In episode 8, The Eternal Engineer, Wilford makes good on his promise to burn down the world if that’s what it takes to regain control of Snowpiercer. Snowpiercer experiences catastrophic failures which her leaders soon realize were caused by Wilford. Unfortunately, only Wilford can repair the damage. They have no choice but to invite the devil himself onto the train and into the engine room.
By the end of the episode, it was clear to me that there’s only one engineer who knows Snowpiercer backwards and forwards and her name doesn’t start with a “W”. However, that doesn’t stop the (relatively) bloodless coup the train has been heading toward for 9 episodes, ever since Javi first picked up unusual signals on the radio at the end of season 1.
Wilford is making Sam Roche sad and confused. This is not okay. Just listen to Roche’s voice over:
“Things fall apart, right? Or do they? Who can tell anymore what’s true, what’s a Wilford ruse? So we hang on too tight to what we do know, crack ourselves into harder factions. We’re not afraid of our Ag-Sec failing or Bio-Security anymore. We’re lighting red lanterns for Wilford because we’re afraid of each other. And me? I’m out here selling the only common ground left. That we’re all human beings. You know, who need love and connection and space for hope. Or we’d kill each other. What is it about recent history that’s so freaking hard to remember? Well, the Eternal Engineer. He’s always been a social engineer, hasn’t he? He’d have to be. He rendered us all into his system. And even though his Engine may be eternal, the rest of Snowpiercer, she still runs on meat. All 1,034 cars long.”
I truly hate it when people, or any living things for that matter, are referred to as meat. It’s the sort of objectification that leads to the Freeze and Wilford and Snowpiercer. Draw all the parallels to the real world you’d like. Wilford shares the worldview of most giant corporations, the oligarchs who own them and the sycophants who help keep them in business- he sees the entire planet, including almost all humans, as a ball of natural resources he can exploit indefinitely, without regard to when the supply might run out or how anyone else will be affected by his exploitation.
He can and will do anything, no matter how horrific, to achieve his ends, and he delights in driving others to do the same. Just as driving someone to choose suicide simply because he wants it is a victory for him, driving a good person until they have no choice but to use Wilford’s dirty methods to defend themselves against him is also one of the sweetest victories for him. His game is to break people, the way he stripped Kevin of his dignity and even his identity, until there was no way for him to come back from the humiliation and horror laid upon him.
This is what Wilford wants to do to Snowpiercer, starting with her engineers and leaders, but then continuing on to even the most lowly Tailie. Just like on Big Alice, he needs them all to know that they are talentless, worthless nothings without him, who should be devoting the rest of their lives to praising him for allowing them to live and serve him.
This episode is part of that process. Thanks to Wilford, Snowpiercer has issues with deep fakes and fake news. He’s created a leadership vacuum on Snowpiercer, along with dividing the population into factions. Many of them are already waiting for Wilford to walk in and conquer them.
Layton hasn’t had time to build enough credibility with the people to counteract it. The rest of the train won’t accept any Tailie leaders. Melanie is gone. So are the Folgers, Miss Audrey and Nolan Grey. The masses don’t like or trust Ruth, who acted as Melanie’s henchwoman for 7 years. Though Roche is liked and trusted, he isn’t comfortable taking public positions. Ben stayed shut up in the engine for 7 years and isn’t well known. Boki is grieving and confused. People had begun to turn to Pastor Logan, but he was only meant to funnel people toward Wilford. His death was always guaranteed because Wilford doesn’t share.
During Roche’s voice over, we see him spend a sleepless night with a red lantern in his window. The next morning, the dead Breachmen’s bodies have been readied for burial at sea, as it were. As Boki, who is wearing his climate suit, prepares to do the honors for his comrades, he puts a coin on each one’s forehead. The people of Snowpiercer line the corridors with their hands on their hearts to pay their respects to the fallen Breachmen.
In a reminder of how close conditions on Earth currently are to space, instead of being sent to the composter like most people, the bodies are dropped from the train into a deep canyon. They freeze before they reach the ground, which means they smash into pieces on the rocks and ice below. A few of the people watching with Layton and Roche make the Wilford “W” sign. Jakes gives Layton a dirty look.
The atmosphere inside is almost as cold as the outside.
After the opening credits, Bess, Layton and Roche try to convince Boki that Logan and his Wilford followers were responsible for the deaths of his friends, not the Tailies. But after 30 years of risking his life for Wilford, he can’t bring himself to believe that the man he’s idolized would do this to people who’ve been so loyal to him. As Boki walks out, Roche asks him to think it through some more, because they need him to help hold the middle. Boki keeps walking.
