In episode 6, we finally catch up with Melanie, who’s been on her own since she left for the Breslauer Research Station in episode 3. We follow the end of her harrowing journey to the station and watch her bring the research center back to life. Then she struggles to survive on her own in the harsh environment at 11,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains for a month. Her inner monologues are supplemented by flashbacks and present day conversations with the Wilford, Layton and Alex in her head.
There are more references to suicide in this episode. Please be cautious with your mental health.
Since Melanie is the only real person here, she gets the voice over:
“This cold isn’t something we can tame. We did this to our climate. Now only the Earth herself can restart her warm heart. I believe we can find her pulse again. And my biggest fear isn’t dying out here. It’s that the cold-hearted among us will crush that hope before I can prove it.”
Melanie’s volt sled breaks down within sight of the research station, so she takes as much of her cargo as she can drag with her and walks the rest of the way. By the time she reaches the station, a snowstorm is raging around her. She finds the dead, frozen body of one of the researchers outside the station’s front door. There’s a bullet hole in his head.
The other researchers weren’t worried about making a good first impression on visitors toward the end. Or maybe the body is the impression they wanted to make- “I’d turn back, if I were you.”
Undaunted and with nowhere else to go, Melanie hacks at the frozen door with a pickaxe until it opens for her. Once inside, she finishes her voice over while setting up equipment:
“Breslauer Research Station: The temperature is minus 122.6 degrees C. I’m 11,000 feet above sea level, dangling from a thin umbilical. Many miles from Snowpiercer, 1,034 cars long.”
Using spotlights attached to her helmet and holding a large battery cell, she explores the station, searching for the power control panels. Along the way, she finds a drawing on a whiteboard that’s done in the style of the art from the books.
The station is frozen and in a shambles. She finds the control panels, with another body nearby, this one a suicide. The female researcher must have turned off the power grid then slit her wrists. The station reached the temperature outdoors before she was done bleeding out, freezing her blood in place as it flowed out of her body.
The sight of the body sends Melanie into the first flashback of the episode. She recalls Child Alex calling for her when she was scared and staying at her grandparents’ house.
Melanie quickly snaps her mind back to the present and the task at hand. She sets up a campsite inside the station with a small thermal tent. She makes dinner using a cooker powered by the battery cell that also warms the tent enough for her to take her climate suit off and change into warm clothing instead. She continues her voice over in the form of creating a mission log. She notes that she’s found two bodies- she thinks this must have been a difficult assignment at the end of the world. “But at first light I have to power it back up, patch my batteries into the solar array. Then I’ll go back down for the sled I left behind with my rations.”
In this episode, we get a much better picture of a side of Melanie we’ve only seen glimpses of before- the hardcore scientist and adventurer/survivalist. She doesn’t have to manage anyone or play politics at the station, she just has to keep herself alive and gather her data in conditions that have already led to the deaths of the three scientists who were fully trained and prepared for the conditions they faced together. Melanie’s greatest attributes are her persistence and her will to live. She wants to get back to Alex very badly, and when she wants something badly, she tends to be quietly unstoppable.
When she says first light, she means it. She’s outside clearing snow off the solar array by the time it’s twilight. While she’s inspecting the array, she discovers another male body. This one is missing an arm. She takes the female body outside before it thaws.
Then she begins the process of powering up the station’s power grid and turning on the heat. It all seems to be in working order, so Melanie puts her climate suit back on and walks back to where she left her sled, only to find that the storm triggered an avalanche. The trailer with her food rations is lost under tons of snowpack.
She indulges in a flashback, remembering how life before the Freeze seemed filled with possibilities. She thought she had a bright future laid out before her, but she and everyone else were wrong. They were sleepwalking through the beginning of a global nightmare.
She remembers when Snowpiercer’s engine had just been completed and she and Wilford met there to toast to their success. Even then, in private, Wilford would barely acknowledge her contribution to the project. He went so far as to say once, just between the two of them, that she was the glue and deserved as much credit as he did for the train’s creation, but that was as far as he would go.
