Episode 2 of Snowpiercer takes us deeper into the logistics, relationships and class system of the train, plus we attend a big prize fight in the Night Car. It’s very aspirational. And educational. After Melanie reestablishes her dominance over him (That’s hot- Metamaiden, editor), Andre conducts a series of interviews, first with Roche as his partner, then switching back to Till. Not all of the interviewees realize they’re being interviewed. By the end of the episode, he may have solved the case.
This show is worth watching for the acting performances alone, both those of the core leads and the ensemble. Daveed Diggs (Andre), Jennifer Connelly (Melanie), Mike O’Malley (Roche), Lena Hall (Miss Audrey), Happy Anderson (Dr Klimpt), Susan Park (Jinju), Mickey Sumner (Till), Sheila Vand (Zarah), Sam Otto (Oz), Katie McGuinness (Josie), Kerry O’Malley (Lilah), Timothy V Murphy (Grey), Madeleine Arthur (Nikki), Iddo Goldberg (Ben) and more- it’s a huge cast- all bring the characters, the writing and the Snowpiercer world to life in a way that science fiction lives and dies by.
They all fully inhabit not just their characters, but the circumstances of Snowpiercer and their individual places in it. In a dystopian reality, no matter how realistic or unrealistic the sets and special effects are (and these are also amazing, don’t get me wrong!), it’s ultimately up to the cast to sell the emotional reality of the premise. This cast is all in.
I praised Daveed Diggs and Lena Hall in particular in my episode 2 recap. I was remiss to leave Academy Award winner Jennifer Connelly out of the explicit praise. She has the difficult job of finding the humanity in an ice queen dictator. The show’s fantastic writing helps her out, but in the end, Melanie’s character lives and dies based on Connelly’s performance.
It’s the nuances in her delivery that help us realize that Melanie actually cares about the entire population of the train, including the Tail, and desperately hopes to keep them all alive. These are HER people, just as the Tailies are Andre’s people, and she’s fighting at least as fiercely as he is to keep them alive. But her job is complicated by living a double life and the complexities of keeping the train running.
Each episode, we watch Connelly pull Melanie back together at the beginning of the day, then we watch Melanie hold the train together for 12 hours through the sheer force of her iron will, strained compassion and large intellect, as the energy that takes slowly breaks Melanie down inside. Because of Connelly’s performance, we can see that process, but few on the train notice it. In someone else’s hands, she might be a tropish dictator. Thanks to Connelly, I want to weep for her struggle by the end of each episode.
Dr Henry Klimpt, who is in charge of the Drawers and the suspension drug that makes the program possible, provides tonight’s opening narration. As he speaks, he examines both Miles and Nikki Genet in the room with the drawers. The parallel is clear- Nikki was like Miles once, and the train did this to her. What will become of Miles? I’m not liking this metaphor, which is voiced out loud by Klimpt:
“You’d think loneliness would be impossible, all crammed in here, but this train was designed to separate us. From our possessions. From our loved ones. Now, every last shred of us is worth something to someone. Everything’s rare. So you’ve gotta pay with something personal. And we’re all trading up for the most valuable thing there is: access. Access all the way to First, where they hold the table for sport, then trade it right back down. People avoid me, because I care for the Sleepers. But that’s my value. How I open doors and live in Second. I can trade for things, while the weakest can only trade their carbon for compost. So we keep pushing. Pushing uptrain. Pushing for access to feel more alive. Access is freedom. Access is power. We kill for that on Snowpiercer. 1,001 cars long.”
The other message here? The people who live uptrain are naive. Klimpt thinks he has access to wealth that Thirdies do not, but as he speaks we watch the black market that he participates in move the same luxury items through every level of the train. By the end of the episode, we’ll have seen the same types of items move to and from the Tail.
As he speaks, Klimpt steals from Nikki Genet. He’s lying in his opening statement. We can’t even trust that his naivety is authentic.
Klimpt doesn’t realize that Thirdies and Tailies have skills, favors and information to trade in addition to carbon. It’s just that carbon is the main category he deals in. And skills can be used before the level of a trade, to obtain items and information that can later be traded, as we’ve seen happen already and will see happen in this episode.
Even the ability to kill and torture are valuable, tradable skills.
Klimpt is, however, one of the lucky, irreplaceable ones. That is the value of being a 2nd class level professional. There is no one else on board with his knowledge and skills and it will take many years for him to train an apprentice. Melanie can’t take his arm or send him to the Tail. He’s worth more than gold in this world.
Unless she discovers another physician hiding in the Tail.
As Klimpt continues, a man cuts into a severed hand and removes a small blue chip. It’s the chip that triggers the train’s locks, providing access to restricted areas.
The man is the butcher from episode 2 who refused to let Till and Andre search the walk-in freezer without the Notary present. He survived the breach and brought one of Sean’s hands along with him when he escaped. (More on that down in the commentary.) For now, let’s follow that little blue chip as it goes on a journey.
Removing the chip:
From here, the chip is traded several times. Someone, possibly the butcher but not definitively, trades it to Firstie York Lam for something I couldn’t recognize. It looked like it could be a razor, but that seems weird. The significance of York’s clear involvement in whatever plot is going on here is To Be Determined.
There are several First class passengers who whisper together and seem unhappy with Melanie’s rule. Grey is suspicious of her. The Firsties might be willing to finance a Tail rebellion that overthrows Melanie, but ends with Grey restoring order, essentially becoming a military coup, leaving Grey in charge.
York purposely loses the chip in a poker game to a masked woman, who then trades the chip, to a man we don’t quite see, for sexual favors. This man then sells or trades the chip to Brakeman Oz, who brings it to Head Janitor Terence. We’ll formally meet Terence later in the episode. Just keep him in mind.
That wasn’t very many steps, and all were easily prearranged if one wanted to disguise how Sean’s chip came to be in Terence’s hands. Chip-laundering, if you will. I strongly suspect that Terence has a prearranged buyer for the chip as well. He’s actually one more stop in the chip laundering scheme.
