the act of overcoming their enemy, and through that, became One People- One Tail. It’s their bond with each other, their governing philosophy and their rallying cry.
The Tail’s system of governance and resource management is in stark contrast to the rest of the Train’s system of governance through strict hierarchy. Mr Wilford’s system requires lies and oppression and tiered resource management which allows some to live in luxurious excess while others starve. The system is less efficient than the Tailies system. Melanie is always worried about a resource crash, but won’t cut resources to First Class. The Tailies are able to keep everyone alive through strict but equal resource distribution, though they are perpetually on the brink of starvation, thanks to Wilford’s classism.
When Andre said that they each ate a piece of the heart so that they’d all share in the guilt, he also meant they all shared in the responsibility. They all equally share the weight of keeping the Tail fed without turning to cannibalism. Sharing in one last taboo act forged a bond between the leaders. The Tail population as a whole values all of its members equally, from the oldest to the youngest, without regard to gender, sexuality or ethnicity. Tailies’ lives before the train only matter in how they can apply their previous experiences to improving life in the Tail, whether it’s through sharing music or a story or teaching the children science or math.
The rest of the train is not just segregated, they live in the past to varying degrees. The First Class passengers still identify themselves almost exclusively by who they were in their old lives. They had wealth, power and status in those lives, whereas now they live wealthy lifestyles, but don’t actually own or control anything. They retain their lifestyles at the pleasure of “Mr Wilford”, and deep down they know it.
First Class passengers paid for a one year long train trip which turned into forever. Their ticket prices helped build the train and its tracks, which has justified their lifestyles so far. At a certain point, their investment will have been paid off and they will become true parasites on the system. Sooner or later, maintaining First Class lifestyles will become too expensive for the train to continue to afford.
Roche and Ruth both complained that the Tailies don’t earn their keep, but it’s the First Class passengers they should be talking to. They don’t earn their positions even as much as the Tailies do. In just two episodes, we’ve seen Tailies brought forward to do sanitation work, detective work, apprenticeships, black market sex work and to work in the Night Car. The Tailies act as back up human resources when replacements can’t be found or created quickly enough in the front of the train. In the long run, “Mr Wilford” will find ways to knock off some Firsties before ditching all of the Tailies.
First Class passengers come with an entitled attitude that says they shouldn’t have to work and should be given all of the amenities of their old lives, while Tailies move forward with a chip on their shoulder, but the expectation that they will work hard and won’t be given much. All they want is a chance for themselves and those they left behind, same as the people they’ll live with in 3rd Class.
The attitude of Collectivism the Tailies bring forward might be why the only other place we’ve seen that attitude in the train is in the 3rd Class section known as the Chains, where Zarah, Andre’s wife, lives. In that section, people live in small, cooperative, polyamorous groups and the larger group also appears to be a cooperative whole.
The Night Car is also classless and open to all, functioning in some ways as an extension of the Chains. But it’s co-run by the state, so it’s also meant as a state-sanctioned release valve from the strict hierarchy of the rest of the train. That also accidentally makes it the perfect place to be the center of the train’s black market in both goods and information.
Miss Audrey likely wields a great deal of underground influence, but she usually acts with caution. Though the Night Car is supposed to be politically neutral, when we met Audrey she was singing Say It Ain’t So Joe, a Murray Head song about heroes and leaders who turn out to have feet of clay.
The image and the empire may be falling apart
The money has gotten scarce
One man’s word held the country together
But the truth is getting fierce
Say it ain’t so Joe, please say it ain’t so
She might as well be calling out Mr Wilford and Melanie directly, but if confronted, she can truthfully say that it’s a song about grief and loss, the official specialties of the Night Car.
Mr Wilford’s Messages, Train Secrets and Train Talk
Andre put Melanie on notice when he wondered exactly what secrets she was trying to keep. We already know several of the important secrets- Melanie is Mr Wilford and is overworked, underappreciated and perpetually exhausted; the train is always on the edge of starvation and meat is occasionally supplemented with human remains; the train is always on the edge of physical disaster and using aging infrastructure; kronole comes from the suspension drug used in the drawers, which appears to be slowly poisoning the patients to death; corruption is rampant on the train. I doubt that last one is much of a secret.