He told Melanie that he’d never publicly give her credit. She told him he could tell his investors whatever he wanted. He referred to his Engine Eternal and she pointed out that the engine isn’t actually eternal, but he didn’t want to hear that kind of negative talk. She was just happy that it was finally time to drive the train.
In the present day, Melanie returns to the station and searches the building for anything that’s edible. She thinks of Alex as she searches. When she’s done with her search, she has one ration pack, a few pieces of candy that Ben tucked into her bags as a gift and the missing arm from the body outside.
A vision of Wilford appears to talk her through her predicament. He lists the arm as part of her food supply. She’d rather not. He suggests the lack of oxygen in the air at such a high altitude is causing her to hallucinate. Wilford is the worst case scenario voice in her head, so he’s probably wrong about the altitude sickness being the sole reason for hallucinations, though hunger, fatigue and altitude sickness combined could be messing with her head.
Melanie erases the whiteboard and replaces the face with a 1 month calendar so she can count down her days at the station. Wilford flips through the station logs and shares that the researchers were climate scientists who moved there at the start of the Freeze, hoping to gather information on how to survive the effects of CW-7, the substance that caused the extreme change in climate. The woman lasted longer than the two men. She survived for 5 months.
Wilford implies that there was definitely cannibalism involved, but so far I think what we’ve seen suggests that the female researcher considered cannibalism, then decided to take her life instead, probably when she realized how hopeless the global situation had become. The researchers may have arrived at the station before the world figured out that CW-7 was going to cool the world so thoroughly that virtually nothing would survive. In the beginning, it may have appeared that only high altitudes and latitudes would become too cold for humans to survive.
Melanie stresses that she only has to survive for 1 month.
A few days pass as she develops a routine of rationing her food, monitoring the power grid, keeping snow off the solar array and sorting through the data the researchers collected for their research. Two of the researchers were married. A family photo of the couple with their daughter serves as the desktop photo for the main computer monitor. Melanie changes it as quickly as possible. From the sidelines, Wilford mocks her for her sentimentality.
Wilford continues his sarcastic commentary as she prepares to connect to the first weather balloon. She links her laptop to the station’s computer system and communications tower so that it can download data from the weather balloon. Then it will use the new data to create a climate model.
Wilford praises Melanie’s abilities, but says it’s a shame she has to rely on Ben. Since this is all actually coming from Melanie’s mind, I’m not sure what to make of it. Are these her true feelings, deep down, or is her mind just filling in what she thinks Wilford would say?
Wilford goes on to mock Javi. Melanie tells him to back off, since Javi wasn’t part of the plot to throw Wilford off the train. In fact, it took Javi 2 days to figure out that Wilford wasn’t on Snowpiercer. Wilford changes the subject, pointing out that their sparring keeps her mind off how hungry she is. Melanie eats a bit of cracker, leaving the rest on the desk
She links up with the first balloon, then falls asleep at the desk. When she wakes up, the rest of her cracker is gone. She tries to convince herself that she ate it, but she knows she didn’t. Yet there’s nothing and no one else left alive who could have taken it.
Melanie remembers when the Freeze had just started and they were converting Snowpiercer into an ark. She found Wilford in the Night Car focusing his resources on creating a hedonistic luxury experience for the wealthy few who could afford it. He and Melanie argued over whether the few remaining spots on the train should go to more jackboots to preserve order in Wilford’s classist system or to the geneticists Melanie wanted to bring along who could help the human race survive. He promised to remove all of the guns, but refused to budge on the jackboots. “Nothing’s more important than order.” He told her that Snowpiercer had only one head engineer (and it wasn’t her). Her family could stay behind if she had a problem with that. He promised she’d survive, though.
After ten days at the research station, everything is going well, except that Melanie is starving. She’s slowly building the climate model and trying to survive long enough to complete it. She’s so hungry that she licks every crumb from her food wrappers.