Snowpiercer is a Noir. Sean’s murder is the entry point into a much larger conspiracy.
After the opening credits, we find Andre still asleep in his cell, having a nightmare about Zarah leaving him in the Tail to move up to 3rd Class to work in the Night Car. He’s trying to dissuade her, but she can’t wait to leave. She hates the Tail. Just before she goes, he gives her his wedding ring, telling her she can use both of their rings to trade. She takes it, wishes him luck, then leaves.
Josie watches the whole thing closely and is waiting to comfort Andre. He stays fixated on the door Zarah left through.
Up in the First Class Dining Car, Melanie has called the department heads and senior staff together for a meeting. A typed message from Mr. Wilford arrives via pneumatic tube, which Melanie reads. She obviously wrote this earlier and had it sent through the tube at the right time.
Mr. Wilford Melanie: “To my loyal and trusted crew, without whom this mission could never succeed: In this time of adversity, I ask you, the lead stewards of humanity, to remain unshaken in spirit and resolve, as you’ve done so nobly these past 7 years. By your steady hands, we will ride out this hardship and outlive the ice, bound by our cause and our need. Wilford.”
Commander Grey immediately points out to her that Wilford paraphrased Winston Churchill, using his famous line, “Unshaken in spirit and resolve.” Melanie says she’ll tell Wilford that Grey noticed, like that was the plan all along. It probably was Melanie’s plan, so that her words would sound more like those of a much older British man. Grey goes on to instruct Melanie to tell Wilford that, “There’s unrest brewing,” and the rationing will only make things worse.
Melanie suggests they move the following week’s scheduled prize fight to tonight and move the winner from 3rd to 2nd class. Ruth loves the idea. “It’s aspirational for 3rd and it will remind 1st how good they actually have it.”
Jackboots storm into Andre’s cell and put a bag over his head. Then they bring him to Melanie’s office, slamming him into the wall at every opportunity. Roche and Melanie are waiting when he gets there. Roche says the escort was Wilford’s idea.
Melanie reads a prepared statement before Andre can distract her: “Let me explain clearly. We each have our place up here. Our lane. And until you earn Mr Wilford’s trust, your lane is narrow.”
Roche: “Your only concern is finding out who tortured and killed Sean Wise. And if you try communicating with the Tail again, I’ll stick your head out a port myself.”
Andre asks if he is allowed to speak to Nikki yet, since she’s the witness to the first murder. Without hesitation, Melanie refuses, telling him that Nikki is still unconscious. He asks if he’s allowed to know what Sean was informing on.
They tell him that Sean was watching the black market, trying to figure out where the new drug kronole came from, since it’s been wreaking havoc in Third. Andre informs them that Kronole isn’t new. It’s been in the Tail for 2 revolutions (approximately 6 months). When they look surprised, he mocks them, noting that they should be getting a cut of the kronole action, since authoritarian regimes usually control the illicit drug trade as another way of controlling and exploiting their citizens.
You know, like handing out excessive numbers of highly addictive opioid prescriptions, then cutting off patients so they turn to illegal options.
Melanie: “Snowpiercer’s an ark. It’s not an authoritarian state.”
Andre tells them that Sean’s kronole activities should be where they pick up their investigation. Oz is the source of kronole in the Tail, as we saw in episode 2. When Roche complements his detective work, he asks to trade the information for the removal of his handcuffs.
Till meets Jinju outside of her 2nd class cabin. Jinju cuts off conversation as she leads Till inside for an afternoon tryst. Later, Till complains that 2nd Class is much nicer than 3rd. She thinks they get to lay around in bed all day. As we’ve seen, many of them are crushed with both work and responsibility, but the train structure keeps even 2nd and 3rd so separated they don’t realize what each other’s lives are like, breeding resentment.
Till complains about everything that’s gone wrong in her professional life lately. When she mentions that Melanie is capriciously blocking access to Nikki, her only witness, Jinju says, “Yeah, you won’t get much out of Nikki. She’s still confused.”
Till says she thought Nikki was unconscious. Oops. Jinju wasn’t told the official public story, since Melanie doesn’t know who her new special someone is. Jinju warns Bess not to pursue the interview unless Melanie okays it, but Bess is sincere in her quest for justice.
Jinju: “Hey- You don’t want to cross paths with Melanie Cavill.”
Bess: “Then I’ll go around her.”
Look at Bess Till, feeling all empowered. They kiss and Bess leaves. Jinju looks worried. She’s screwed up and put both herself and Bess in danger from Big Boss Melanie, and she can’t even tell Bess the truth about why she needs to be careful.
But let’s take a frivolous moment to gush over them as couple! Are they the cutest or what? They are both personal favs of mine, so I was excited for them to get together in Jinju’s elegant 2nd Class cabin, no less. Melanie better not ruin this for them. Zarah told us how hard it is to find love on Snowpiercer.
Hmmm, maybe that was code.
On the way to find Oz in a 3rd Class dining car, Roche complains about the corruption. Andre points out the complications in the case and the way Nikki’s case was screwed up, then demands that he lead the investigation today.
Oz is regaling a bunch of other off-duty brakemen with the tale of how he fought the Tailie rebels. Andre and Roche cut him down to size by pointing out that he lost the fight, retreated and left Bess behind, then they send his audience off.
Oz claims he only passed kronole to Patterson for Suzanne, as a humanitarian act. He says he got the kronole from stash that the brakemen have confiscated.
Once Andre and Roche leave, someone grabs Oz and brings him to Terence in the Chains, the man he passed the blue chip to. Terence wants to know why Roche is suspicious of Oz. Terence also asks about Andre. Oz explains who he is. Terence tells Oz not to worry about the Tailie detective. “We’ll give that cop a nice warm welcome.”
