Snowpiercer Season 2 Episode 2: Smolder to Life Recap

Snowpiercer S2Ep2 Layton & Melanie

In season 2 episode 2 of Snowpiercer, we discover that when Melanie explained why she left Wilford on the side of the tracks 7 years ago, she underplayed how terrible life under his rule would be. In fact, I have a feeling we’ve only begun to learn how much worse life on Big Alice has been than life on Snowpiercer. Wilford appears to be a combination of a bloodthirsty cult leader like Charles Manson and a ruthless tech billionaire who only values competition and his own desires.

Smolder to Life brings us a hostage exchange, a promotion, a summit meeting, a death, a resurrection and a maiming. Ruth finally comes face to face with Wilford and LJ learns the value of work as a commodity.

Pay attention the characters’ hands in this episode. There is a strong motif focusing on hands as the symbols of the person and the body. Individual passengers, cars and mechanical parts make up the train as a whole and losing even one can make the crucial difference to the survival of the train as a whole. In the same way, hands are a crucial extension of each human mind and body. Losing all or part of a hand makes a huge difference in an individual’s life and potentially in the life of the entire train. Taking away the thumb of the wrong passenger could someday mean the difference between the life and death of everyone on the train, when they aren’t available to provide their expertise.

This is also a bloody episode. Following the trail of blood gives insights into character motivations and blind spots. Early on, Mel speaks about fire while there’s also blood in the room. The two are often symbolically linked, since both are red and blood contains the spark of life.

Recap

Melanie’s voiceover:

“Every year before the snow came, my father would burn slash piles- Mounds of dead, fallen brush; flames as high as the barn. I’d hold my face up to the heat and dare myself closer, like I was walking into the sun. When Alex was old enough, she helped me hose down the ash pits, and I’d warn her, like my dad warned me, of the heat lurking inside, ready to smolder to life, like a visit from a ghost. These are her revolutions now, on Snowpiercer, 1,034 cars long.”

Melanie is still in the brig on Big Alice, trying to sleep. Across the room, she sees a vision of a girl pulling the internal organs out of a dead lamb. Is she leading lambs to the slaughter or is she afraid Wilford is leading them there? Her history suggests that the vision is a visual representation of what she’s learned on Big Alice, confirming what she’s always known- Wilford will lead them all into death. Whether it happens quickly or slowly is only a matter of degree. She told the people of Snowpiercer that Wilford would have killed them all through stupidity and negligence. Maybe she knows that he views most of the riders as sheep and his real plan was/is to kill everyone but a chosen few on purpose.

Snowpiercer S2Ep2 Melanie's Ghost

Alex enters the brig with the vial of melted snow Melanie collected outdoors and says that when the Headwoods analyzed it, they found that it’s just water, dirt and some ammonium sulfate, probably volcanic. Before Melanie can say anything about the sample, Alex accuses her of holding back.

Alex: “He warned me about this. He said that you hold back. It’s your main move. He said that there’s 2 different types of people in this world. There’s dreamers and there’s schemers and the dreamers can build the world up but the schemers slither their way through.”

Melanie: “What do you think?”

Alex: “I think that he says a lot when he’s high.”

Melanie confesses that she collected the snow because it was snowing outside. Alex doesn’t believe her, because the surface temperature is too cold for fresh snow to form. She warns Melanie that while she might be able to get into Wilford’s head, Alex is onto her. Then Alex leaves for the night. Melanie sees the vision girl again.

It’s not clear whether the vision is of young Melanie or Alex, but it has been made clear that mother and daughter are practically the same person. Neither are afraid to do their own dirty work/get their hands dirty/bloody. They are practical women who do what needs to be done and they don’t get bogged down with guilt. They can also only be pushed so far.

As Zarah and Layton prepare for their day, he tells her that the Tail is still angry with her for betraying Josie, so it’s not safe for her downtrain. She says she’s supposed to work with Dr Pelton in the medical clinic in 3rd. She’s sure she’ll be fine. Layton suggests she work in the clinic in 2nd instead.

Changing the subject, Layton suggests her mother’s name if their baby is a girl, but he doesn’t say what the name is. For a boy, he wants Trotsky. Zarah’s okay with her mother’s name for their daughter, but not so much with their son being named after Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky.

Bess Till shows up at the door, ready to start the day with a snarky remark about Layton’s new 1st Class digs. He stresses that he’s living there for Zarah and the baby’s sake, but Till protests that she didn’t mean it the way it sounded. Actually, she thinks it’s great that they have a place to call home.

Bess was living in 2nd Class with AgSec Chief Jinju at the end of season 1, but they broke up. Has she even been assigned new quarters by anyone or is she slumming it in some 3rd Class closet?