Layton appears to talk her through her extreme hunger and maybe gloat about it a little. He tells her that there’s no shame in doing whatever is necessary to survive. Especially when the prospective food is already dead. Melanie remains determined to survive without resorting to cannibalism, but she’s only one third of the way through her time at the station. Her Layton voice is sympathetic, but he doubts she’ll make it through the entire month.
She discovers that something has gotten into her food again and shines her flashlight into the corners of the room, searching for the culprit. She discovers an actual rat scurrying away.
It’s a Wilford Miracle!
Melanie won’t eat the human remains herself, but she’ll feed them to the rat. She chops a slice off the guy in the snowbank to use as bait and MacGyvers a rat trap using a shovel, a 5 gallon bucket and some other household items. HalluciLayton coaches her through it, though he wonders how the rat has survived the Freeze for 7 years. She might be setting a trap for a HalluciRat.
The next day, Melanie dozes in a chair and wonders how the end came for the three researchers. HalluciWilford has been doing his due diligence and shares what he knows. Arthur, the man who was shot in the head, died first, killed by the other two. He was the husband in the screensaver photo. Wilford is thrilled by this turn of events. He and Melanie create the rest of the story together.
They decide that Arthur was sick. Once the other two scientists knew he would die, they killed him in order to preserve the food supply that they needed to survive.
Wilford: “She sacrificed him, Melanie, like you did to me.”
Melanie: “She made the right decision.”
Wilford: “I knew you’d say that.”
Melanie: “What else could she do?”
When you’re Melanie, and you want to save the world, your choices for how to do so are limited. When you’re Wilford and have no morals or conscience, choices seem unlimited. He’ll never make peace with her choices and she’ll never regret them, though she does regret that Alex accidentally got caught in the middle. Though this is not the real Wilford, she knows him well enough to simulate his attitude.
Flashback to Snowpiercer, 7 years ago, a short time before the season 1 episode 1 began. The people who will become the Tailies are threatening to break through the security fencing. Ben and Melanie are in the main engine. Javi is in the engine room. Ben asks how the riff raff outside found out Snowpiercer’s departure time. Melanie points out that it’s minus 45 degrees outside. What do they have to lose by showing up?
She picks up the phone and asks if the transport with her family has arrived. When she’s told no, she says she needs to be informed as soon as they get on the train. Wilford enters the engine yelling about everything that’s going wrong, especially the need for more security. Melanie puts him on the phone with Commander Grey.
I have to admit, I’ve missed the old rogue this season. Wilford calls him by the nickname Blood and Thunder, then orders him to use all necessary force to hold the unwashed hordes back from the train.
Wilford wants Mel and Ben to prep to leave ASAP. Mel tells him that her family isn’t on board yet. Ben adds that Snowpiercer needs 30 minutes to finish cycling up the engine. Melanie’s strange look at Ben indicates that’s a lie. Wilford notices the jackboots holding a small group of people at gunpoint just outside. A woman says they’re scientists and they have tickets.
In the present day, Melanie’s trap catches a rat. Just in time, too- her lips are looking a little blue. HalluciLayton says he has a great recipe she can use, but Mel has a better idea. She cooks up a colored solution, then dips the rat’s feet in it before letting him go. Then she follows his trail to the nest in another room.
He disappears into a wall that’s streaked with moisture. Melanie tears the drywall and insulation off, revealing a small cave with steam rising out of the floor. There are more rats inside, fungus and maybe lichen? growing on the walls that the rats must eat. There are probably insects, too.
Alex appears and explains that it’s a geothermal vent. The Freeze must have caused a fresh crack, then the warmth kept the rats alive. The insulation for the wall was so thick that the researchers probably couldn’t tell the new vent was there before they died, since there was also furniture up against the wall. Only the rats got close enough to notice the new warmth.
Alex says that this is life. Melanie is saved.
Melanie skins the rat and roasts it over her heater. Alex watches her eat. She says that the vent will supplement the station’s heat, which will leave more power to run Melanie’s data banks. Then Alex asks how Melanie will make it back to the train without the volt sled.