Roche insists on going back to interview Zarah. Zarah swears that she didn’t know anything about Sean’s after hours activities, only that he bragged about knowing people who could get him things. Roche wants to know who those people were. Tunnelmen? Night Car staff? Janitors? Zarah claims ignorance.
Roche just gave Andre and us a helpful list of who tends to be influential in the underground. Roche put particular emphasis on janitors, which is what Terence and his friends in white are. All three of those occupations have access to people from all over the train. Two of them also move all over the train. They all also see people’s vulnerabilities, allowing them to collect secrets and blackmail material.
Zarah is glancing at Andre at opportune moments to send him messages. She does now, as she tells them she has to get ready to go work Fight Night now, her way of making sure Andre knows about it and telling him to find a way to be there. Roche walks out of the room first, giving Zarah the opportunity to whisper “Janitors” to Andre.
The Train Is a Straight Line, But It Runs in Circles
Next we visit the 1st Class dining car, in what could be a throw away scene, but I think there are clues to conspiracies that are brewing, so you can either skip this part or bear with my excessive attention to detail and the theorizing that goes with it.
First the camera pans across the masked woman, Eugenia (the incomparable Amanda Brugel) according to IMDB, and York, two of the conspirators in passing the blue chip from the butcher to Terence, who appear to be close friends, not just poker buddies. Casting Amanda Brugel in the role suggests they are indeed both conspirators and that she’ll be more important later. I am, however, having whiplash, now that she’s escaped from Gilead but endured The Freeze and lost all of her clothing (and voice). Stephen Lobo, from many other shows, whose character is named Martin Colvin, is also with their group of partiers.
Ruth walks through the room and stops at the Folgers’ table. I think at this point we can assume that they are the top of the heap of Firsties. We never enter this room without paying court to them, and they are always there, holding court. Sitting in high judgement, even. Lilah has Elizabeth I’s red hair and detached manner.
Now she tells Ruth that she knows that the hospitality staff is using the prize fight and the pop up casino in 1st Class as a distraction from the rebellion and the extinction event.
Robert Folger: “Seriously, Ruth, we realize that this is no longer a pleasure cruise…”
Lilah: “But our fortunes built this train, and Mr Wilford is losing control. Resources crashing. Insurrection in the Tail. Fight Night is nothing but a bald-faced distraction.”
LJ looks back at Erik, who is in his usual spot. He returns the glance. Ruth looks uncomfortable and agrees that they’ve seen through her clever manipulations. She flatters them and begs them to go along with the distraction for the good of the train. She tells them that it buoys up the lower classes to catch a glimpse of the Firsties’ grandeur.
Excuse me while I go vomit. But, well-played, Ruth. The other three cajole Lilah into it.
LJ and Erik are close. Or maybe she’s afraid of him. The jury’s still out on that one. He has a major rapist vibe, as will be proven out later.
And Lilah never misses a chance to throw her weight around. It’s not clear to me yet whether 1st Class has any actual power, as a class, beyond being coddled by staff. Their individual wealth still matters, we’ve been shown that in this episode. Melanie believes in the class system, but I don’t think she’ll knowingly sacrifice many lives to it. So far the lower classes have voluntarily done that behind her back and left her pure.
And I strongly believe that Roche is not overly corrupt. Individual brakemen act on their own when they take part in illicit activities. Roche works closely with Melanie to keep crime on the train under control. However, Commander Grey, with his smug look, love of violence and not quite insubordinate attitude, is another story. That man is planning a coup, probably with help and financing from the 1st Class.
Lilah and Robert just told Ruth that they’re putting the Melanie/Wilford regime on notice. Get it together fast, or they’ll put someone in charge who can. They see themselves as the wealthy oligarchy who allow the current head of state to manage the country’s infrastructure and lower classes for them.
Grey probably sees them as wealthy idiots who are useful for financing his power grab, then continuing to finance his dictatorship. They are a decadent aristocracy who are trying to prove they haven’t outlived their usefulness. Many wars and revolutions have proven that the wealth of the aristocracy can be seized in a regime change that involves an overhaul of the political structure.
Then there is the Tail, who I believe are involved in an elaborate conspiracy of their own, which leads from Sean’s murder to where the blue chip is headed and how it’s paid for. The chip, which provides all important access to the front of the train, is the key to the next Tail uprising. The next Tail uprising could be the moment that allows Grey to stage a coup. Remember how Firsties facilitated getting the chip to Terence?
Okay, now that the Firsties have had their party and Ruth has calmed the Folgers down, let’s join Roche and Andre for lunch. Andre sneaks in a witness interview.
Roche’s lunch is packed in an old-fashioned metal lunch box like a factory worker might carry. Roche is still a regular guy. He opens the box and pulls out an apple, a perfectly folded, WHITE napkin and a couple of other meticulously wrapped items. He unfolds the napkin and spreads it out as a placemat on his desk, then unwraps the next item.
Andre assumes that Roche is married. Roche confirms that he has been, for 20 years. Andre asks about kids. Roche had 3, but only 1 made it on the train. “We hold them close, they keep us going.” They commiserate over the hardships they’ve faced. Andre says that it was tough when Zarah went uptrain. “She was my warmth.”
Roche offers Andre some of his apple, so Andre joins him at the desk. Andre has successfully humanized himself into a colleague. They wonder whether Sean was a random victim of a serial killer or if he was murdered for being a spy.
Or maybe someone offered to pay the serial killing perv to kill again. It can be more than one thing.
Andre asks if Roche has ever met Wilford. He’s becoming curious about why Wilford is so mysterious that he doesn’t even investigate his own extinction events.
Roche: “Shook his hand a few times before we boarded, but the engine’s biosecure now. He speaks through Melanie.”
Was Wilford an actor or Melanie in drag? 😉
Bess enters. Roche says that he told her to stay home today, after her ordeal with the rebels. She tells them that Nikki’s awake and leaves with Andre to question her. Roche wants to finish his lunch.