I could see Layton taking in several of his homeless friends to make himself feel better about living in such bourgeois quarters. He’s already worrying about what Trotsky would do. 😉 Trotsky would say that 20 members of the proletariat could move in and they’d still be better off than they were in the Tail or 3rd class, plus, they must stick together in order to stop Snowpiercer from backsliding into its old classist ways.

As Layton prepares to leave, Zarah tells him she’s proud of him, an oddly motherly thing to say that undoubtedly is the best she could come up with in the moment to substitute for “I love you”. Layton’s head is already out the door, but he gives the typical response that a son would give to his mother- “Don’t be weird.”

He doesn’t consciously mean it as I love you either, but if he were 5 years old, his mom would understand it that way. Half of Zarah’s battle to win him back is won. Andre sees her as a mother and sister/friend. She just needs to bring the trusted lover back into play.

Bess tells Andre that the train is still sharply divided, but the lines have shifted: instead of the class divisions they fought over in the war, now they are divided between Wilford supporters, who believe their demagogue has arrived at the opportune moment to save them from the demon Tailie Layton, and the anti-Wilforders, who think their former leader’s return will destroy them all.

Both things can be true at once. Layton acknowledges this. The strain is tearing Bess and the rest of the train apart. She says that adding the 400 Tailies to the population isn’t helping with the strain. A Tailie woman was assaulted and maimed near the Tea Room last night, but Bess doesn’t know any other details.

Layton asks her to investigate and let him know what she finds. She points out that she doesn’t have any authority to back her up in an investigation, since she’s not a Brakeman anymore. She just follows Layton around all day.

He takes her to Roche to fix that situation. Roche appears to be delicately cracking the shell on a boiled egg. Mike O’Malley is making a career out of fussing with his meal props on this show and I’m a little obsessed with it. When Layton says it’s time to do “this”, Roche complains a little, because his breakfast is interrupted.

Do not interrupt a methodical man while he eats a meal.

Roche does his duty, snagging Wilford’s Big Book of Rules as he gets up to join them and telling Bess to raise her right hand. Layton places her left hand on the Wilford Bible and pronounces her Train Detective. Bess tries to decline the promotion on the grounds that she can’t handle any more blood at the moment.

Snowpiercer S2Ep2 Layton, Roche, Till

Snowpiercer S2Ep2 Bess' Hand on Wilford's Bible

Layton tells her that even though they’re all sick of blood, they are now the grown ups in charge, so they have to act like authority figures. She gives in, because she is a decent, responsible person at heart, which is why Layton and Roche press-ganged her into becoming the police force to begin with. They assign the assault/maiming case to her while they interrogate their POW.

The room gives Bess a round of applause to congratulate her on her promotion before they send her out alone into the Wild West of Snowpiercer.

I’d feel better if she had a partner to watch her back. Most of the Tailies are free. Maybe one of them could be recruited to balance the team, just like the old days of season 1.

The POW is Kevin, who informs Layton and Roche that in the last 7 years he’s been promoted to Head of Hospitality from Hospitality apprentice and that he adores Wilford. He remembers Roche and tries to make the Lead Brakeman feel like he’s beneath Kevin because he was one of Wilford’s security guards before the ice. Roche is too secure to care, but that tells us something about what motivates Kevin.

Kevin: “I remember you. Security, right? Walked around with your little earpiece, cleared the room before he entered. Kind of like a doorman. Security, engineering, agriculture. It’s all just plumbing. But Hospitality- Hospitality comes from the heart. It’s a culture. It’s a kind of love. He’ll come for me. That’s all I’m going to say.”

Kevin doesn’t completely live in the real world, but he’s right about one thing. Wilford is coming for him.

They set a plate of chicken wings in front of Kevin. I didn’t mention that he’s from Buffalo, NY, home of Buffalo chicken wings. They assure him that these are made according to the proper recipe, which, believe me, is hard to find outside of Western NY and delicious when you can. I went to college in Buffalo, and even though I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 30 years, I still miss those wings.

Layton remembers how well the grilled cheese sandwich worked on him.

Kevin tries to resist, but lasts about 5 seconds. They question him, then take the plate when he doesn’t answer. Pretty soon, he talks.

He says that Icy Bob is augmented for cold resistance using synthetic skin grafts, but Kevin isn’t a scientist, so that’s all he knows. He estimates that there are 100 crew members on Big Alice. And he’s shown them that the crew, even high level staff, are hungry, especially for real food.

But then, Wilford and the weed dealers have already shown them that with their fresh food requests. Kevin is just confirming it.

Alex dumps a can of cold meat onto a plate. It’s chopped and formed like Spam, but the meat is a lighter pink color. So it’s still a mammal, but not pig/ham. She adds some scrambled eggs to the plate and offers it to Melanie, who refuses. Alex eats the plate of food instead.

Wilford enters, all cheery with a cup of coffee, or some brown liquid, in hand. He notes that Melanie failed to prove anything with her vial of snow. She agrees. He tells Alex that Melanie is just a hack who’s okay with basic work, but has no sense of vision. Melanie smiles enigmatically as he lights a joint. Alex takes it in.