Melanie: “I’ll walk back to the track. Pack a battery and a hard drive on the sled. I could make it there and back if I had to.”
Melanie means the small sled she dragged with her after the volt sled broke down.
Alex: “Mom? I think I understand now- why you had to leave me in Chicago.”
Melanie remembers the chain of events that led to her leaving Alex behind.
Outside Snowpiercer, someone, it sounds like Sykes, desperately asks for orders from Wilford. She tells him the scientists have chips and say they’re ticketed. Inside the engine, Melanie calmly explains that these are the geneticists he agreed to allow on the train. Wilford is angry because he agreed to 6 geneticists, but they need jackboots more than scientists right now.
Melanie refuses to leave without all of them. She suggests that they get everyone on board and sort out the details later. Wilford looks thoughtful. He agrees that there’s no time to argue and orders the jackboots to kill the scientists. Within seconds they open fire and the geneticists are dead.
Wilford: “Never forget, Melanie. The train runs on my order. Estimated time of departure?”
Ben tells him the engine needs another 28 minutes before they can leave. Wilford says he’s going to take the jeep and go downtrain to open fire on the departure gate, too.
Why not go on a killing spree at the end of the world? Who’s going to stop him?
Melanie made the mistake of giving Wilford an ultimatum when she refused to leave without the scientists. When she did that, she sealed their fates. They might have been dead in every scenario, just because Wilford was in a bad mood, or he might have been convinced to let them live if she’d begged and humiliated herself enough. We’ll never know.
In the present, Snowpiercer releases the 11th weather balloon. There’s another storm at the station, with particularly fierce winds. According to the computer screen, the balloon connects and downloads a significant amount of data. Then the wind blows the comms tower down. When it falls, it crashes into a skylight in the roof, cracking it. Mel covers the skylight with emergency foam sealant. Then she suits up and heads outside to inspect the damage to the tower.
When she comes back inside, HalluciWilford is there to taunt her. He says she’s lost the balloon data. He wonders if she’s ready to give up yet, maybe even to kill herself the way the female researcher did. He says he’s grown to respect the transformative properties of the method she chose. Melanie becomes impatient. She doesn’t even understand what he’s babbling on about.
Wilford says Melanie wouldn’t understand. He doesn’t respect the researcher, though, because she left her daughter behind. Melanie says the mother thought she’d be reunited with her child. Wilford dismisses this as sentimentality. He accuses both the researcher and Melanie of sacrificing everything for a goal, then failing at their missions.
Melanie tells him that she hasn’t failed her mission yet. She has the rats to eat and she’ll get back to where Alex is meeting her. Wilford mocks her for wanting to save Alex from him, as if he’s the monster.
Wilford: “I find it telling, this notion you’re such a better human than me. I saved the daughter you left behind. Perhaps a little gratitude is in order?”
Melanie throws her cup at him and the wall.
What’s interesting about this conversation is that this isn’t the real Wilford. Melanie is talking to herself. This is the unbearable paradox of her life. She threw Wilford off the train to save humanity, but nobly sacrificed her own daughter in the process. Wilford survived and saved her daughter. He raised Alex to believe that he is the hero and Melanie is the villain. On Snowpiercer, she seems like a villain, though she was much kinder to everyone than Wilford would have been. He would have started by killing the Tailies.
Alex is smart enough and remembers enough of Melanie to understand that she’s complex rather than a true villain. Alex also knows Wilford well enough to understand that he’s not actually a hero. But Melanie’s guilt is eating away at her. There’s a good chance she created this mission simply to turn herself into a hero in Alex’s eyes, and she doesn’t care whether she’s a dead or live hero. But if she can get everyone off the train and break Wilford’s hold over them, she’ll have done what she tried to do 7 years ago when she left Chicago without him.