Wilford greets Alex in the Big Alice engine like he hasn’t seen her in ages. She complains about the way Audrey has invaded their space, but obviously Audrey’s quirks don’t bother him. Alex has figured out that Wilford is up to something, but he refuses to share. He won’t even tell her why someone used Big Alice’s cold lock.
Layton meets with some of his advisors, who tell him there are entire zones on the train that are closing themselves off to outsiders. Tailies are afraid to leave the Tail. Jake and the Tunnelmen are actively calling for Wilford to take over. Dr Pelton and Roche assure Layton that 2nd class and the Brakemen will continue to help hold the train for him.
Despite what he told Layton, Roche sends his daughter, Carly, to stay with friends uptrain where he thinks she’ll be safer. Once she leaves, he tells his wife, Anne, that the train is one dirty look away from a civil war. She says people are having a hard time believing Pastor Logan had people killed. He asks what she thinks. She says that for people of faith, like her, it’s hard to reconcile. He’d understand if he hadn’t lost his faith since they’ve been on Snowpiercer. He says, “You keep the faith, remember? I keep the peace.”
Then he turns on the sink faucet, which sprays out water everywhere. In the engine, the monitors indicate water problems developing in several spots. Ben jokes that Javi should take his Wellies to investigate- Ruth already has her rubber boots on. Anne reports that all of the cabins in her car are flooding.
Oz and LJ are on top of the situation for janitorial- Oz has decided this is a gig they should try to keep. Terence is dead and Annie seems to have given up work in favor of becoming a Wilford rebel. There’s a power vacuum in this department, too, just waiting for a couple of ambitious kids with a dream.
They tell Ruth there are 3 affected cars and the water is leaking into the subtrain. LJ says she’s got the main floor under control as Ruth follows Oz downstairs. Javi and Jakes are already dealing with more water pressure surges, which cause larger pipes to burst.
When Josie wakes up from her most recent procedure, Wilford is waiting to fuss over her. He gives Josie the first look in the mirror at her new skin and restored face. She says it barely hurts anymore and tears up a bit. Wilford wipes her tears, worried they’ll sting on her delicate new skin grafts. She asks, “Why have you done this?” He ignores her.
Instead, he wants to help her with the phantom pain she’s been having where her hand used to be. He puts a tray in front of her with a realistic fake hand on it. He has her put her own hand next to the fake hand, then puts a cloth over her wrists, giving the illusion that both hands are attached to her body. He tells her that both are her hands and asks her to trust him. He strokes his fingers lightly down the real and fake hand at the same time, tricking her brain into thinking the fake hand is real and snapping her nerves out of their confusion over the amputation. She says that the trick works.
Wilford tells her to keep practicing in order to retrain her nervous system. Then he sweeps out of the room. As he leaves, he says they won’t lock her in her room anymore. “Welcome to Big Alice.”
He made it sound like he was being so magnanimous when he stopped holding her hostage in one room and switched to holding her hostage in a larger part of the train instead.
In Snowpiercer’s Engine Eternal, Ben explains their current predicament. I’m going to record the details for posterity’s sake, because certain things keep repeating, but basically, they have an intake vent that’s stuck open, so too much snow is getting into their system. Because the Breachmen are almost all dead, fixing it is suddenly an issue. It’s almost like Wilford predicted this would happen.
Ben: “Pressure surges are popping up all over the train. Our port intake won’t close, so we’re taking on too much snow… Convert water to hydrogen, its offshoot supplies water for the train, so when the gills are jammed open…”
Layton: “Too much hydrogen and a tsunami of water.”
Ben: “Exactly. It has to be external. Something’s jammed the gills open. Well, we can manually vent the excess, but that’s gonna slow us down, so that’s serious.”
Layton: “How serious, scale of one to ten?”
Ben: “Normally I’d call it a three. We’d send a team of Breach workers to free it by hand.”
Roche: “But since all of our Breachmen are dead except Boki, who might refuse to do it…”
Ben: “Six out of ten.”
Layton: “We can round that up to a ten, assuming Wilford’s involved.”
Roche: “Not everything is WIlford.”
Layton looks at him like he’s insane.
Ben: “Our intakes do get jammed. It happens.”
Layton leaves to ask Boki to risk his life to save the train, even though he’s deep in grief. Ben tells him to make it quick, before they lose much time.