Wilford tells Melanie that she hasn’t beaten them yet. He has Alex explain their latest threat to Snowpiercer.

Alex: “We can apply the brakes, slow it to a crawl, choke out your power and shut down your systems.”

Melanie: “And yours.”

Wilford: “My crew know life below zero. We’ve run a lot of rough miles together.”

Wilford assumes that everyone on Snowpiercer is spoiled and will crumble at the first sign of adversity, as if they’ve all been in 1st class for 7 years. He asks her how long she thinks Layton will last. She says she thinks he might be surprised by Layton’s ability to endure. Wilford decides he needs to meet Layton.

The Big Alice crew throws a red pouch through the border door. Pike and the guards don’t know what it means, but figure it could be poisoned, so they call Ruth to pick it up. She recognizes what it is and is thrilled to have an official communique from Wilford to ferry all the way uptrain to Layton.

Ruth reads the official Wilford communique out loud to Layton, Roche and Ben. Wilford tries to make nice, suggesting they start over. He wants to meet Layton at the border for a formal prisoner swap- Melanie for Kevin. Ben quickly says they should to agree to the swap. Roche thinks it could be a trap. Ruth chides him for his lack of positive thinking. She also praises Wilford’s impeccable handwriting and smells the letter.

Ben notes that the two engines have to run in sync now, so the engineers will need to cooperate. Layton still wonders why Wilford would be so quick to hand over Melanie, a valuable prisoner. Ruth insists that Kevin is a more valuable prisoner than they realize.

Layton looks thoughtful at that. Despite what Kevin said about the importance of Hospitality, it’s clear that neither he nor Ruth are in on most high level meetings or even really understand how the train works. Hospitality can accidentally give away information, though. Melanie knows everything, but will only reveal what she wants to reveal, even under torture, and everyone knows it. By refusing breakfast, she revealed she’s not as hungry as those on Big Alice and doesn’t have to eat their gross canned meat yet. Kevin was starving for the chicken wings.

Layton says they know there are about 100 crew aboard Big Alice and that they’re hungry, so that’s good leverage to start with. He tells Ruth to let Wilford know they have a deal.

At the prisoner exchange, Wilford says hello to Roche first and asks about his off camera wife, Anne. Then he recognizes Ruth and asks if she’s changed her hair. Ruth is thrilled to be noticed and officially greets Wilford on behalf of the train.

That answers my bet with myself over whether Wilford would even remember Ruth. One of his talents is remembering everyone, so that he can make them feel special in order to gain their loyalty.

Layton interrupts and attempts to move the exchange process along. Wilford mocks him, calling him King Layton. Layton tells him that Snowpiercer belongs to the people. Wilford continues to speak in a mocking tone, telling Layton to ask the people to give back his Head of Hospitality.

Layton wants to go over rules for the exchange first: “No one crosses the no man’s land but the prisoners. Any sudden moves will be taken as a sign of aggression.”

Wilford agrees to the rules, so Melanie and Kevin are brought out. Wilford refuses to let Melanie say goodbye to Alex. But as Melanie crosses into Snowpiercer, Alex runs into the car and asks her mother to tell her what the vial of melted snow really is. Melanie says she doesn’t know for sure, but Alex could come with her to Snowpiercer and they could study it together. Alex refuses, telling Melanie that she’s 7 years too late. Then she crushes the vial so no one can study it’s contents.

Assuming the original contents were even still in the vial.

Alex retreats to Big Alice and the door closes behind her. Layton and Melanie confer as he takes her to the Engine Eternal by subtrain. He tells her that the passengers are starting to crack under the stress. She says that Wilford seems to be winging it, even though he had years to plan the attack and conquest of Snowpiercer. It is clear that he’s after Layton.

Layton asks about Alex. Melanie says, “She’s cruel. She’s confused. She hates me.” Layton sums it up by saying, “She’s a teenager.” He wants to have the doctor check Melanie over, but she decides to go straight to the engine.

Z-Wreck and Strong Boy try to block Detective Till’s entrance into the medical clinic, harassing her in English and Mandarin until Dr Pelton comes out and drives them off. Once she’s inside, she finds that Lights is the Tailie woman who was maimed. Astrid and Winnie are with her.

Really not okay with this. As a character, Lights just started getting to speak on a regular basis. Now the writers take away her ability to work in a normally male-dominated field? And coincidentally, they’ve added another Black woman, Sykes, to the cast who’s getting more screen time. Are we going to play The Walking Dead POC round robin game here, where there can only be one featured dark skinned Black woman at a time? (It was Black men on TWD.)

Lights’ assailants put a bag over her head, then used an ax to cut off her fingers so that she can’t work. She was near the Tea Room. Till says she’s trying to help, but Lights just wants to move back downtrain. She’s gotten the message that downtrainers aren’t wanted uptrain.

