“Okey dokey, let’s go make coup.”– Boki
In episode 10, it becomes clear that for Wilford, the one currency of value in the Freeze is pain. That’s what allows him to hold onto his train and his order. Without the threat of pain, people might do whatever they want. Such as pirate one of the train’s engines.
In episode 9, Wilford held out restored order, fresh food, the carnival and the glamorous dinner party as examples of rewards that cooperative passengers could expect under his rule. But positive rewards aren’t his natural style and he couldn’t maintain the good times he’d implicitly promised with those rewards. They all sank into negative experiences: Wilford’s order comes with heavily armed Jackboots distributed throughout the train; his abundant fresh food comes with a census and a questionnaire that will determine who lives and dies; the carnival is a just a delivery system for his propaganda, specifically that he won’t be returning for Melanie and no one will be leaving the train, ever; and he used the dinner party as a trial and sentencing for Melanie and Layton’s co-conspirators.
The message should be clear to anyone who’s paying attention- Willy’s World is a dangerous place, with monsters lurking around every corner. No one is safe and no one can be trusted. But the 3rd class masses aren’t ready to pay attention to the realities of life under Wilford yet. Many of Wilford’s loyal 1st class supporters are now ironically dead by his own hand. With one pull of the lever, Wilford dispensed with the witnesses who could confirm that he ordered the Breachmen murdered. The Jackboots won’t talk and no one will believe Till- she didn’t even see the murderers’ faces.
Which brings us to episode 10, which mirrors the point we were at last season at the beginning of the finale. Just when Layton and the rebels had won the war and started to figure out how to run the train, the engine picked up mysterious signals that turned out to be Big Alice, which captured Snowpiercer. By the end of the episode, Alex had boarded her and Melanie was on the outside, discovering that it was snowing.
In this episode, Wilford has won complete control of the train. But just as Layton continued to work with Melanie after he took over, Wilford finds that his own victory is hollow without the approval that Layton enjoyed. So he keeps a few of Layton’s key people close- Bess, as an advisor; Zarah, as a Madonna-like symbol of hope; LJ, for her youthful admiration; and Javi as the engineer.
Wilford is a psychopath- don’t try to make sense of his skewed perception of reality. In his mind, he’s plugged the same or similar people into what he sees as stereotypical roles that they’ve previously filled, helping to prop Layton up.
As we’re shown the unforgiving, white world outside, Alex provides her voice over from the brig:
“I was 10 when the world became a train. Wilford said he was my family now. Daddy Dubs. And I would lead the train with him. Leaders were lonely. You couldn’t trust anyone. So I was the island of Alex, and no one ever came ashore. Until we finally caught up to Melanie. And I saw Snowpiercer and met her people. That’s when Dubs got weird.”
That’s when Dubs got weird, huh?
Break in the voice over: Wilford visits Alex to test her vocabulary- does she know what an oubliette is? Answer: It’s the French word for a bottle-shaped, underground dungeon with a trap door at the top, making it almost impossible to escape. Oubliette is derived from the French word that means “to forget”. Wilford suggests that she mentally drop Layton, Melanie and the rest in an oubliette and leave them there.
Alex: “You don’t want me to forget them. You want me to renounce them.”
WIlford, as he leaves her there for more alone time: “Uptrain, when you’re ready.”
Say what you will about him, WIlford did a good job educating Alex. She has excellent reasoning skills and the ability to grasp complex nuances. All of those mind games forced her to keep up with him, starting when she was 10.
Big Alice is one big oubliette. Melanie used the Drawers as her oubliettes on Snowpiercer.
Back to the voice over: “At first, I thought my mom and her people were stupid and disorganized, but now I think freedom probably has to be messy. Over there, I saw Layton lead by listening to others. I saw women with power. And I saw them keep my mother’s dream alive.”
Another pause in the voice over: Ruth and Layton work cooperatively in the Big Alice Compost. Before the attendant slides in their protein bars, he checks to make sure they aren’t right next to the door, but he’s grown lax and doesn’t make them back up against the wall. As they eat, they consider their options for escaping and pulling off a coup. Ruth acknowledges that things will have to get even messier than they have before if they’re going to beat Wilford, starting with the attendant.