Melanie and Ben meet down in the tunnels to discuss progress on repairs. He’s on schedule with the crack in the hull (which is good news for resuming normal water flow) but the breachmen are behind on repairing the window in the cattle car. Melanie is worried, because they’re pumping excess heat into the tunnel due to the hull breach, which drains the batteries too quickly. They’re still traveling through the Rocky Mountains, so things won’t get better for a while.
Ben suggests uncoupling the Tail. Melanie punches him- she won’t consider it. He says, “I mean, we move the Tailies into 3rd. Cut the empty weight loose onto a siding.” Melanie says the overcrowding would cause civil war in Third. They need another solution.
She’s probably right. Third is already crowded, and several members just died in a Tailie rebellion.
She notices sparks from welders working on repairs and says, “God, I wish I were welding.” This lets us know that she really is trained for the job she’s doing, with plenty of hands on experience in the field. And that she feels the weight of the burden she’s carrying.
She gets a call from Jinju, who informs her that Till is on her way to question Nikki.
Klimpt lets Bess and Andre in to speak to Nikki, though he’s been ordered not to. That’s an interesting development. He doesn’t like conflict, so maybe he just didn’t want to fight about it.
He tells them her dire symptoms are normal recovery symptoms. Andre says they look like kronole withdrawal, especially her black gums. He asks if she’s been given kronole. Klimpt insists that of course Nikki hasn’t been given an illegal drug.
Melanie arrives and kicks them out of Nikki’s room, saying Nikki’s not ready to be questioned, even though she’s awake. Bess asks if the suspension drug is a version of kronole, but Melanie and Klimpt deny it. Klimpt says the black gums are a common post suspension reaction.
Andre realizes that kronole is the street version of the suspension drug. Melanie says that the ingredients are tightly controlled, so that’s not possible. Klimpt admits that he’s been skimming the suspension drug, trading it for supplies like vegetable balm for bed sores to use with the Sleepers. There are necessities that the train doesn’t supply. He makes it sound altruistic, just like Oz.
I believed him, until I remembered he stole the gold out of Nikki’s mouth and uses the Sleepers as sex toys.
Melanie has a word with Klimpt about his activities. While he waits, Andre notices a plastic bag full of Miles’ hair. For the first time since he’s been up front, he loses his composure, scared that they’ve done something to his son. He tries to open drawers to find Miles. Melanie explains that Miles made the apprenticeship program and they gave him a haircut. Andre demands to see him. Melanie wants to get Andre away from Nikki so badly that she agrees to go right away.
No one brings up why Klimpt kept Miles’ hair, instead of throwing it away after the haircut. Was that a prearranged payment to Klimpt for something (the Tailies knew in episode 1 that Miles would probably be chosen for the apprenticeship program), is hair something Klimpt can trade or is it just his own personal fetish? Or is hair genetic material that the train authorities can use in the dark, secret experiments we’ve only heard referred to a couple of times?
They take Andre to the school room, which is so similar to the one in the film that I kept waiting for the teacher to pull a gun out of a basket. She’s teaching a science lesson. Miles answers a tough question correctly, proving Tailie homeschooling works. Andre and Miles are given a few minutes alone in the classroom. Miles is thriving in his new environment, with his own bed, fork and desk. He tells Andre that Mikala went to the laundry department and he hasn’t seen Mia. When it’s time to leave for dinner, he whispers that he’s keeping his eyes open, telling Andre that he’s still a Tailie.
Back in the Tail, they lift Lights (Miranda Edwards) up to look out a peephole with a scope and compare it to a terrain map so they can tell where they are- Blanca Peak, which means they’re a day behind schedule. She explains that they should be going full tilt to store battery power so they can climb the Sierra Madre range. They don’t know what happened the day before, but they can tell that it made the speed situation worse, when they were already losing time.
Last Australian: “Year 4 Slowdown lasted a month. Started with darkness, water rations.”
They wonder if they’re draining too many resources now, and if they’re in danger of being left behind. They decide to do their part to conserve train resources. Everyone will move to the forward part of the car and share beds to conserve heat, plus they’ll go on half water rations. Josie assures them that their allies uptrain will find a way to help them.
Have we seen anyone outside of the tail even pay attention to the state of the train and where they are on the route, then try to help, when it wasn’t directly their job to do so? Some of First Class is aware, because they have nothing to do all day but look out the windows and complain when things aren’t perfect. The Tailies are nearly as aware of the train’s situation as the train’s engineers, down to minute details. But they have no instrumentation to help them, just meticulous observations and analysis, in the way of ancient sailors.
Andre thanks Melanie for letting him see Miles, then asks if he can see Josie to reassure her that her son is okay. Melanie agrees to let him see Josie, once he’s identified the killer. And anyway, it’s too close to the fight to get past the Night Car and down to the Tail, now. Bess agrees.
Andre picks up on the opening and suggests that he should go to Fight Night, so that he can talk to a janitor. Both women are skeptical about his chances of getting a drug dealer to sit down with the train detective. Roche told him the same thing when they started the day, saying the train is such a small town that everyone knows everyone’s business, so they’d all see Andre coming. Andre tells them to leave it up to him.
As we’ve seen, Terence does indeed already know who Andre is. And he’s readying a warm welcome.
Melanie dresses up for the big night, going all slinky in what’s probably a rare treat, allowing herself to feel feminine. (She also looks like a witch or a death goddess, which is quite fitting.) She sits at her laptop, sips wine and
feasts on the bones of her enemies listens to sound clips of Wilford, editing them together into a brief motivational statement for him to make to the crowd tonight.
Like Andre, Melanie enjoys a bit of ceremonial cannibalism. After Grey called her out on plagiarizing Churchill, she must have decided the people needed to hear directly from the man himself. This is dangerous too, though, because edited sound bites will sound stilted to a carefully listening ear, and those are definitely out there. Plus, if those words were spoken publicly, which seems likely, someone with a good memory may recognize them as well.