The most intriguing part of Wilford’s chatter here is the bit about transformation through suicide. We know that Wilford actually believes this stuff. What’s surprising is that Melanie knows about it. We’ve never been given any indication that she knows about his worst proclivities. Did he try this method on her as well? What was the outcome? She acts like she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Has she buried the memories of him attempting to force her the way he coerced Miss Audrey and Kevin in the tub?
Rather than giving up, Melanie goes out into the storm and rigs up a pulley and lever system to help her right the antenna tower. She’s making progress when she loses her grip and the lever snaps back at her, knocking her unconscious.
From this point on, Melanie becomes an even more unreliable narrator.
Seven years ago, Melanie was still trying to locate Alex and her parents as the unticketed crowd broke through the fencing. The jackboots opened fire on the crowd, as they’d been ordered to do. Wilford radioed Mel and Ben to say he’d lost contact with Grey and was on his way back uptrain. When he returned, he intended to order them to leave immediately. Ben told him the engine would be ready in 6 minutes.
Then he told Melanie that the train would actually be ready in 1 minute. She tried to leave the engine to go find Alex, but he refused to let her.
Ben: “You have to make the call to go.”
Mel: “Alex might be trying to get on board.”
Ben: “You can’t get off this train, Mel. I am not leaving you here.”
Mel: “Ben, let me go. I have to go.”
Ben: “We can’t let that monster be in charge of what’s left of humanity. You want to steal the train and save the future? We have to go now.”
They grimace at each other. She sits down at the helm. The loudspeaker announces that Snowpiercer is getting underway. Melanie tells Ben to disengage the brake. He complies. In the Tail, Grey has every body violently removed from the train that he possibly can as the voice on the loudspeaker counts down to departure.
In tears, Melanie engages the engine. Wilford watches from outside the train. Melanie asks Alex to forgive her.
So that happened. And no one ever mentioned Ben’s part in it. Wilford appears to hate Ben. But 7 years later, Ben also made sure that Big Alice and Wilford caught up to Snowpiercer, because they needed the replacement parts she carries. In season 2 episode 5, Ben and Javi told Layton and the rest of Snowpiercer’s leaders that Melanie didn’t connect to the 11th balloon, then agreed to “lie” to Wilford that she did.
It’s possible that the balloon sends its message back to Snowpiercer after Melanie has downloaded all of the data, so it’s the weather balloon’s issue. But it’s also possible that Ben can remotely follow the entire process from the monitors in the engine. He lied about the music that preceded Big Alice for hours and possibly days. He may have made an agreement for Wilford to leave him alone and provide spare parts in exchange for control over Snowpiercer and Melanie. Or maybe he thought they could get rid of Wilford while Melanie was safely stashed away at the research station.
He’s a hard guy to read. Like Ruth, I think he’s loyal to the train and humanity above all else, but he doesn’t always understand the bigger picture. In season 1, he argued that Snowpiercer should drop the Tail cars to get rid of excess weight so the train could regain the momentum it’s lost over time. Maybe over time, he came to agree with Wilford’s views.
In the present day, Melanie wakes up and gets back to the work of raising the tower. As she’s working, her suit runs out of power. This is another point where we have to question whether what follows is real. Melanie quickly finishes raising and securing the tower.
The next shot shows her inside, changed back into regular clothing, with some color in her face. The comms tower is doing its job again. The computer downloads the data from the 12th balloon, then works on creating the climate model. She whispers that it’s time for Snowpiercer to come back for her.
She continues her routine for the next two weeks without incident or hallucinations, waiting for it to be time to meet up with Snowpiercer again and crossing off the days on her calendar.
On Day 30, Melanie attempts to raise Snowpiercer on the radio, but there’s no answer. She continues trying for days with no luck. As her frustration grows, she tells Alex that she really tried to get back to her and asks for forgiveness.
Alex appears again. She hugs Melanie from behind and tells her it’s all okay. The tone of what she says is very similar to what Wilford said to Kevin in the tub.
Alex: “You gave up everything for us. For the world. You don’t have to be sorry anymore. Not to me, not to anyone. Snowpiercer couldn’t have made it this far without you. And you and I would never have gotten this chance.”