Layton wraps one end of his mirror shard in a scrap of cloth, turning it into a shiv.
Before they start, Layton redefines their terms- The question is not “Are you willing to sink to Wilford’s level?” It’s “Are you willing to risk everything?” Without hesitation, Ruth says that for Snowpiercer, she is. They shake hands on it.
Back to Alex, who exercises in her
cage cell by swinging from the top and sides, leveraging her body weight so the movements become calisthenics. Earlier, she turned a shoelace into the string game cat’s cradle. (Or maybe it was a metaphor for Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle.) She’s spent enough time in solitary confinement of one kind or another to have worked out an entire routine for staying sane and in shape.
Part 3 of Alex’s voice over: “One day, I’ll break the cycle and we’ll walk away from Snowpiercer together, 1,034 cars long. (Alex screams in frustration.)”
The Compost attendant bangs on the door and yells for Ruth and Layton to pass him back the tray their protein bars came on. Ruth shows him the tray in the slot and, in her best Oliver Twist voice, asks for some more. The attendant grabs the tray, she pulls him toward her and slams him against the door, then Layton wraps a wire around him so they can keep reeling him in. They continue to fight through the slot until Layton stabs the attendant multiple times with the mirror shard and Ruth hits him with the shovel handle. He stops fighting and they take his keys so they can go find Javi in the engine. Ruth brings her trusty shovel.
I feel terrible for the attendant, who might have helped them if given the chance. Realistically, they couldn’t take the chance that he’d betray them and this way, he can truthfully tell Wilford that they overpowered him.
Outside Compost they find a VERY narrow, deserted hallway. They’re in the subtrain level of Big Alice. It doesn’t take long for them to reach the engine car, which coincidentally houses the
oubliette brig in its sub level. Alex is shocked to see Ruth, but she’s not surprised that Layton has escaped. They tell her that Melanie is alive and they’re stealing Big Alice so they can go pick her up. She’s overwhelmed to have confirmation that Melanie is alive and confused that they’re taking the train using a shovel as their main weapon.
She’s never seen the Tailie army in action.
Ruth pulls her dignity around her and notes that they will gratefully accept any assistance offered.
Alex: “How about- the Engine has a secret entrance to Wilford’s bedroom?”
I knew there had to be secret entrances to the engine rooms. No way would the engineers leave themselves without an emergency escape hatch. Snowpiercer retains the secret of its exit(s), though.
Also, Wilford’s bedroom will have the trap door to the serious oubliette where the torture happens. Of course only Wilford has access to it. If you’ve seen the film, you can probably recall there’s a small, pivotal oubliette in the engine room.
Layton is ready to help Alex break out of her cell, but she points out that they’ll cross the treacherous Rocky Mountain Test Track today, which requires the two engines to work together to keep the train on the track as they make the turn and cross the dangerous mountain terrain.
Layton assumes she’s reminding him that they need Ben to help them as well. More importantly, if Wilford notices that things are amiss on the train too early, they won’t be able to complete the plan. They can’t let him know that Javi and Ben have another agenda.
Alex can have Kevin get her out of her cell any time she wants. She just has to be ready to apologize to Wilford and go along with anything he says for a while. She’ll go to Wilford and distract him while they help Javi.
Wilford has taken over the 1st class dining room as his office and is living out an episode of the Original Dynasty nighttime soap opera as part of his work day.
Alexis Carrington Hedwig Audrey is still passed out in the lounge, recovering from the previous night’s entertainment. Wilford tries to verbally prod her awake, asking if he’s the only one working today. Audrey just rolls over.
Bess stands next to Wilford’s huge executive desk, in Sykes’ former place of honor. Wilford praises her for being ready to go at any time, day or night, an admirable quality in the King’s head advisor.
Krystle Bess refuses the title of advisor, since Wilford won’t take her advice. Blake Wilford lets her slight pass for the moment and turns to ask Kevin if Zarah plans to pay any attention to him today. Kevin says that Zarah refused dinner and threatened to stab him. Wilford considers offering her Voice of the Train, a job she had, but he took away from her. Bess advises him that Zarah won’t be cooperative as long as her husband is in his gulag. Kevin offers to slap Zarah around some to convince her.