This seems like a straightforward interaction, but nothing is straightforward anymore on Snowpiercer. Ben was moving all over the cabin as he spoke, which is exactly what he did when he lied to Javi and Melanie in season 1 episode 10 about the signals that ultimately turned out to be Big Alice and Wilford. He’s also not showing any emotion, other than mentioning the need to keep up their speed, while everyone else is very worried about reaching Melanie in time and keeping Wilford from taking over. My guess is that he’s certain Wilford can undo whatever he’s done to the vent.
I still can’t figure out Ben’s true feelings on Melanie. It seems like he might still care about her as a person, but be done with her as a leader. Maybe Wilford promised him a raise and a promotion over Melanie. Javi, too. I don’t think Ben wants Layton in charge now anymore than he did in season 1.
Alex practices sensing the train’s changes using touch, the way Melanie does, and notices that Snowpiercer has slowed. She’s interrupted by Audrey, who tells her to turn around and look out the windshield. They see Icy Bob on top of the train, in the distance, making his way back to Big Alice. Worried, Alex runs to the lab so she can meet Bob when he comes back inside.
Wilford and the Headwoods are already at the cold lock waiting for him. They start to warm him up, but he’s in very bad shape, even for him. Wilford gives Bob a coin, which he says is an old Breachman’s tradition. Alex asks why he sent Bob outside, but no one answers her.
Just as Josie sits down to her first meal in the mess hall, Audrey bursts into the room in hurry or maybe she’s making a grand entrance. She sashays over to join Josie and introduces herself, since technically they’ve never met. Josie is just as confused as she was by Wilford’s sudden attention. Audrey tells her that the Headwoods can do amazing things. They could make her beautiful again. Josie says she doesn’t care about that. Audrey says that’s probably for the best.
Josie asks about Snowpiercer and if Layton is still standing. Audrey says it’s more like he’s crawling. Josie realizes that Audrey has defected to Wilford’s camp. Audrey corrects her, saying it’s more like she returned.
Audrey: “We had very different journeys, but we were both leaders on Snowpiercer. We spent years being responsible for others. And now that we’re here, without all that weight, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never slept so well. The future is yours, if you want it. Just look in the mirror.”
That was a coded message, which Audrey needed to get out while she knew Wilford was busy with Icy Bob. Returning, rather than defecting, could mean she was always on Wilford’s side. But it could also mean that she’s returned to his side to finish what she and Layton started. Now that Josie and Audrey are free of the weight of their responsibilities, they can risk their lives in the most daring schemes imaginable, the way assassins and spies do, because their deaths won’t affect anyone’s plans but their own. Audrey’s advice to look in the mirror was a hint, along with her opening comments, that Josie has new super powers due to her skin grafts.
Till and Layton find Boki punching a heavy bag. As a man of action, crying into a pint of ice cream and staring at old photos wasn’t going to last long with him. He knows why they’ve come, and is willing to hear them out. He lives on the train, too, after all. But he makes them work for his agreement. Layton shows that he’s willing to grovel and says that he won’t force Boki. Once he’s been paid the appropriate respect, Boki says “okey dokey” without hesitation.
Josie finds Icy Bob in the lab, barely conscious. She asks if he’s been given something for the pain. He ignores that question and tells her he’s ready, now that he’s served his purpose. She tells him he’s more than Wilford’s weapon. Mrs Dr Headwood enters the room and agrees with Josie. She says that Bob started out with frostbite damage as bad as Josie’s and they’ve spent years rebuilding him. Now they’ll never know his full potential.
She gives Bob some pills. It’s not clear whether they’re for the pain or to euthanize him. Then she tells Josie to go rest and leaves the room. Josie finally understands what everyone has been not quite saying all day as they’ve dodged her questions.
She decides to do an experiment, which involves facing the source of her trauma. She makes her way to the cold lock and allows outdoor air inside the chamber. She steels herself, then sticks her one remaining hand through a portal into the chamber to test her cold tolerance. She keeps her bare hand in the freezing outside temperatures that just killed Bob for 10 seconds. Her hand is red, but not frozen. Josie is delighted with this development.
As water pressure situation on Snowpiercer gets worse, they vent water over the top of the train. Alex is watching and becomes more worried. Wilford tells her to call Snowpiercer and ask them what’s going on. On Snowpiercer, Ben tells Layton that Boki is preparing to go outside, but they’ve had to slow down so much that they’ll be about 2 hours late for their rendezvous with Melanie. Who they’ve lost contact with.
Oops. We know that part isn’t true. If what we were shown onscreen near the end of episode 6 was reality, Melanie eventually connected to the 11th balloon, then connected to the 12th balloon on time. Since the episode seemed to make clear what was real and what was fantasy, it’s more likely that someone is messing with her signal or lying about receiving it. Ben and Javi have both lied and turned traitor before. But someone else could have sabotaged their comms the way they tried to hijack Wilford’s. All sorts of people are in and out of the engine these days, probably including LJ the happy little janitor.