There are likely many more secrets and many more spies beyond Sean. The train is full of factions and discord. The level of classism and prejudice is especially onerous. Mr Wilford’s brand of order oppresses people into the smallest, meanest version of themselves. There are no choices and nowhere to go, but everyone can see what others have that they don’t.
This is an isolated, tiny, crowded, resource-strained country whose borders are permanently closed. There’s nowhere for the nation as a whole to turn for help- no foreign aid is coming, ever. It’s the most desperate situation you can imagine, beyond being out in the cold alone as an individual.
In that type of environment, secrets become something of value that can be traded and sold. We’ve watched Andre hold back what he learns each time, until the opportune moment, when the information will buy him something of value. Sometimes it’s just a moment of distraction so he can do something else. At the end of episode 1, he finally agreed to take the case in order to save the lives of his friends, and proved they were all worth it by sharing more information. At the end of this episode, he buys Melanie’s grudging forgiveness and respect with the day’s results, and with the implication that he now has some small leverage over her, since she won’t want him to share the details of the cannibalism and snitch stories all over the train.
When Ruth and Melanie want to squash the truth as it ripples through the train population, we’ve seen them use two methods in particular: they call the truthful rumors train talk to discredit them or they invoke the holy name of Mr Wilford to legitimize the lie they’re telling to replace the truth.
Train talk is meant to sound like the real life phrase trash talk. Both phrases evoke something that’s temporary and unimportant, not meant to be taken as truth. Train talk is trivial gossip that a serious person would never take part in. By labelling rumors with the disparaging name train talk, Melanie and Ruth ensure that no one is certain whether the rumors are true and that even influential passengers doubt their veracity.
Ruth and Melanie spend a significant part of their days moving from car to car while shaping the narrative on Snowpiercer, trying to subtly move passengers’ thoughts in the direction they want to aim the entire train’s energy, from First Class to the Tail. Their most powerful weapon in this propagandizing is the beloved, all knowing and all powerful, but fictional, Mr Wilford.
Melanie has turned belief in Wilford’s genius into the greatest tool in her arsenal. Wilfordism (fictional religion named by me) has become the train’s state religion and Melanie is its pope. Membership, if not belief, is required of everyone, though the Tail’s participation is minimal. According to Melanie and Wilfordism, there’s nothing Mr Wilford won’t do for his passengers, nothing he hasn’t thought of, nothing he doesn’t see. No act on the train that doesn’t affect him.
He’s an omniscient, stern, but generally fair, God. In less than 7 years of train time, terminology unique to the train religion has developed, such as Spark for soul and the Engine Eternal as an alternative manifestation of God. Wilford and train themed religious iconography and ritual already exist and are encouraged.
As leaders of his religion, Melanie and Ruth invoke Wilford’s name freely and with authority. I suspect a few other characters are allowed to as well, but Roche told us that Wilford speaks only through Melanie. She is his prophet, now that he is
dead and in train heaven believed to be biosecure in the engine.
The sound of Wilford’s name quiets the dissenters and calms the nervous, as the name of a God is meant to. I’m sure he’d be proud, wherever he is. Hopefully he didn’t become noodle soup.
We know that Ben and Javi, the other two engineers, and Jinju, who’s in charge of the food supply, know that there is no Mr Wilford on the train. But who else knows? Do Ruth and Roche? How long before Andre figures out the secret?
Melanie could use assistance with the Mr Wilford/engineer role, since she’s only sleeping 3 hours a night. Andre might be able to teach her how to share the burden of leadership more equally. She could stand to have a larger community of High Priests and Priestesses. Maybe some of the Tailies can skip straight to the front of the train and apprentice in engineering and hospitality. There seemed to be a few scientists and mathematicians back there.
This is an excellent, in depth interview with showrunner Graeme Manson from the LA Review of Books.
Images courtesy of TNT.