Plus, her attack sounds uncomfortably close to a lynching. She probably got that message, too. In the film Mudbound, the choice was to lose tongue or genitals. In Snowpiercer, it’s fingers.

Axes were the jackboots’ weapon of choice. Till should start her investigation with any remaining soldiers or their family members. And the train should be searched for any that were accidentally still on board when the cars separated. Does Wilford have his own jackboots? Someone could have slipped onto Snowpiercer during the mango battle and have gone into hiding, stirring up trouble like this in preparation for Wilford’s big move. WIlford and Big Alice could also have picked up everyone from the cars Snowpiercer dropped before he caught up to them.

Melanie tells Ben and Javi about the ammonium sulfate in her snow sample and about her frostbite, which the Headwoods treated with tissue regeneration goop in their wet lab. Her frostbite is almost completely healed.

She thinks the ammonium sulfate is from CW7 that denatured in the atmosphere and is now part of the snow. Javi is excited by the idea of the CW7 precipitating out of the sky, since it’s the chemical that was shot into the atmosphere to stop global warming, but it overreacted and caused the ice age. He rushes from Mel’s cabin back to the engine to start working on the science. Mel and Ben hug, then she sends him back to the engine, too.

Wilford calls Kevin to the engine/his private quarters for a debriefing. When Kevin arrives, Wilford is drawing a bath and asks how hot Kevin wants the water. He insists that he wants to do something nice for Kevin after his ordeal. Kevin can scrub while he tells Wilford what he saw.

Kevin disrobes and gets in the tub. He tells his boss that Snowpiercer is in a shambles, with no chain of command, structure or protocols. Then Wilford asks what Kevin revealed about Big Alice. Sensing a trap, Kevin denies revealing anything. Alex, who is in the doorway observing the interrogation, asks if Kevin ate anything. He tries to deny that he did, but under the pressure of their stares, he admits to eating the chicken wings.

He knows it was a mistake.

Wilford sends Alex out. She closes a wall to seal herself in the front of the engine, but she seems uncomfortable once she’s there- she knows what Wilford is doing. Wilford takes off his robe and joins Kevin in the tub. The interrogation turns into a sentencing. By eating the wings and trading for the mango, Kevin let Snowpiercer know that Big Alice is hungry. Wilford blames Kevin for opening the door to Snowpiercer and allowing the attack to happen.

The penalty is death, though Wilford doesn’t say it out loud. Instead, he hands his Head of Hospitality a straight razor and tells him it’s been an honor to serve with him. When Kevin hesitates to use the razor on his wrist, Wilford tells him he’s free of his worries now and moves Kevin’s hand for him. Wilford almost makes the death sentence sound like a reward.

Once Kevin makes the cut, Wilford watches him bleed out with a fascinated smile. Wilford’s dog. Jupiter, runs in to drink from the bloody bathwater that Wilford and Kevin sit in as if this is a familiar ritual.

More evidence that human is a normal part of the Big Alice diet. The food stores are probably low, so they needed to slaughter more livestock. Kevin gave them an excuse to choose him.

While Zarah is delivering medical supplies for Dr Pelton, she’s sent to a recovery room, where she finds Josie, still alive, but comatose and heavily bandaged. Her skin and hand are badly damaged from the excess cold and freezer hose fight she had with Melanie in season 1 episode 7. Her attendant says she’s a “Jane Doe” who was brought in by the jackboots just before the war started. She might not ever wake up, since her whole body is in such terrible condition. He asks if Zarah knows her, but she denies it.

Given how volatile the political situation still is, it’s a good idea for Zarah to leave Josie’s identity a secret for now. After their fight, Melanie ordered Grey to send her to composting. He must have noticed that she wasn’t quite dead yet and secretly had her taken to the hospital, hoping he could use her testimony against Melanie at some point. Or maybe she was connected to Grey and was his Tailie spy, echoing the film. Then Grey died and the knowledge of why she was in the hospital died with him, whether or not he knew her identity.

I did wonder after the fight if Josie might still be alive, since we didn’t actually see her body and in real life it takes several minutes to freeze to death, even at the temperatures Snowpiercer quotes.

The attendant moves on, leaving Zarah alone with her nemesis. Zarah takes matters into her own hands, injecting a fatal dose of a sedative into Josie’s IV bag, then leaving the room. But she can’t go through with it and rushes back to replace the drugged bag.

Till’s hand is shaking when she visits the Tea Room to question Pastor Logan about the assault on Lights. The Tea Room is a house of worship, crowded with pictures and objects the passengers find meaningful. There are individual altars honoring the passengers lost in the civil war and the Great Wilford as God of the Engine Eternal, in addition to a tea cup which symbolizes OneTrain and a Christian Bible.