Remember that time, in season 1 episode 8, that Miles brought LJ into the engine and Javi didn’t even notice they were there? Think what she could get up to while she’s supposed to be cleaning and he’s ignoring her.
Layton tells Ben not to lose hope. They’ll get Melanie back. Alex calls at that moment. Ben answers, cutting her off and suggesting she wants to know why they’ve slowed down. Hmmm, another person directing the conversation away from certain subjects, just like the people on Big Alice. Alex is worried that they’ll be late to pick up Melanie. Ben looks back at Layton, then lies to Alex. He says they’re just doing some routine maintenance. They’re taking advantage of the straight stretch of track to slow down, but will make up their speed later. Wilford breaks in to mock everyone and end the conversation.
Now that he’s making his move on Snowpiercer, he calls Layton “Mr” instead of “King”. How long before he switches that to Andre?
Boki makes his way outside. The train reduces speed further when he climbs down the side. It only takes him one look to find that a huge railroad spike has been stuck into the vent to keep it open. It’s in a difficult position and it takes him a minute to organize his tools so that he can get it out while a strap holds him onto the train. Thanks to his bravery and experience, it’s an easy fix.
Once he’s back inside, Boki shows Layton and the engineers the #10 Wilford spike and says it definitely wasn’t an accident. He could tell by the pattern of broken ice that the ladder had been used not long before his trip outside. Ben and Javi give Boki and Layton a moment alone. Boki takes out a gold coin.
Boki: “Wilford gave me this himself. He said, ‘Breachmen risk their lives for me. With this, I pledge the same to you.’ Take it. Maybe you can shove it up his a$$ one day, huh? Sir.”
He gives Layton the coin. This change in loyalty is a big win for Layton. Boki is respected and even beloved throughout the train. If he believes that Wilford is the bad guy after 30 years of unwavering loyalty, that will eventually get through to some people. Right now, everyone is probably too emotional to pay attention to one voice, so it would be better to let Wilford think he still has the Breachman’s loyalty. Boki will be a powerful ally for Layton’s side in the eventual fight for the train.
Wilford must have planned for Big Alice’s Breachmen to step in to remove the spike, since Boki was supposed to be dead, too. They either wouldn’t have reported the real reason that the vent was stuck open or it wouldn’t have mattered if it became known. Allowing sabotage would be a security failure for Layton, which Wilford could exploit- because Layton killed the Jackboots, they almost lost the train.
Thank goodness Wilford is back to set their priorities straight. Old white man’s law and order for everyone!! Huzzah!!
As Boki leaves, Javi and Ben put the train on autopilot and tell Layton to come to the engine server room with them. They need to run some tests.
LJ gives Ruth a status report on the flooded cars. Most of the water is gone; they just need to dry out now. Ruth praises LJ for her effort. LJ says she’s working for Wilford, but Ruth can count on her however things go.
LJ isn’t ready to give up her edge.
A man walks out of the Roche’s cabin, then Anne calls Ruth in. Anne says that the man wanted to know where Sam stands on Wilford. She asks if Ruth has been asked to take a side yet. Ruth tells her that Hospitality needs to stay neutral.
Unlike in the last civil war.
Anne says the Brakemen need to stay neutral, too.
Also unlike the last civil war.
Then Anne asks Ruth if Sam, her own husband, is neutral.
Ruth looks uncomfortable, then says she’s sure Anne and Sam are strong enough to pull through these difficult times together. They’ll all muddle through, just like always. Then she practically runs out of the room.
I should note here that Anne is wearing one of Pastor Logan’s St Christopher medals and insisted that they light one of Katya’s red lanterns. She is now going behind her husband’s back with a loyalty test for him and his associates. This morning, she told him he didn’t understand her because he’s become an unbeliever. It’s clear which side Anne has taken, while we know Sam supports Layton. Things aren’t looking good for their marriage.
Sam is busy handing out assignments to the Brakemen as things heat up again. There are rumors that Ag-Sec might be affected. One of the Brakemen says there are sections of 3rd they can’t get through. Roche tells them to use the subtrain. A Brakeman says there’s a rumor that the surviving Jackboots have rebuilt a command.