Bess brings Andre to Fight Night and points out the various factions, including First Class, who are on a balcony, separated from the riff raff, and the janitors, who all wear white uniforms. She says she doesn’t recognize individual janitors because, “It’s not my beat.”
Melanie speaks to the crowd from afar, over the intercom. She introduces Mr Wilford’s speech: “Thanks. (clears throat) Good evening passengers. As you well know, I’m not one for speeches, but we’ve been through a bumpy patch, so I want to say this to you- If the track has taught me anything, it’s that even the steepest climbs give way to descent. I’ll keep doing what I do best. I will keep our Engine Eternal. And you keep doing what you do best– survive, survive, survive.”
The crowd chants, “Survive, survive, survive, the Engine will provide.” After the entire train was silent during Wilford’s statement, they now erupt in cheers. Melanie was right. They needed to hear from the father God. And now they need to release some negative energy. She says, “And on that note, let the fight begin.” It does.
Melanie let a hint of irony slip through in Wilford’s speech. I’m guessing his steep climb did give way to a rather steep descent. He says he’ll keep the Engine Eternal- is that where he is? Then he tells the others to survive. He doesn’t include himself. An astute listener, like the Train Detective/Prime Minister of the Tailies, the Queen of First Class or the Commander of the Jackboots, might wonder about that.
One of the fighters is a janitor called Right Hand Man, because his left arm is missing above the elbow. We saw Terence watching him practice earlier. Eugenia, the masked woman, bet a fox fur on him before the fight started. He’s up against a woman dressed in denim blue.
Andre sees Zarah working the bar and convinces Bess to let him talk to her alone. He asks her to keep an eye on the janitors while he’s gone. Terence is already watching him. Ruth points Andre out to the Folgers, who aren’t impressed with his “look”. LJ exchanges another glance with the ubiquitous Erik.
Zarah takes Andre into the room behind the bar, pointing out Terence, Sean’s kronole connection and head janitor, before she closes the curtain.
Zarah: “I can ask if he’ll meet with you. How bad do you need this?”
Andre: “It’s the first key.”
Zarah: “Well, there’s always a price with Terence.”
She takes off his wedding ring, which she had on a string around her neck, and gives it back to him. She says she traded hers away long ago. He can trade his if he needs to. He tells her that he still loves her and has been thinking about what she said about staying in Third with her. She says she still loves him, too, but she knows the Tail needs him. They kiss. She goes back to the bar without another word.
Nikki Genet is alone in her room. She makes her way out in the dark. The rest of the train is still experiencing rolling blackouts.
Zarah whispers to one of the janitors. Terence sends Oz to tell Andre that he doesn’t want to meet. Andre insists on meeting and says he has enough potential dirt on both Oz and Terence to make it worth it to them.
Nikki makes it to the Night Car, so Bess is distracted by helping her back to her room. The Folgers notice her and LJ says Nikki was innocent. This time, Erik gives her a dirty look.
He’s watching her closely to keep her in line, then. Is she another witness, but the family wants to keep it quiet? Or is this strictly between Erik and LJ?
One of the janitors calls for Andre to follow. It looks like Right Hand Man throws the fight and starts a riot in the crowd to cover up when Terence and Andre leave.
The flunky brings Andre to Terence’s section of the Chains. Terence looks like he’s sitting on a throne. He offers Andre a date and introduces himself as Terence, never Terry. As far as I can tell, the dates are a show of wealth and status, probably done to counter Andre forcing him into the meeting, but they could turn out to be more. Dates have pits, which could be replaced with small items, so eating them could be a way to transfer trades. Andre eats one.
They have a little cop talk back and forth about kronole, Sean and Zarah, revealing what they know about each other and the situation. There may have been some code words in there. Terence pauses when Andre says Sean was a snitch. That might have been new information. He might owe something to the person who took out the spy. He asks how much Wilford knows about the kronole network. Andre says not much and maybe they could work out a deal.
Terence tells a story. He used to be a janitor in a high rise that wasn’t so different from the train. Things are good, but he’s still looking for better.
Andre: “3rd Class and the Tail, 70% of the population.”
Terence: “Maybe we could see who’s in the penthouse.”
Andre: “It’s nice to dream.”
Terence looks to see who’s nearby, then leans in: “I saw Sean the night he was killed. he came down to score K with another guy. No one I’d seen before.”
Andre: “Can you describe him?”
Terence: “Not from these corridors. First Class, maybe. Early 30s, buzz cut. Takes care of himself.”
Andre takes out his wedding ring: “There’s one more thing I need, Terence. Something very small.”
Terence takes the ring.
Erik is the only person that description fits.
I think Terence was telling Andre that Mr Wilford isn’t in the engine when he said they could see who’s in the penthouse. Who’s in the penthouse isn’t supposed to be a secret.
ETA: After another rewatch of the episode, I realized that Andre keeps most of each date in his cheeks. He only bites off and chews a little bit. That’s the advantage of having of a beard to hide things under. The blue access chip could be in one of the dates, or it could be that he doesn’t trust Terence. Terence promised Oz they’d give Andre a warm welcome- the dates were the warm welcome, whether they contained the chip or a light poison.
Back in the Night Car, Melanie has made an appearance, now that the night is ending. She and Ruth are pleased with how things turned out. The Thirdies have to walk home because the breach repairs have closed the subtrain in that direction. The Firsties are still enjoying the afterglow.
Andre reports back to Roche. Melanie tries to move the Folgers, who are happily dancing, along towards their car. Lilah tells her the night was fun, but they still know Wilford is mismanaging the train. Robert suggests they detach the Tail.
Please, let me be the one to toss the Firsties in the snow. They don’t even pay enough attention to understand how things work, unless something affects them very directly, like the death of the cows, which means the end of beef.
LJ watches as Roche brings Andre to Melanie. Andre refuses to divulge the description of the man who was seen with Sean the night he died until they allow him to visit Josie. He wins and Josie is called to the front of the Tail.