A Buddhist monk leaves the Tea Room as Till arrives. Pastor Logan appears momentarily. He appears to cooperate with Till, but his answers are evasive and his affect is strangely flat, compared to his words of sympathy for Lights. When she asks which of the altars in the rooms he relates to, Pastor Logan shows her to copy of the original 1716 Moravian Bible, in its original German, which designates him as an evangelical Christian. Till’s father was Jesus-y, too.

He says the cracked tea cup is meant remind visitors that though their perspectives and interests are different, they are all linked and need to get along. Till asks how people have been affected by Wilford’s essential resurrection from the dead. Logan says that, “It’s a powerful narrative. Some people will bend their faith to fit the moment.” Till clarifies that by some people, he means the Wilford faithful.

Some of them will take his return as a sign that he is the true God after all, maybe even that he was somehow in charge of the train all these years, since Melanie used his Bible and was his apprentice. Some people will use any possible excuse to put an older white man in charge, no matter how much evidence shows that someone else can do the job better.

Pike makes a deal to trade of his weed with the janitors. His bag holds a little less than promised, which he tries to pass off as a quality control issue. Terence pays him with several volumes of the old Encyclopedia Britannica, presumably to be used as rolling papers. Sadly, he can’t set up ongoing trade relations with Terence, since the restored hostilities with Big Alice have cut off his supply.

LJ and Oz also attempt to make a deal with Terence. Oz offers himself up as muscle and LJ says her parents were close to Wilford, so she’ll be a valuable connection once he takes over Snowpiercer again. Terence isn’t interested in their offer. Oz offers to do any kind of work, so Terence hands him a mop and the chance to clean up sewage in the market. Oz accepts the job, because he is, above all, a survivor. LJ makes a face, but doesn’t argue.

Zarah visits her close friend Miss Audrey to discuss her current moral dilemma, but between seasons Miss Audrey seems to have forgotten how close they are. When Zarah asks how far Audrey would go to protect her opportunities, Audrey snaps at her. Audrey is in the middle of getting high on Pike’s weed, so it could be that pot isn’t the best drug for her. Or maybe Wilford’s presence has pushed her off the deep end.

Zarah tells her that everything is at risk. Audrey says that Layton has to protect Snowpiercer from Wilford, so whatever decision it is that Zarah’s trying to make, she should protect Layton, no matter the cost. Audrey haphazardly puts on a wig and leaves to rehearse her new song. But first she reminds Zarah that no one’s hands are clean.

So I think we can replace “no one” with “Audrey” in there, as in, Layton needs to protect Audrey from Wilford and there is no higher cause right now, not even Zarah’s, but Audrey’s hands aren’t clean.

Something is up with Audrey. All of her normal poise and self-possession is gone, even though it’s never left her before, no matter how dire the circumstances. Not in the midst of battle in the Night Car, not when she found out Nikki Genet was dead and not when she learned about Melanie’s lies.

Wilford rattles Audrey more than the idea of death or losing everything- he is the equivalent of torture. Maybe that’s the issue. She knows everyone’s secrets, because she witnessed their grief ceremonies, and she’s afraid he’ll torture the information out of her. Or maybe she’s been his spy all along.

The engineers bring Layton up front to explain the warming situation while they send up a weather balloon. The balloon just happens to be blood red.

Javi: “CW7’s the compound that was shot into the atmosphere to reflect the sun and reverse global warming.”

Layton: “Yeah, I recall how that ended up.”

Javi: “It cascaded an ice age. But, if Mel’s theory’s right, it might be breaking up and coming down.”

Ben: “Which changes every climate model we’ve ever made.”

Layton: “As in makes it warmer? Because we announce the temperature everyday. It’s still cold.”

Melanie: “Down here, yeah. Which is why we’re looking up above.”

The weather balloon reaches altitude and the measured temperature rises from below -120 degrees to -86 degrees, 34 degrees warmer than the surface temperature and well beyond any margin of error. Melanie confirms that the Earth is coming back alive. They just have to determine how long the process will take.

Melanie tells Layton that she needs access to meteorological supplies on Big Alice so that she can continue her research, but Wilford will never share anything unless he’s in charge. Layton says Snowpiercer needs something to unify the whole train. They could turn the mission toward hope. It works in Wilford’s favor for Snowpiercer to be at war with itself.

Wilford wants to be king and to be revered. They can use Old Ivan’s chess strategy of giving an enemy what he wants at first and use that to let the people see who he really is. Wilford will be forced to show that he’s working against hope. Melanie tells Layton that he’ll need Ruth on his side.

I don’t like this idea. The real world isn’t chess. We’ve seen how this strategy goes. Napoleon, Hitler, Trump- they all came to power because at first, the more powerful men in their parties didn’t take them seriously and thought they could use them as straw men. Once the supposed fools were in charge, they developed a cult of personality that made them difficult to dismiss. Wilford already has the cult of personality, thanks to Melanie. If he’s given control of both trains, his militant followers will make it impossible to dislodge him without another bloody war. Snowpiercer can’t afford another war.