Melanie: “Thank you.”
Just when you thought Melanie was going to search for the closest razor blade, instead she hears the rumble of a train and realizes Snowpiercer is on its way. She packs herself up and rushes to the meeting place. Snowpiercer is already visible on the tracks. Melanie radios that they need to slow down so that she can catch up and hop on. When they don’t respond, she drops the sled she’s dragging and runs the rest of the way to the train, but it’s going too fast.
It’s going so fast that it’s wheels are creating flames. I assume that the obvious metaphor about He11 on wheels applies to the conditions inside the train.
As the tail end of Big Alice rolls by, Alex sees Melanie outside and calls to her through the rear window. Melanie kneels in the snow and watches Alex and Snowpiercer roll past her, just as she made Wilford watch Snowpiercer leave Chicago without him.
In her opening voice over, Melanie says, “Now only the Earth herself can restart her warm heart. I believe we can find her pulse again.” Then she finds a geothermal vent that’s already supporting a natural ecosystem with no outside intervention and she becomes part of that ecosystem. So in fact, she does find evidence of the Earth’s warm heart and pulse, the heat from the super heated inner core of the planet that the cold from the CW-7 couldn’t touch. There is an entire underground ecosystem waiting to move toward the surface to bring the planet back to life.
But, more importantly, how many more systems of geothermal vents and hot springs are there across the world, both on the surface and in caves, and what kinds of ecosystems are they already supporting? Did humans survive at any of them? Surely one of these oases would be the best place to start a colony.
Melanie has 5 months worth of data assembled by the original researchers to work with in addition to the data she assembled from the weather balloons. She can also include world wide weather trends for the last 7 years that she’s stored in her laptop. We haven’t been told the temperature and location every morning in the Hospitality announcements for nothing. That’s probably more data on the nature of the Freeze than anyone has ever had to work with. If she’s going to have more alone time at the station, she might develop an excellent analysis of the Freeze’s trajectory from the beginning until the present.
I have a vague memory of a character mentioning that some people attempted to survive the Freeze using geothermal heat or vents and failing, but I can’t remember if it was in the TV series, the film or the books. Melanie’s new discovery makes me wonder if that someone lied or if that group just got unlucky. Any group that survived may also have hidden themselves very quickly for protection from unscrupulous survivors, like Wilford, who had 7 years in the Midwest to raid survivor camps.
Wilford needed 7 years and what was left of the city of Chicago to help him catch up to Melanie. All Melanie needs is an abandoned research station, some rats and a shovel to dig out her lost volt sled. She’ll hunt Snowpiercer down once she has her sled back.😉
In this episode we learn that Melanie and Ben planned together to steal the train, but it was Ben who gave Melanie the final push. It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision, except for the part where she had to leave Alex behind. I wonder if Wilford’s disdain for Ben stems from the instinctive realization that Melanie wouldn’t have left without Alex unless Ben pushed her into it.
Wilford must have realized that he overplayed his hand with Melanie and that’s why Big Alice is run like a minimum security prison. Rather than changing his own behavior, he put the entire population on lockdown. Big Alice’s crew have been living in fear for 7 years, with no privacy and few possessions. Wilford made sure the crew have little time or space to plan a rebellion and would probably get turned in if they tried.
But it’s not exactly the pleasure cruise Wilford had in mind for himself on Snowpiercer. He’s been stuck in his engine with a child for most of the last 7 years, planning his revenge. Maybe he arranged an occasional conjugal visit, but the book club didn’t seem to turn up any regular substitutes for Audrey. Sykes might be the only candidate, but it’s hard to imagine Wilford muddying the water that way between his security and entertainment.
We’re never told how and when the third researcher died, only that his arm had been cut off but not eaten. That’s a story for the next time we visit Melanie and her ratty friends. She should be able to survive at the station indefinitely now that she has a food source. She might want to look into encouraging the rat food chain to be fruitful and multiply so that she has enough rat to keep her healthy. Though they did look healthy and well fed.