Before Roche can deal with this intel, Anne brings his lunch in and the Brakemen file out. Instead of his usual precisely prepared meal, this is just sandwiches from the mess hall, a sure sign that the end times are upon us. Once they’re alone, Anne tells him that most the population of Snowpiercer have turned against Layton. Sam doesn’t think it’s quite that bad. She’s worried about Carly. They’ve already lost two children. He assures her that won’t happen again, but she calls him out on that, since he sent their daughter uptrain.
Like many on Snowpiercer, she thinks living under Wilford won’t be so bad, since they spent seven years living by his rules and it was better than the anarchy they’ve had since the war. She’s sure Wilford will restore order.
Roche: “At what cost? Anne, you realize Wilford, okay, he designed this train with portals that freeze people’s limbs off. Look at what you’re asking me.”
Anne: “To put your family first.”
Roche: “I am. Do you know who Layton is, okay? He’s a good guy and I forgot what a good guy was. He is trying to give this train, our daughter, our family, a world that we can be proud to live in. If that world falls, I …”
From the point of view of Anne and most of Snowpiercer, the return of Wilford would be a return to the comforting vision they signed up for seven years ago, before they boarded the train. They assume that the only people who have to worry are the stowaways from the Tail and the criminals. It’s only those at the top of the administrative structure who understand how restrictive and capricious his rules and the man himself are.
Back in 3rd, LJ makes Oz dinner, including hard boiled eggs, the first food they ever shared together. He tells her she did great work today. After a moment, she realizes that she did and is happy. Oz is happy, too, because they’re being treated with respect. He says that’s more important than being liked, anyway.
He tells LJ that she might be the only person who likes him. She reminds him that he has Till, but he thinks that’s just habit from having been through so much together, rather than real friendship. He says LJ is his favorite. LJ is surprised to hear that and Oz starts to get defensive. LJ stops him by confessing that he’s her favorite, too. They share a kiss and a warm smile, then return to dinner.
Merry and Pippin falling in love and taking it slow are totally adorable. Please tell them that Legolas and Boki really need friends and hugs, too. I remember back in early season 1, when there was a whole polyamorous, happy family movement happening in 3rd class. Where did that go? Layton should encourage everyone to make love, not war.
This is an interesting turn of events for two characters who were introduced as promiscuous opportunists. LJ was supposed to be able to convince hardened soldiers to commit horrific crimes simply because she was bored. Oz was essentially a prostitute who also forced others to prostitute themselves. Maybe they were both trauma and abuse victims who were forced by circumstances into the roles they were playing, but that’s not the total sum of who they are?
When they get to the engine server room, Javi and Ben explain to Layton that the engine hasn’t returned to normal, the way it should have. The engine’s self-regulating brain, named the Wilford Industries digital automation system, sends and receives thousands of messages per second. But it’s not doing its job right now- in fact, the train’s status is growing worse instead of improving. They’ve run diagnostics, but can’t find the source of the issue.
In Big Alice’s engine, Alex figures out that Bob sabotaged Snowpiercer’s engine somehow. Wilford and Audrey applaud her deductive skills. At the same time, Ben and Javi figure out that what they’re seeing is an amplification error caused by the spike touching the H1 sensor in the intake vent, which then caused Wilford’s Harmonic/God Module to overload. The God Module is responsible for hydrogen production, which powers the engine. Of course the only replacement module is on Big Alice.
On Big Alice, they’re expecting Ben’s emergency call.
Layton gathers his team to inform them about the sabotage and that they have no choice but to let Wilford on the train to help with the repair anyway. They’ll attempt to keep his visit a secret from the rest of the train and watch him carefully so he can’t cause anymore damage. Layton will send up a warning flare if the situation gets out of control despite their efforts to contain Wilford.
Layton, Ruth and Roche meet Wilford at the otherwise empty border. Wilford recognizes this as an indication of trouble on Snowpiercer. They take him to the engine by subtrain. Jakes hides in the tunnel to spy on Layton. Once he spots Wilford, he runs to share the news with his friends in 3rd.
Wilford stops to place his hand on the “W” logo at the entrance to the engine complex, saying he’s sentimental. The very first glances he and Ben give each other when the engine door opens aren’t hostile like you’d expect, though Wilford makes a cutting remark and Ben stays silent. Wilford almost has a look of longing for a second, before he looks calculating. Then Layton hurries him along into the engine room. Ruth says she and Roche aren’t going into the engine. Wilford tells Ruth they’ll meet again. To Roche he says, “You hold the balance of power with wisdom and aplomb. I hope that lasts.” Roche doesn’t answer.