Ruth carefully creates a communique for Wilford from Snowpiercer, then walks it back to the border door. On her way, she runs into LJ and Oz, mopping floors in their janitor’s uniforms. LJ explains that Oz is teaching her that work is a commodity. She asks if the communique is for Mr Wilford. Ruth tries not to answer, but in her excitement, she lets it slip anyway.

Sykes (Chelsea Harris) brings the message to Wilford on Big Alice. He reads out that Snowpiercer is proposing a summit in first class dining to discuss an urgent scientific discovery they’ve made.

Sykes thinks it’s a bluff and Wilford shouldn’t go. Alex realizes that it has something to do with the snow sample Melanie brought on board. Wilford understands that he’ll be exposed if he goes to the meeting, but it’s also an opportunity. He’ll be able to reintroduce himself to Snowpiercer and get a good look at Layton. He sees it as his first opening to attacking Layton.

Alex is surprised by his obsession with Layton. She starts getting ideas, too.

On the occasion of the big meeting, Ruth makes a speech to the hospitality staff, reminding them that Hospitality is the backbone of the train and they need to show Mr Wilford they’ve been keeping up his standards.

Till brings the results of her investigation to Layton and Roche just before the meeting. She says the attackers might have just hated Tailies, but Wilford could have spies on the train already who attacked Lights to stir up trouble. Roche scoffs, but Layton listens.

Alex sits in a workshop on Big Alice and practices hiding a bare razor blade in her teeth. Wilford joins her and they compare how steady each of their hands are. He calls it a tie. I think I caught a slight tremor in his hand. Alex gamely says she’ll beat him one day, when he ages out.

As if anyone lives to be old on Big Alice.

Wilford moves on to explaining the plan for the summit meeting. He says that Icy Bob and Sykes will have Alex’s back and that Layton’s just a blip in the Snowpiercer Saga. Alex questions why she has to make the kill. He explains that it brings the story full circle: The train is Wilford’s. Mel steals it from him. Layton steals it from her. Mel’s daughter, Alex, takes it back from Layton. Left unsaid is that Alex kills Layton in order to put Wilford back in power, as he should have been all along. If Melanie’s daughter can see that, and act on it, it must be true.

The original plan was probably for Alex to kill her mother to put Wilford back in charge of Snowpiercer. Wilford is obsessed with Layton because he’s an unknown variable who’s upset the plan.

Alex says that Wilford’s plot is a thick soup. He comes around the work table to stand next to her, while saying she’s come so much further than Melanie had at her age. Alex’s eyes bug out in apprehension as he moves toward her and takes hold of her shoulders.

I’m not sure whether to take her anxiety as a sign of past sexual abuse by him or worry that he’s going to kill her the way he killed Kevin. Either way, his physical proximity is very upsetting to her, not comforting the way a father figure should be.

He says he can’t wait for her to see the rest of Snowpiercer. It’ll be amazing. And she’ll be engineer. But it won’t be neat and clean, like Kevin’s death. It’ll get messy and she’ll have to block out her doubts.

It feels a little like he doesn’t really see Alex- he sees a mini version of Young Melanie in her.

Zarah visits Josie again. She talks to the unconscious woman, reminding Josie that she was always the moral compass of the rebels. Now Zarah has found a new path, she asks Josie not to take it away.

Wilford enters Snowpiercer first and alone, carrying a cane like his royal scepter and wearing a fur coat over his shoulders like it’s a royal robe. He greets Ruth first, admiring her crisp teal Hospitality uniform. Roche apologizes for needing to search Wilford and his boarding party. Till searches Icy Bob.

Then Wilford leads the procession uptrain through the cheering throngs that he’s happy to greet. LJ pushes to the front to welcome him and make sure he knows he still has friends on board. He remembers her family and speaks warmly to her. Alex and LJ take a long look at each other.

Layton and Melanie wait for Wilford together in the 1st class dining room, where Wilford once again receives a loud welcome. Wilford is surprised by how cosy the current and former leader seem. Layton begins the summit by explaining that they have serious concerns to discuss, which they must address as one train.

Miss Audrey quietly slips out of the car. Alex takes the razor blade out of her mouth.

Layton hands the floor over to Melanie, who explains that the Earth is warming. Though they thought the ice age would last 1,000 years, warm spots may develop that could support recolonization within their lifetimes. They need to do much more research and preparation, starting with booting up the Breslaur Research Station in the Rocky Mountains. “Second, we need to release a network of sounding balloons, across the continent, into Asia, as far as the Himalayan Terminus. The balloons will relay data to the research station and Snowpiercer will return in a month’s time to collect it. At which point, we hope to have found what we’re looking for- an X on the map, where life can begin again.”