Without warning, Wilford slaps Kevin so hard he flies across the room. Then, as part of Bess’ advisor training, he asks her what his reasoning was for hitting Kevin. She starts with a snarky answer, “Poor impulse control.” But she knows the real reason, “And because pregnancy comes with privilege on Snowpiercer.”
There were no children, and thus no pregnancies carried to term, on Big Alice. Kevin hasn’t had a reason to reread that section of the rule book in a while.
Wilford emphasizes to Kevin that not only is Zarah privileged because of her pregnancy, she also “has that ineffable royal Layton jelly, Kevin. We want some of that.”
Apparently he was serious when he referred to Layton as “King”. Wilford wants to be an emperor with clothes, not just a naked emperor who’s using a lot of Jackboots to hide his nudity. He’s figured out that Layton’s people could lend him some credibility. He doesn’t understand that Layton’s credibility is more than an advertising ploy- it was acquired through actions, which is what gives his reputation its endurance. Melanie’s actions gave Wilford’s mythology its endurance- now the man himself has to decide which road he’ll take on Snowpiercer, without the excuses he used on Big Alice.
The noise wakes Audrey up the rest of the way. “What’s going sideways now, Joe?” Wilford replies, “Hair of the dog, Audrey. It’s time to play doula.”
When Ruth and Layton come out into Wilford’s bedroom, the two Jackboots guarding Javi are saying “I don’t trust them.” “They’re kind of crazy.” and “Stay with the little guys.” Those are some odd and interesting statements. Once again I have to wonder how hard it would be to bring the Jackboots over to Layton’s side. They’ve endured Wilford’s excesses, too. This isn’t the moment, but in the quieter times, they could slowly work on Jackboots the way they worked on 2nd and 3rd class before the last revolution.
Wilford’s bedroom conveniently has several glass cases full of weapons to choose from. Layton and Ruth each pick out a sword. Layton signals that he’ll countdown from 3, but Ruth can’t wait and charges in. The Jackboots are so surprised that they’re easy to kill.
Javi is stunned. So is Ruth. This wasn’t in her job description. Layton tells Javi that they got his note. When Javi realizes he was part of a successful superhero escape plan, he gets excited. Then he needs a moment to breathe again. It’s still 2 hours until they reach the turn onto the test track. They need to let Ben know what’s going on, but they also need to be careful not to tip Wilford off.
This is what Alex was trying to warn Layton and Ruth about. They can’t act too early.
I knew Alex and Javi would be good together.
In another mirror to the end of season 1, Ruth looks around Wilford’s cabin on Big Alice and is disgusted by the decadent set up he’s created for himself. In season 1 episode 9 she looked around Melanie’s cabin, which she assumed was originally meant to be Wilford’s, and had a fit because she assumed Melanie had taken all of Wilford’s engineering and navigational tools for herself (for sure they all belonged to Melanie). Melanie’s cabin had some personal items but was otherwise stuffed full of her work. Wilford’s cabin is a pleasure palace with the train’s helm at one end, almost as an afterthought.
I’ve always doubted that Wilford planned to live in Melanie’s tiny room and I’m even more sure of that now. Melanie’s Snowpiercer cabin, outfitted with bunk beds, was always meant for her and Alex. It appears that the 1st class dining room and lounge were actually meant to be Wilford’s suite and another cabin was probably originally the dining room.
Ruth opens the door to the bathroom and swears at what she sees. Layton comes running- he’s also shocked to see Wilford’s supersized soaker tub. He tells Ruth that she can take the first turn in it.
I bet there’s a faucet for bubble bath and another for Miss Audrey’s favorite body wash.
FINALLY, Josie gets her replacement hand. It’s a cool robot hand with articulated joints and a neural interface that she’s already mastering. Another woman from Big Alice, Hannah (Angel Giuffria), who also has a robot hand, trains her in its use. Her hand was designed to work outside and she can even spin her wrist 360 degrees. Hannah says there are rumors that Josie is the new Icy Bob. Josie says that despite the trauma of her initial injuries, she’s excited to test her new abilities.