I guess Wilford is okay with Ruth remaining neutral for now, but Roche has tipped too far toward Layton. This is likely the only warning Roche will get that Wilford notices he’s in the process of switching sides. But Wilford treats Roche with more respect than I think we’ve seen him treat anyone. That didn’t feel like his usual empty flattery. He cares about Ruth and Sam’s approval. Maybe Anne’s questions about their loyalty came straight down from the top.
Ben and Javi await them in the engine. Wilford asks Javi if it’s true he was in the bathroom when Melanie stole the train. Javi confirms it. Wilford decides Javi is his favorite- he assumes Javi is incompetent and will be easy to manipulate.
Maybe Javi is already on Wilford’s side. Otherwise, it’s hard to imagine this humiliation would draw him in.
In the 3rd class dining hall, Jakes speaks to his allies. They’re ready to encourage Wilford to stay on the Snowpiercer, using any means necessary. A former Jackboot says their numbers nearly match the Tailie army.
Wilford talks continuously as Ben and Javi replace the God Module, pretending he’s directing the repair, reminding them that they needed him to save the day and assuring them that everyone on Snowpiercer will know he’s there before long. When they turn on the module, the system overloads again, so they need to disconnect it again. This time they’re left with only minutes before the engine will fail.
They realize that the issue is a retrofit Melanie did on the bogie motor circuitry years ago to override automation. Because of the retrofit, the God Module can’t override the system and all hydrogen production is suspended. They’re down to 14% in the batteries, so they can’t just disconnect the bogie motors because they won’t have the energy reserves to restart them. Wilford’s solution is to manually disengage the bogie motors, which will let Big Alice push Snowpiercer with less resistance while they do an emergency shutdown and manual restart. They can rewire the engine around Melanie’s retrofit during the shutdown. Javi points out that an emergency shutdown involves over 200 individual manual shutdowns and there’s no guarantee that the jumpstart will work to restart the engine.
Ben runs upstairs to get started on the plan without any further discussion. He makes an announcement to the entire train that it’s a level 5 emergency. They are enacting the manual restart protocol and everyone needs to report to their stations immediately. As with Boki, now that the train needs them, Jakes and his friends put their plans for mutiny aside and jump into action.
Ruth tells Zarah and Till that a manual restart has never been done before.
Wilford calls Alex to let her know she’ll need to push Snowpiercer. He says if they slow down too much, the restart won’t work. She asks if restarting the train was part of his plan. He says it wasn’t. Alex tells him they’ll only have 3 minutes to restart the train.
They go through the shutdown process and Snowpiercer goes dark. Javi works to undo the retrofit as quickly as possible, until Wilford criticizes him for being too slow, then trashes Layton because he’s not an engineer. Wilford finishes the job himself while telling Layton that he’s incapable of leading the train. When he’s done, he makes a trainwide announcement, telling everyone they’ll restart the engine on his command.
As he’s about to give the command, he looks over at Layton, who’s staring at him. Layton says, “Games upon games.” Wilford replies, “There’s only one conductor of the orchestra.” Then he gives the command to restart Snowpiercer. He couldn’t have planned a more dramatic way to retake the train, as the lights come back up in all 1,034 cars. Layton walks away, leaving Wilford in the engine room, while the people of Snowpiercer cheer for Wilford’s return.
There may only be one conductor of the orchestra, but that person is nothing without a team that works together seamlessly to make their leader look good. Wilford isn’t capable of creating that at any time, while the Tail functioned pretty darn well under terrible conditions.
While Wilford, the other engineers and the rest of the tech crew members play out their roles in the shutdown and restart, Layton is shown standing out of the way and watching, as if this means he isn’t a competent leader. But every leader needs to step aside during certain kinds of crises and let the experts handle what they are trained for- the military in a war, doctors in a pandemic, first responders in a natural disaster.
There’s no shame in not being the expert in every crisis. The failure is in not knowing how to choose the right people for the job and how to organize the proper response. Snowpiercer’s crisis is being handled properly because Layton didn’t let his own ego get in the way of getting the job done. The crisis started because Wilford put his ego first, before anything else.
Layton also already knows he’s lost political control of the train, just as Wilford planned, but that’s because Wilford has fooled the train into thinking he’s saving them, when in reality he created the problem and they all saved themselves. I don’t know if there were underlying plans here or who made them, but I can’t imagine Ben forgot about Melanie’s retrofit and didn’t know what would happen when they started up the new module. Bogie motors are once again the key to everything.
Ruth, Zarah, Roche, Till and Ben do not join in the cheers for Wilford’s return. Layton goes to the front of the engine. Looking nauseous, he sends a red flare out from the front of the train to warn his supporters that he’s lost control. I doubt they need the warning at this point.