Wilford looks unhappy at the thought of leaving the trains, his kingdom, behind. Sykes says the Rocky Mountain Terminus isn’t fit for Snowpiercer to travel on. When Melanie finishes, Wilford questions whether they can even trust her to tell the truth after 7 years of lies. The Headwoods back her up on the science. Layton asks whether Wilford will go along with the plan.

Wilford makes a long speech about the qualifications necessary in the person who would spend a month at the research station. It’s clear he means Melanie and that she knew she would be the logical one to go. Layton and Alex are not okay with this part of the plan.

As the discussion continues, Alex creeps closer to Layton, preparing to assassinate him. Wilford says that Melanie’s plans always involve leaving someone behind- this time it’s her turn. Melanie tells him that in return, she wants all hostilities to cease and for the trains to work together. She’ll send Big Alice a list of the equipment that she needs. Wilford agrees, acting as if it was his idea all along.

Melanie tells the crowd, “The future is outside!” While they’re cheering, Wilford sidles up to Alex and says, “No,” rescinding his kill order. Then he yells, “And so begins a new era of peace and cooperation! One train, bound by common cause!”

Alex squeezes the razor blade so hard her hand drips blood. Wilford holds up his hand with his middle three fingers raised to form a “W”. Till makes a terrible connection and leaves for downtrain.

Ruth notices something that upsets her, but I couldn’t tell what for sure. She would have been watching her idol, Wilford, closely, so she may have figured out that Alex was about to kill someone on his orders, which would be an extreme breach of summit protocol.

Layton and Melanie have a moment to look wistfully into each other’s eyes, while she makes him promise the train will come back for her in a month. Then she sends him over to shake Wilford’s hand.

I’m not sure that it’s Josie who Zarah should be worried about.

Till finds Lights and has her unwind her bandages to reveal which fingers were amputated- her thumb and pinkie, making her hand a permanent “W” for Wilford.

Wilford makes his way back through Snowpiercer to Big Alice, as the crowd cheers and raises the W salute to him. Melanie’s fake religion still has hold of many of the passengers and crew. Alex’s hand drips blood the entire length of the train.

Zarah tells Layton that she’s identified the Jane Doe in the recovery room as Josie. He races to see her. She opens her eyes.

The Tailie warriors who guard the border don’t cheer for Wilford as he leaves Snowpiercer. Ruth stands shoulder to shoulder with Melanie and doesn’t attempt to speak to him. But Alex stops in front of her mother.

Alex: “Don’t you dare say this is for me.”

Melanie: “This is for all of us. It’s hope.”

Alex slaps her bloody hand on the wall next to the door between the trains, leaving a bloody handprint, then goes back to Big Alice. The door slams shut behind her.

This was a difficult, triggering episode. If you’re struggling with feelings of depression or suicide, please consider seeking help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the crisis text line at 741741.

Snowpiercer S2Ep2 TillSnowpiercer S2Ep2 WilfordSnowpiercer S2Ep2 LaytonSnowpiercer S2Ep2 JosieSnowpiercer S2Ep2 Alex, Mel, RuthSnowpiercer S2Ep2 Handprint


Commentary

If I remember right, almost all of season 2 of Snowpiercer was filmed before the COVID-19 pandemic hit last March, so this season was written and filmed in a very different world. Wilford was meant to be an over the top version of Donald Trump, instead of a traumatizing on the nose version.

In addition to Bong Joon Ho’s amazing film, Snowpiercer is based on a 4 volume graphic novel series. Season 1 drew on elements from all four novels, but the main story arc loosely followed the first volume. Season 2 appears to be following the same pattern, adapting the Volume 2 story into an original plot and adding elements from the other novels.

I have a feeling this season is going to seem prescient, but be very difficult to watch. Before he died, Kevin confirmed that the Headwoods are creating augmented humans, as suspected based on episode 1. And Wilford confirmed that he’s as insane as the characters have described, with no regard for life at all. He wants to be king of everything and then he wants the world to die when he does.

Snowpiercer vs Big Alice

This episode served to compare and contrast the differences between the trains, starting with Mel’s opening voice over. She was trained by her father to look below the surface and avoid underestimating situations. She taught Alex the same thing. Wilford makes big, splashy surface appeal the cornerstone of his identity, but it hides a sinister, selfish interior. Mel sees the nuances in others, but Wilford often misses what’s below the surface. They are equally controlling.

Kevin returned to Big Alice and was still a prisoner, then was sentenced to death and became food. Mel returned to a warm welcome where she shared her experience on her own terms. Layton was kept out of the loop because he didn’t push Melanie, so he doesn’t know about the healing goop and her other observations of Big Alice, at least that we saw. He was shown to be a talented amatuer up against two professional rivals.