Josie is looking a bit intense with Big John, which calls into question the story of Andre’s platonic romance with her. Maybe polyamory is a thing in the Tail, too. Or maybe we’re being played, for the sake of an elaborate conspiracy.
They speak through a face-sized hole in the door.
Josie: “I thought you were dead. What did they do to you? Why did they pull you out?”
Andre: “I’m fine. Just listen. I talked to Miles. You’d be so proud. He’s in a class. He’s learning real science. ”
Josie: “And you saw him?”
Andre: “And he’s eating. 3 squares. He’s got his own fork. I saw Zarah. I had it all wrong in my head. This whole time, I’ve not been seeing what was right in front of my eyes. I miss you Josie, and I am so sorry.”
Shapes are definitely code. Josie was suspicious until he said 3 squares. They’ve been leaning toward each other. Now their faces are almost touching. Josie says she misses him, too. They kiss, another long, lingering kiss. Then Melanie has them separated.
Andre: “He’s got his own bed. And there’s other kids. He misses you, Josie. It’s only doors between us!”
Melanie takes a good look at Josie, then closes the panel herself. Andre’s face is mashed into the wall. She asks for the description he’s been withholding.
The lights are flashing in 2nd. Nikki is back in bed, but she looks more alert. Erik murders her guard and her nurse. Then he sits down next to her bed. “You don’t remember me, do you Nikki? But you do know who I am.” He turns out the light.
Once Josie is sure she’s safely deep in the Tail, she removes the glass vial with the blue chip from her mouth. Andre passed it to her when they kissed. The chip has come to the end of its journey, for now.
Always remember- the walls have ears on Snowpiercer. People frequently speak in code and leave coded messages or signals for each other, as Andre did when he wrote the triangle in a circle symbol on the floor at the end of episode 2. I don’t know how much of what was said between Andre and Zarah, Josie and Terence was code, but probably more than I caught. I transcribed so much in order to be able to look back at it easily as we learn more about the Tailies’ systems.
Snowpiercer is a science fiction noir, using a murder mystery, a compromised detective, and a train full of femme fatales to uncover a larger conspiracy in an all but hopeless world. The production design harkens back to the analog days of noir’s height as a genre, especially the design styles of both the 30s and 50s. The 1930s was the era of the rise of fascism in Europe and a time when the US came close to accepting fascism as well. The 1950s was a time when US society insisted on ultra conformity and sanctioned government witch hunts on those deemed threats to order. It was the era of McCarthyism and the Red Scare, Vice Squad raids on queer bars and when racist Jim Crow laws were being bitterly fought.
Snowpiercer’s production design has elements of Cassette Futurism/ Formicapunk and Steampunk, but it falls between the time periods of these two styles. Someone in the production mentioned they wanted to make sure everything is analog, so I’ve been thinking of it as Analog Punk.
The presence of Right Hand Man reminds us that taking an arm isn’t just a punishment for the Tail. Showing him associated with Terence reminds the audience that the black market involves risk.
Are Ben and Melanie a thing? He looks at her fondly and supports her wholeheartedly as Mr. Wilford.
It would be cool if Ruth and Roche turn out to be married. He and Melanie seem very close for a 3rd Class Lead Brakeman (or does Lead Brakeman get bumped up to 2nd?) and the Head of Hospitality/Mr. Wilford, both of whom should spend their time at the front of the train, whereas Melanie is not at all close to Commander Grey. That could be explained by them having not just contact through their jobs, but also Ruth in common. And Ruth spends a lot of time down at the Tail as part of her job.
I like the idea of Ruth and Roche cozying up together at night for pillow talk in a sweet 2nd Class bunk, and then her making sure he gets a specially made boxed lunch from Jinju’s kitchen in the morning. Ruth pays attention to little details like lunch presentation and the finer points of dress, and Roche is well taken care of. She would definitely share Roche’s negative opinion of the nonconformists in the Chains.
Could Bess Till be Roche or Roche and Ruth’s daughter? He had one kid who survived and Bess seems close to him, has access to second class and looks like she could be their kid. The one argument against it is that she thinks 2nd Class lies around all day. If her parents were 2nd Class, you’d think she’d know they work hard. Maybe she thinks the rest of 2nd Class is lazy.
What happened to poor little Mia, the third Tailie apprentice? Did she get the Wilford replacement part treatment from the film?
We get more confirmation that Wilford is gone and not on another train somewhere or in seclusion, having abdicated his role. Surely if he were available to record a few innocuous words, Melanie would have him do it at this point, rather than taking the chance someone would recognize the bits of speeches she cobbles together. It’s clear that some factions are listening closely, after Grey pointed out the Churchill phrase. Melanie likely either put that in on purpose, figuring it was a typical line an old British man would like, or she cribbed it from his previous language, written or oral.
It’s fascinating to see how often it’s suggested to Melanie that she decouple the Tail, yet she won’t even consider it. She makes sure the Tailies survive and are useful, which gives her a defendable reason to keep them. Did Melanie kill Wilford in an argument over the Tail? It seems like some of the passengers might have friends from before and relatives in the Tail- could Melanie?
Maybe Melanie took that long look at Josie through the metal door because there is a connection between them. That could explain why Josie was so suspicious of Andre at first.
Think about it- how did people know about the possibility of hitching a ride in the empty cars at the end of the train? Someone who knew about the Tail because they worked on the train must have told them. At least some people in the Tail have connections up front.
The Class System and How It Is Evolving
The first two episodes showed us the gritty, greedy, desperate reality of the train in 1st & 3rd classes and the Tail. In episode 3, we’re seeing aspirational 2nd, the professionals who devote themselves to keeping life livable for everyone else, have interesting jobs and decent compensation. The professional and managerial class is necessarily small, but it’s the class with the most balanced combination of physical reward and meaningful work and purpose.