Sometime later, Layton is in handcuffs in Roche’s office. Roche tells him that he’s being taken to Big Alice and they’ve promised he’ll be treated well.
Layton asks Roche to look after the Tailies for him. Roche promises he will. Layton cries a little and says he just wanted to see his kid grow up.
We’ve come so far in the two seasons. But Layton should have a last meal of grilled cheese and tomato soup.
Roche unlocks the handcuffs and lets Zarah in, leaving the couple alone for 1 minute. They throw themselves into each other’s arms. 😭 Zarah says the train keeps trying to take them down, but it never has. She makes him promise not to give up.
There are Jackboots waiting to take Layton wherever he’s going. One of them tells Roche to report to Big Alice as well. Miss Audrey escorts Roche to the Headwoods, who have already drugged Anne and Carly and placed them in drawers. His drawer is waiting. At least one more drawer is open and ready to be used. Is that for Layton? Ruth? Till?
Wilford finally enters Snowpiercer’s Engine Eternal, slowly walking to the helm as Ben sits and watches him approach. When Wilford is almost there, Ben steps aside, stands at attention and grudgingly says, “Mr Wilford, you have the train.” Ben takes a seat about halfway back in the engine.
Wilford sits in the big chair and basks in the glory of having complete control.
I’ve missed hearing the engineers hand off the train to each other this season, but this wasn’t how I wanted it to resume.
Snowpiercer is doing a bang up job of confronting our culture’s need to have an older white man as front man in order to feel safe and secure, no matter how narcissistic, dangerous or incompetent he is. In fact, the more psychopathic they are, the higher they tend to rise.
Wilford to Josie: “You’ve been out for some time since your last goo bath. I do wish the Headwoods would find a more scientific sounding name for the stuff, don’t you?”
I’m sure that when they’re ready to let Wilford steal the credit for their goo, patent it with the Notary and publish the research results in the Snowpiecer Journal of Medicine, they’ll also come up with a better name, probably one that includes “Wilford” prominently.
As far as I can tell, the train is still in Asia and Melanie didn’t see the flare Layton sent up. It’s odd that they were being so precise about how long it would take to reach her, when they’re still a substantial distance away and should be able to make up for lost time.
In season 2 episode 2, when they were making plans to bring Wilford in on the potential news that the Earth is warming, Layton and Melanie discussed using his friend Old Ivan’s chess strategy of appearing to lose at first in order to make the opponent over confident.Layton suggested giving the people and Wilford what they want so the people of Snowpiercer could see how awful life under Wilford would be.
I still wonder if we’re watching that plan play out, only Wilford is so much worse than any of them realized, even Ben and Melanie. The last seven years have made him even more of a psychopath and he’s become psychotic to boot. I registered my disapproval of the plan when it came up in episode 2 and I’ll say it again- you don’t mess around with enemies who have no internal limits. They will take things further than you can imagine and make you do things you will hate yourself for. Scorched Earth is the only appropriate response to a power grab by a psychopath. It might not have been a bad idea to invade and conquer Big Alice the 2nd time the door opened. They should have drawered Wilford immediately.
Wilford is no better than PT Barnum. He makes a big show of giving the final announcement to restart the train, once again taking credit for saving everyone. He tries to show off how smart he is, but his overall plan went horribly wrong because he didn’t stop to think through that they might have made improvements in the design in 7 years of use. That’s not tampering. It’s normal to update any design once it’s in the field. In this sequence, Wilford shows, again, that Melanie is the genius engineer and he’s the showboat who’s willing to kill them all in an attempt to win.
On the other hand, Ben and Javi walk by that retrofit every day. If they aren’t part of some plan we weren’t told about in this episode, then I’m not sure why they wouldn’t have anticipated some of the implications they missed.
We know very little about Josie’s background before the Freeze- mostly just that she was a veterinarian. Now that she knows she’s another Icy cold warrior, it seems like she’s become a lynchpin character for whether Layton or Wilford ultimately end up in control of the train. We know she’s tough and a fighter who has strong beliefs. But will she stick with her Tailie loyalties or will Wilford seduce her over to his side? Was it his plan to use up and discard Bob just in time for Josie to become his new cold warrior?
I’ve been saying that Big Alice is the new Tail. If Layton doesn’t get put in a drawer, he needs to convince her crew to defect to his side and betray Wilford. Layton already has more of a team in place on Big Alice than he did outside of the Tail at the start of season 1. And Wilford is distracted from the smaller train by his shiny new toy. It might take Layton a while to get through to enough people on Big Alice to start a counter rebellion. Then again, there doesn’t seem to be much actual love for Wilford on his train. Many are just play acting, hoping he won’t kill them. It could be that most of them are ready to rebel, just waiting for a leader to give the word.