If only she could find some potatoes to grow while she waits to be rescued.
Melanie’s hallucinations may be caused by breathing toxic gasses from the geothermal vent. They probably won’t kill her directly, since the rats seem okay. But the researchers may have killed themselves and each other because of their hallucinations. Melanie could forget where she is and make a fatal mistake, too. It’s worrisome that they showed her high-fiving HalliciLayton when she caught the rat. That suggests that she might be starting to lose track of reality. We have to question how much of the episode actually happened. It’s conceivable that she never finished her version of the climate model.
The scene where she feels the train through the floor then rushes to the tracks felt off to me. It should have taken her longer to get there, based on what they’ve said in previous episodes, but maybe she used her train vibration superpower to feel it when it was still days away. She did tell Alex she could walk to the tracks and back again, so we should assume she can make it back to the research station safely, if that scene was real.
I don’t think Melanie is dead, because it would be weird to knock her out and let her freeze to death while continuing to focus the episode around her. I think it’s possible that she dreamed everything that happened after she got knocked out. The entire episode was about lies, misunderstandings, control, getting back to basics, remembering what’s important, what’s real and what you’re willing to die for.
Melanie’s Wizard of Oz Vision Quest.
Melanie believes so strongly in justice and the greater good that she’s not only willing to die for it- she was willing to sacrifice Alex as well. But then the sacrifice turned out to be turning her daughter over to Wilford for a childhood filled with mental torture instead of the clean death via the Freeze she’d envisioned for Alex. That’s much harder to live with. Melanie is working through her own guilt and working back around to remembering Wilford’s guilt. When she’s done, she’ll be ready to own her full identity and and to confront Wilford for creating the situation that pushed her into choosing between humanity and her daughter. She is only a monster because he’s a monster. And if the pre-wrist cutting speech that Alex gave her is any indication, she was groomed into her nature the same way Audrey was.
She may need to spend another episode working backwards in her memories to fully work out in her own mind what he did to her and Audrey and what that means he’s done on Big Alice. Hopefully she will come to the understanding that he truly is the issue, not any of them, so that she can speak and lead with new conviction when she returns to Big Alice and Snowpiercer. As I’ve said before, Big Alice is the new Tail. Alice’s crew is the one that now needs to be convinced to turn on their leader.
The priestesses at ancient oracles had prophetic visions because the oracles were in caves where toxic gases seep out of the Earth. Melanie could be on her way to creating her own religion, based on the prophetic visions she’s having at the Breslauer Oracle. 😉 Religion, whether it worships false idols or is based on an authentically spirituality, is another theme this season and an ongoing theme in the show, especially as it pertains to coercing the masses and to how the mind is affected by the end of the world.
Melanie originally created the religion of the unseen Wilford to keep the population of Snowpiercer in line. That backfired on her when Wilford reappeared in the flesh at the worst moment. Then Wilford essentially anointed her as his prophet by sending her out into the cold to gather information that might save the people once again. It may be time for her to create her own religion, once she returns from the dead, just like Wilford did.
I keep remembering how the Wilford “W” turned into an “M” when the door to Big Alice opened for the first time in the last episode of season 1. That seems like it was one of the first prophecies of season 2.
That episode also showed the cross hanging over Oz and LJ. Another sign that religion would become more important throughout the train, but even more corrupted. Possibly LJ and Oz are more crucial to the story than we’ve realized yet. Or maybe it foreshadowed the Tea Room.
Let’s look more closely at the similarities between Vision Alex’s speech to Melanie when she’s about to give up and Wilford’s coercion of Kevin in the bathtub from Smolder to Life. Be aware, this description of the bathtub scene is more detailed than the one in the original recap.
Alex and Melanie when Melanie has failed and is ready to give up:
Alex: “You gave up everything for us. For the world. You don’t have to be sorry anymore. Not to me, not to anyone. Snowpiercer couldn’t have made it this far without you. And you and I would never have gotten this chance.”
Melanie: “Thank you.”