Alex presents herself to Wilford in his new office on Snowpiercer and tells him that he was right, she was wrong, her mother was wrong and her mother never should have left. He makes her repeat the whole thing, then asks Bess if she sounded sincere. Bess backs Alex up. Alex apologizes a third time and promises to apologize to Miss Audrey. You get the feeling that she has a lot of experience with insincere apologies to Wilford.
LJ arrives with a basket of baked goods from 3rd class for breakfast. She’s surprised to see Alex. Alex immediately apologizes to her as well, but has a harder time sounding sincere. LJ accepts her apology, but also doesn’t sound sincere. Now that Wilford has 2 rivals to pit against each other, he’s much more interested in the situation. He’s not just going to let Alex off the hook anymore.
And now that LJ has a chance to be a 1st class Daddy’s girl again, she’s going to fight for it instead of melting back into 3rd class obscurity in Janitorial. Oz can be her invisible bodyguard/janitor boyfriend like Erik was or he can get lost. He’s not going to hold her back.
While LJ is busy fussing over Wilford, Alex whispers to Bess, “Layton is coming and we’re seizing the engine.”
Javi explains to Layton and Ruth that Sykes is guarding Ben and never leaves his side. He’ll have to give Ben a coded message and depend on Ben to figure it out, based on how closely they’ve worked together for the last 8 years.
OMG. I need a moment to react here. Wilford put his personal bodyguard on Ben and he has random Jackboots guarding himself?? More evidence that Ben is the ultimate prize- the son he never publicly acknowledged because of fears Ben would be kidnapped?
Javi contacts Ben in Snowpiercer’s engine and says that it’s going to be a busy day, with track obstructions up ahead at North 52 degrees, 58 minutes, 35 seconds, West 119 degrees, 25 minutes, 28 seconds. Ben moves to a different monitor to double check the coordinates, but cleverly doesn’t let the test track show up on the map.
He confirms with Javi that he’s noted the coordinates. Javi let’s him know that they’re in control on Big Alice. Ben says he’ll prepare to brace. Javi repeats the same back, then tells Layton and Ruth that he’s sure Ben understood him. He’s prepared to hold Big Alice’s engine long enough to make the turn. Layton and Ruth hug him goodbye. They have people waiting to get them across the border. Javi closes the barricade to the engine and locks himself in. Before Layton leaves the engine, he takes the axe from one of the dead Jackboots’ belts.
The next border exchange involves supplies for the carnival, including a large metal cabinet, suitable for a magician who’s sawing an assistant in half. Boki, Lights and Z-Wreck are waiting to receive it in the currently empty Willy’s World. Boki cracks the cabinet open like an egg to reveal Layton and Ruth, exclaiming, “Look, a double yolk!” Ruth is glad to be home. Lights tells Layton that the Tail is still holding on to their territory- for now.
Boki: “Do you believe this? Me with Tail because of son of a b–ch Wilford?”
😂 😂 😂 It’s the start of my dream come true. We just need to get them all in their Breachmen’s suits.
Layton is confused when he looks around and realizes he’s in a carnival. He and Ruth explain to the others that they’re going to force the train onto the test track then go back for Melanie. Once they have her they can bring her to the carnival car, where she can use the public address phone to speak to the entire train to prove she’s alive. They need Boki to secure a cold lock midtrain. Boki agrees, “Okey dokey, let’s go make coup.”
Audrey is trying to talk sense into Zarah, who has been allowed to stay in her 1st class cabin. She tells Zarah that Wilford has “taken an interest” in her, which is a good thing. That means he wants the best for the baby, so Zarah is safe for the moment.
Audrey says this in a spiteful tone of voice as she has another drink, so I think we still need to question what’s going on in her head.
Zarah refuses to play along.
Then things get interesting. I’m still certain that although Audrey has feelings for Wilford, she doesn’t have illusions about him or their situation. That makes her the perfect spy, one who has the ability to soften Wilford’s blows toward others at times and won’t slip when she needs to return his affections.
Audrey: “I am trying to help you. You think you have leverage, but you don’t. He doesn’t need you, Zarah, just your womb, and the Headwoods can take you right out of the equation.”