The real question is, why did Melanie leave him alone and in charge for a month, with so much at stake? There’s no major urgency to prove the earth is warming or to find a spot for recolonization. She risked Snowpiercer and is risking everyone’s lives for this. Is there something at that station she wants? Does she hope Wilford and Layton will kill each other and she can be in charge again? But why would she risk leaving Alex behind? Does she think Layton will be able to assert his authority more clearly without her around for a while?

And couldn’t someone have gone with her, like Boki? Or one of the Headwoods? Why was this a one person job?? Most likely because in the end, Melanie and Wilford are both control freaks who work alone and will never reveal all of their secrets to anyone, not even Alex, the daughter they share. The difference between them is Wilford’s obsession with death, to the point where he kills for sport, and Melanie’s obsession with saving as many people as possible, to the point where she sacrifices quality of life.

Kevin in the bathtub contrasts with Pastor Logan’s teacup. Wilford maintains unity by exerting complete control over the train. Snowpiercer will never have the unity Logan spoke of, which is why he uses a broken cup. It’s an ideal they need to actively strive for, understanding they’ll never attain perfection.

Who Will Josie Be When the Bandages Come Off?

Josie was a dead rebel who was sent to compost, but she was reborn as a disabled citizen of Snowpiercer who didn’t even have an identity until Zarah recognized her. Kevin returned to Big Alice as the Head of Hospitality, but Wilford stripped him of his identity for daring to make decisions without Wilford’s permission, such as eating chicken wings and asking for fruit.

Josie should be an interesting wild card. Last season, I was skeptical about how real the relationship between her and Layton was. It seemed like it could be simply based on convenience and proximity rather than deep feelings. Now Wilford controls medication that could help her- the skin goop that the Headwoods used on Melanie’s shoulder. That can either be leverage Wilford uses over Layton or he can use it to turn Josie to his side.

Wilford will want to make a few flashy medical saves to show what he can do for the people to help his inevitable campaign to oust Layton as leader. He stopped Alex from killing Layton because he realized that with Melanie gone, he could easily take the train. Meanwhile, Josie hates Melanie and Layton has come to depend on her help to run Snowpiercer. Wilford and Josie could discover they have their hatred of Melanie in common and become allies.

Shaky, Bloody Hands

Josie actually smashed off most of her own fingers- Melanie only froze off a pinkie. Josie (nearly) died in a fight she initiated. Melanie claimed she didn’t want to kill Josie. We’ll never know if that was true. Though we assume Mel would have killed her, the reality is, other than the one pinkie, Josie injured herself to avoid giving away sensitive information and to make an attempt on Mel’s life. She could have had Bess help her die while Melanie was in the bathroom instead. Melanie isn’t innocent, but Josie took risks that got her arrested and was the aggressor in their fight. Josie’s choices after this might not be as pure as they seemed when she was a Tailie.

Alex’s hand isn’t shaky. Wilford’s looked like it might shake a tiny bit. Till’s was definitely shaking. She also ate at the cannibal lunch counter in 3rd class last season. Tremors can be caused by certain diseases passed on by eating other people.

So many references to bloody hands in this episode- Wilford hands Kevin the razor and forces him to use it, while bathing in the bloody water. He’s soaked in blood. Alex cuts her own hand up with a razor, then leaves a trail of blood and a bloody handprint, like a twisted Gretel hoping to find her way home, perhaps to show who is the real victim in the war between Wilford and Melanie. Lights loses two fingers. We only see blood on her bandages, because the blood is ultimately on Wilford’s hands. The injuries to Josie’s hands are a toss up in the battle of wills between herself and Melanie- if Melanie makes it back from her research trip alive, their battle will resume.

Is Climate Change Real? 😉

I have to wonder if global warming is real or an elaborate hoax made up by one side or the other. 😉 Melanie never tested the snow herself and the Big Alice crew could have guessed what she was looking for. The weather balloon’s instruments could have been tampered with by a Wilford spy. Or Melanie could have planted the ammonium sulfate in the vial and tampered with the weather balloon. The potential for recolonization throws off the schemes of both sides, so either side could have planted the evidence to derail their rival.

Or a third side could be involved, though that’s less likely. But there was that time, way back in the beginning of season 1, when a guy purposely broke a window in the cattle car and caused an extinction event, then disappeared into the duct system. Later, he sold a chip to 1st class which made its way down to Layton, then Josie. Those two events made the civil war possible.

The post civil war period was the perfect time for Wilford to show up, but it’s also a great time to be an anarchist. Even the janitors are off their game. If you were a new player on the board who wanted to get a foothold in the power structure, say you wanted to start a new religion or movement, now would be the time to do it. And if you have the resources and savvy to procure a blue chip for the Tail and cause an extinction event in the cattle car, you probably have the resources and savvy to manage just about anything.

Images courtesy of TNT.

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Snowpiercer Season 2 Episode 2: Smolder to Life Recap

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