Now let’s look at Wilford and Kevin, when Kevin has failed his “mission” as a hostage and Wilford punishes him in the tub. They sit in Wilford’s tub together, both naked and exposed, facing each other. Kevin is uncomfortable with the situation. Wilford has just finished explaining that it doesn’t matter how little Kevin said during his interrogations on Snowpiercer. The simple act of eating the Buffalo wings and showing his hunger was a betrayal, especially on top of opening the door to Snowpiercer to trade for a mango.
Note that Melanie is also slowly starving. She made the simple mistake of waiting until morning to go back for the rest of her supplies. Her inner Wilford hasn’t mentioned this, maybe because she knows he would force her to commit his version of falling on her sword over it. She puts similar words in Alex’s mouth instead, and turns them into words of forgiveness, but the Wilfordesque self-recrimination is still implicit. If Melanie doesn’t have to be sorry anymore, it means she’s finally atoned for all of the avoidable mistakes she made in the past.
In the scene from season 2 episode 2, Smolder to Life, Wilford hands Kevin a closed blade. Part of the mind f**k is that the victim has to choose to comply. Kevin opens the blade as he says he doesn’t think he can do it. Wilford speaks over him.
Wilford: “It’s been an honor, son. An honor. You served the mission well.”
Kevin nods with understanding and positions the blade over his wrist. He stops to ask, “Who will run hospitality?”
As he speaks, Kevin moves the blade away from his wrist. Wilford stares at the blade almost hungrily. He moves it back to Kevin’s wrist as he speaks: “You’re free of that now, Kevin, all your troubles. You’re warm and you’re free.” Kevin does what Wilford is asking of him.
In both scenes, the person who failed is told that they’re forgiven and nothing matters anymore. Though they will die now, the totality of their contribution to their people as a whole and to those closest to them outweighs their mistakes. They did everything they could for their people and they can go in peace without worrying about the future.
Is it a coincidence that Melanie makes her smolder to life speech, about teaching Child Alex how to clean up after the fires her father purposely used to burn on the family farm, in the same episode as the tub scene? In that speech she talks of the dangers of a flame that’s almost extinguished, but comes roaring back to life, eventually becoming more dangerous than ever. Miss Audrey came back to life after her tub scene with Wilford. And Melanie chooses not to die after Alex gives her the forgiveness speech. She hears the train and rushes out of the tub/station/potential deathtrap to save herself, smoldering back to life, just as she did when she caught the rat.
The element of choice runs all through these scenes, including the memories of Melanie’s family farm, but some of them are false choices. Some of the choices only feel like choices at the time because they are set up to seem that way. They are actually coerced or accidents, but the victim is held responsible for the result.
Can a starving person really be blamed for eating the food that’s in front of them?
Melanie’s voiceover from Smolder to Life:
“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.”
She’s in the brig, being held hostage on Big Alice as the counterpart to Kevin on Snowpiercer.
When Melanie meets the train and it passes her by, the Alex in her mind has just forgiven her. The Alex on the train, whether that vision was real or not, is calling for her like she’s in trouble and needs her mother.
If Wilford once pulled his tub stunt with Melanie and brought her back the way he did with Audrey, it didn’t have the desired effect. Mel’s two great loyalties are to the Snowpiercer and to Alex. Her current vision quest may have clarified some things for her. Or maybe it will have by the time it’s over.
Wilford saved Alex, but he didn’t do it for Melanie or Alex’s sakes. They don’t owe him anything- both have worked off their tickets on the trains, just like the other passengers. 7 years of indentured servitude should be enough to free everyone on both trains of any debt to him. Now they work to keep their society operating and feed themselves, just like people in any other society.
If it served Wilford’s purposes to kill Alex tomorrow, he’d do it, because he’s incapable of love. What he feels is possessiveness and the need to be in control. Alex is just another one of his toys. Now that she’s been reunited with her mother and reminded of what love actually feels like, Alex is realizing that, too.
Images courtesy of TNT.
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