Melanie is technically part of 2nd class. When she dresses up for Fight Night, she lets herself have a momentary break, in private, to be one of the Melanies she wishes she could still be. She also expresses longing to go back to being a regular engineer like Ben and Javi, who don’t have the crushing responsibility of being the final decision maker.
There’s more than one reason Lilah wanted to help with the murder investigation. She didn’t just want to get as much dirt and leverage on as many people as she could. She’s also bored out of her mind in 1st Class. She desperately needs something to keep her mind busy, but she needs a good excuse to take a job and a good job to take, not one of the menial 3rd class jobs. There aren’t likely to be many professional job openings on Snowpiercer.
However, now that they have a train detective investigating crimes, the opening is there for Lilah to fight for the establishment of an actual judicial system. She just needs to figure it out. She could be a judge, defense attorney or prosecutor. A town of 3,000 is big enough for a small claims court to settle grievances between passengers and help keep disputes from turning violent. It also helps keep them from being solved by gang bosses instead of train authorities, which is what’s happening now.
The current set up is ripe to devolve into a system of mob bosses ruling various underground fiefdoms within the train, if it hasn’t already. Once that kind of corruption is entrenched, it will be hard for Melanie to eradicate in her closed system. She’s better off establishing a government sponsored justice system with some semblance of fairness.
She already has the human resources waiting to help her, if she’d just ask for help. 1st Class is just itching to become a working ruling class again, so they can amass some real power and not just wealth. They may already be the mob bosses financing kronole, gambling, cannibalism and prostitution rings. Corruption is rife on Mr Wilford’s train, with just about everything and everyone for sale in some way, if the need is great enough and the price is right.
In her speech at the end of episode 2, Melanie spoke of the Tail as if they were irresponsible children. In fact, in this episode we discover that they are the only passengers who are minding the train itself closely enough to understand what’s happening with it and to take independent, voluntary action to help keep the train up to speed and conserve resources. Despite their own limited resources, they keep detailed records, which they pour over in order to spot patterns that might help them manage their own resources.
The Tailies understand better than the rest of the train that their ultimate fates depend on the state of the train and its resources, and how train authorities view their contributions to the train ecosystem as a whole. Thanks to Wilford’s order, the strict division of labor and suppression of information, no one else on the train has the level of information possessed by the Tailies, not even the engineers, including Melanie. The engineers are too cut off from 3rd Class to fully understand the impact of their actions on the masses and to have an accurate view of the black market. They’ve tried to make up for it with their spies, but spies will never give them the whole story.
Melanie understands how the train works and is devoted to her preexisting system. She’s not open to new ideas that threaten that system even a little bit. This is where she needs Andre and the Tailies, to restore her trust that there’s more than need and greed on the train, there’s also compassion and spirit.
And to get her out of her one track mind, which has become stuck in a single way of doing things, refusing to be open to new ideas that aren’t essentially engineering solutions. She never considers asking the people on the train for ideas on how they could conserve water, for example. Some of them, like the Tailies, may be doing it on their own, and it might be useful to share ideas and create community spirit around the solutions.
Trying to Live the Simple Life in an Authoritarian Regime
Melanie brought the apprentices forward in episode 2 because the children would be a sign of hope and bounty to the train. But she was also sending a very specific message to Andre.
She knew Miles is his Tail son, which means she has at least one informant in the Tail- his OneTail isn’t as cohesive as he’d like to believe. Or so she’d like Andre to believe- I have a feeling he controls, or is at least aware of, the information that leaves the Tail. But Melanie controls who gets to leave permanently.
Miles is now explicitly her hostage/protege. The rest of the Tailies are also, always, her hostages. Miles is the reminder that she will be cruel, if necessary, for the Greater Good, so Andre had best not push her too far again. On the other hand, she can be a Benevolent Goddess, and if Andre behaves, maybe he and Miles will get more perks, just like Sean Wise did. Andre’s choice.
He’s already figured out the rules and understands that Miles is her hostage. That’s why he demands to see both Miles and Josie, in addition to the private exchange he wants to make with Josie. He needs to make sure both are safe, as anyone would need to when their family is being held and as any hostage negotiator would demand at the beginning of negotiations, as well. We’ve already seen that Andre likely has training and experience in hostage negotiations.
While the Tailies are OneTail, in it together, for better or worse, but also desperate for privacy and enough prosperity to be able to claim more individuality, the rest of the train’s residents have varying degrees of privacy, individuality and prosperity. But none are as desperately impoverished as the Tail. What they are is so oppressed that they are forced to lie to each other and keep secrets, which means that they can rarely find honesty and trust in their relationships.
Authoritarian regimes want their citizens to be afraid, all the time, of each other and of the state, so they don’t band together in rebellion. Of course Mr. Wilford has a team of spies and of course everyone knows it. Of course the spies’ identities are kept secret- not so much for the spies’ protection, but so that everyone will worry that anyone could be a Wilford informant and punishment could come at anytime, for any infraction.
And infractions are basically necessary for survival for the Thirdies, who, while not as impoverished as the Tail, live in crowded conditions, with rationed food and water, often do dangerous or boring jobs and have almost no chance to have children. There’s little hope for the future anywhere on Snowpiercer, but Thirdies have fewer distractions and little hope in the present as well.
Turning to side hustles that involve black market activities like smuggling, sex, drugs, gambling, etc, which provide otherwise unavailable wealth and power for lower classes, is an age old solution to poverty caused by oppressive regimes. The black marketeers have extended their market into the Tail via corrupt brakemen, much as prison employees can be a vehicle to those isolated in prisons in the real world.
The moments of solidarity between Terence and Andre were very interesting. They noted that their people, 3rd and the Tail, combined, comprise 70% of the train’s population. It would be hard for the other 30% to stop them if they all rose up together, especially since most of the soldiers are in 3rd.
The question is, how many jackboots are there and how loyal are they to Grey? This is a train, so at some point, a small but determined group with a lot of firepower could defend a bottleneck for a long time. The outcome of a seige would depend on which side of the bottleneck has more food and weaponry, so whoever carefully chooses the place where they stand their ground will probably win.