Anne might have made a deal to put her entire family in the drawers to keep them safe in exchange for the Headwoods experimenting on them. She’s desperate and anyone who still has faith in Wilford is a little naive. Or it may be significant that it was Audrey who escorted Roche to the drawers. He was the one who wrongfully put her beloved Nikki Genet in the drawers, which ultimately led to Nikki’s death at Erik Sotto’s hand, probably as part of the cover up of the season 1 conspiracy that remains unsolved. Audrey may have worked out a way to get a little revenge- she said she was going to Big Alice for herself. Maybe Roche isn’t who we think he is.
The downfall of Sam Roche, stalwart everyman, from Lead Brakeman to resident of the Drawers, feels like a metaphor for Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. While Roche didn’t wake up to discover he’s literally vermin, maybe it’s not a coincidence that his name sounds like roach. His wife turned on him, he couldn’t keep his remaining child safe, and finally he fell so far in Wilford’s social order that he was put in a box and stored someplace where he won’t bother anyone. Do the Brakemen even exist anymore, or do the stormtroopers handle even minor infractions now?
And once again, Snowpiercer’s fate is linked to bogie motors. They’ve been a recurring theme, from Erik Sotto’s carefully aimed gunshot in the subtrain which caused a leak that eventually led to Melanie’s dangerous bogie motor replacement stunt to the trade for a new one with Big Alice, and now the retrofit that almost ended the train. When Erik was holding Jinju hostage, he referred to a woman who was giving him orders- could that be Katya? Could Katya be the spymaster who’s been in contact with Big Alice all along, using the backup radios, which can actually reach across vast distances?
This season, Snowpiercer is playing with the ideas of fairness, debt and trade. Josie reflected this in particular this episode, when she repeatedly asked why the people on Big Alice were helping her. She understands that this is a place where nothing happens for free.
Last season, Snowpiercer was one train, with an established class system and a black market. Things weren’t distributed equitably, but everyone received enough to survive. The system was stable, so that everyone could operate with confidence within it, even if they hated the system.
Since the revolution and the addition of a second train with new supplies, Snowpiercer’s established systems and trade values no longer apply. The economic order is in as much disarray as the social order. It’s not clear what plan, if any, Layton had to get the economy under control before Big Alice interfered. He planned to have a constitutional convention to rework the social order, but delayed it indefinitely.
Not surprisingly, Snowpiercer is devolving from the 2 factions who fought in the revolution into anarchy, with mobs and gangs rising to split Snowpiercer into territories that control what Layton won’t. It’s no longer one train and its residents have lost confidence that there is any system governing them at all. They’re searching for leadership and stability.
Wilford is exploiting this disarray both socially and economically. Melanie told us that this was always his plan, but we saw through her flashbacks that it was also always his style. He rules with extreme violence and makes sure everyone understands that they owe their lives to him. Not only because Snowpiercer saved them, but because he can kill them or ruin them at any moment through torture, killing or hurting their loved ones or public humiliation. In this episode, he used public humiliation on Layton and threatened Roche’s loved ones. Roche pointed out that the portals on Snowpiercer were made for removing arms as punishment, a form of torture that can also lead to death. We’ve seen what he did to Icy Bob, Kevin and Miss Audrey. We saw him kill the geneticists to punish Melanie in her flashback.
This will become the norm on Snowpiercer with Wilford in charge. He’s easily bored and his ego requires constant attention, so he will manufacture frequent crises of one sort or another, whether they are crimes and betrayals or train malfunctions and other threats to their survival. Life on Snowpiercer will become The Hunger Games until either Wilford or everyone on the trains are dead.
There are dark, dark days ahead for Snowpiercer if Wilford stays in control.
Some tropes that describe Wilford’s attitudes:
Look at Wilford’s face in this gif. I’m not sure he’s looked at anyone else that way, even Audrey. Ben is someone important to him, either his son, or maybe his brother or lover. All that Ben hating was a cover to hide that it’s Ben he’s been after all along. Who would Wilford want more than the person with his own DNA?
It doesn’t appear that Ben wants Wilford though. When he hands the train over, he looks sick to the point of passing out, even though he was the one who insisted they hook up with Big Alice back in season 1. Maybe Ben has multiple personalities and they are divided on how they feel about Wilford, Melanie and Layton?
Images Courtesy of TNT.