Sequence of Events When Butcher Created Breach in Cattle Car and Other Conspiracy Notes
This conspiracy theory is a work in progress and I want to publish the recap rather than continue to hash it out, especially since episode 4 has already aired tonight, so please forgive its rough nature. (I haven’t watched episode 4 yet, but its probably made parts of my theories obsolete.)
This part isn’t theory- the butcher did intentionally cause the breach and this is how it happened.
Till and Andre knock on the door to the cattle car, then the junior butcher informs senior butcher that they’re there. He refuses to let them enter without the Notary because it’s a restricted area, then starts waving a knife around. Andre says, “Nice knife. Bet you could cut my leg off with that.” They leave to find the Notary.
Did Andre purposely warn the butcher about what they were there for? Is the butcher a Tailie who moved forward, or a Thirdie ally?
The breach happens while Andre and Till are gone- but it’s not that simple. Anyone who pays close attention to the train’s motions can feel the avalanche coming well in advance. People who work with large animals and sharp knives need to be hyper aware of the train’s movements. The butcher, like everyone who has windows to look out of or who pays attention, knows where they are and that it’s a rough piece of track. They’ve already had 2 avalanches today. He gets lucky, but maybe he had an alternate plan if he didn’t, or maybe Andre timed their visit for when he felt the avalanche coming. The Tailies are also hyper aware of the train’s motions and their meanings. Melanie felt it coming at about the same time.
Once Andre’s gone, the senior butcher gets some kind of heavy cylinder-shaped device- a baton or prod? He takes it over to a cow that another man is already working with. This will ensure a body is left is next to the breach who can be blamed for creating the hole in the window.
Next, we’re shown, visually, that this is the man who cut off Sean’s limbs and possibly took part in castrating him. When the butchers’ tools are shown rattling on a table, a cleaver and the knife this butcher was waving are highlighted.
The butcher waits until the avalanche has some strength to it, then uses the bars between the cattle to hoist himself up and backwards into the widow while thrusting the prod backwards into the window hard enough to crack it. He used just the right amount of force, which is impressive, because he gets a crack and not a complete break, so he has several seconds to get to the safety of the insulated walk-in freezer while the window proceeds to develop a large crack, then lets lethally cold air in. The rest of the people and the cows die. At least they didn’t suffer for long. I never want to watch it again.
It was the surprise and injuries that killed the butchers- they could have run for the doors before the window let too much cold air in, if they’d had forewarning like their coworker. I can’t find anything that specifically says how long it takes for tissues to freeze at -100° C and this is fiction anyway, but it took several seconds here.
Okay, this is a wild theory, but it could be true. I’ve been arguing parts of it throughout the recap. The question really is, how extensive is the conspiracy?
Andre warns the butcher that they’re coming for him, which gives the butcher time to cause the breach, kill the resource-sucking cows and do some eventual damage to 1st Class.
The butcher may or may not have taken part in the murder, but he cut off Sean’s limbs and removed Sean’s blue access key, which opens doors. Remember how Andre yelled to Josie, “It’s only doors between us!” That was code letting her know there wasn’t anything more difficult to get through before she got to where he was being held, not just a romantic declaration.
And Andre told Zarah that talking to Terence was the first key. Then he appears to have received the blue chip, which provides door access, from Terence.
He told Terence that it’s nice to dream- probably the code word to let Terence know they’d successfully placed Tailies in the drawers.
I think something passed between Zarah and Andre during their kiss. I’m also not sure Josie and Andre are anything more than close friends. The potential romance started to seem like a set up for a kiss pass. She didn’t go along with it until he used the code word square. 3 might have also been code. It might have meant 3 Tailie sleepers in the drawers, which let her know he was still working for them.
So my question is, was Sean murdered as part of a conspiracy to get his blue access chip back to the tail? From the beginning, Andre argued that the Tail needed to wait to rebel again until their contacts in the front had more time to set things up and until they developed more allies. Was he working on this scheme, but keeping it secret from the broader community?
Sean was one of Zarah’s partners and an informant. It’s not a stretch to assume that Zarah is one of Andre’s allies in the front of the train, maybe the chief ally. Being with a snitch could have put Zarah’s whole chain in danger, so getting rid of him would be prudent and open up an opportunity to sell him out to someone important. Zarah is the one who told the authorities that Andre is a homicide detective- she got him moved to the front of the train.
There was a deal to let someone torture and question Sean and a deal to let the butcher use the limbs and remove the chip. It may have been the same deal. We don’t know who was present for the questioning/torture and who worked for who. We have no idea who is staging any of what Andre is being shown. We have no idea if Andre is staging any of what he’s showing us. We know he’s staging a lot for Melanie.
The cannibalism story could be entirely fabricated as a distraction to hide the theft of the chip. No one in authority has mentioned that the missing limb would hold the chip yet, because Melanie and Roche don’t think Andre would know about it and they don’t want him to. But also, because he’s kept people like Till and the medic so focussed on cannibalism.
The castration served as a distraction and connection to the earlier murder even before Andre brought up cannibalism.
But it’s interesting that Andre jumped so quickly to cannibalism, almost as if he were in on the game. He warned the butcher, he played up the cannibalism, he insisted on being alone with the people who could get him the chip, then he withheld information until he could pass the chip to Josie. And he insisted that his people be sentenced to the drawers, where they’d be waiting for someone with the right access.
I don’t think Sean had access to the drawers, but once you have access as far forward as Ag Sec, which seemed to be in 2nd Class, you can probably easily find a hostage with high enough clearance to use. ETA: Well, the next episode proves that point for me.
Melanie is in trouble, with potentially multiple uprisings in the works, suspicions about Wilford in the air and a potential resource crash. Her beloved order is already long gone, she just doesn’t know it yet.
Images courtesy of TNT.