This is the territory covered in Brave New World, with genetically engineered children incubated outside their mothers’ bodies, born ready to join their predetermined economic class. But Zarah hasn’t seen Josie or Icy Bob, so while she does hear the word survive, she doesn’t understand what Audrey is really saying. If Zarah pushes Wilford too far, he’ll order the Headwoods to do a hysterectomy and her child will finish gestating in their lab. It will probably receive augmentations before birth either way. Then someone else will raise the child.
Zarah: “Audrey, you don’t have to be his pawn.”
Audrey: “Oh Christ. We are the same as we always have been. Survive, survive, survive.”
Audrey is still on mission. She just had to go deeper than the others understood in the beginning. Zarah assumes that if Audrey can manage Wilford, she can too.
Till knocks on the door. When Audrey answers, Bess punches her in the nose, knocking her out. She tells Zarah what she knows of the plans, then they hide Audrey in a closet.
As Snowpiercer approaches the turn onto the test track, Ben needs to create a diversion so that Sykes won’t notice when the tracks switch and the engine takes the left track. He goes to the back of the engine, telling the Jackboot guard that he needs to go to another room to get paper maps because the satellite signal is too weak in this section. When Sykes questions him, he steals the Jackboot’s bat while shoving him out the door. It’s very similar to the way he shoved Javi out the door at the end of season 1 when he tried to let the Jackboots into the engine room.
Sykes thinks Ben is nothing but a mild-mannered engineer. She asks if he’s ever used “one of those”, looking a little thrilled that she’s about to fight (now we know why Wilford likes her). Ben scoffs at her, “It’s a bat!” She quickly knocks the bat out of his hand. He’s sadly ineffectual in the ensuing fight. Given the scars on her face that are similar to Josie’s, I wonder if she was an early Headwood test subject and has a bit of augmentation.
They’re still fighting when Ben keys in the codes for the tracks to switch and the train to turn. Sykes doesn’t notice. Once the engine switches tracks, Ben hits Sykes over the head with a device and knocks her out, which leads me to believe he underplayed his fighting abilities earlier in order to extend the distraction.
It also leads me to wonder how often Ben lets people underestimate him.
Ben ties Sykes up, then he and Layton touch base. Snowpiercer will reach the rendezvous point with Melanie in about 10 minutes. Layton and Boki have already secured the cold lock. Sykes taunts Ben that Wilford will surely notice that the train has turned and is now climbing up the rough test track.
Wilford is in the middle of a meal, with LJ and Alex serving him. His tea is vibrating all over the table. Alex offers to check with the engine to find out why the ride is so bumpy. Ben tells her to keep Wilford distracted. They’ll reach the pick up spot soon. Alex hangs up and tells Wilford that they’re traveling through avalanche debris. They should be clear of it before long.
LJ watches Alex closely. This phone call is a mirror to the phone call Melanie made to Ben when Lilah Senior challenged her to prove that Wilford was still alive. When Alex hangs up, she says, “You know, I saw your mother do that. Call ahead to the engine. A ruse.”
Wilford gets up to pull aside the curtain and look out the window. He can see that the train has made the turn onto the test track. He orders the Jackboots to assemble for forced entry into both engines. He’s heading to Big Alice. He tells the guards to bring Alex with them to Alice. On the way out, she picks up a loose razor blade and puts it in her mouth.
Javi and Ben give each other a pep talk as the Jackboots begin working to break into their respective engines. The door to Snowpiercer’s engine is more heavily reinforced, because Snowpiercer just has more and better everything except for spare parts, power mad industrialists and mad scientists. Ben tells Javi he’s one heck of an engineer. Javi ruefully agrees that he’s, “Top 3 in the world, right?”
Once they’re off the phone, Javi can hear Wilford enter the car. He turns up the music and gives into his anxiety for a few minutes. After ordering Alex to come with them, Wilford tells the Jackboots to get her out of his sight. She sits in a corner. Then he calls for a cutter and Jupiter, his dog.
As the front of the train reaches the pick up location, Ben slows down to 25 km/hr, but there’s no sign of Melanie. Layton reminds him that they’re very late. He has faith that she’ll show up. Ben promises to slow down further as the cold lock midtrain gets closer to the pick up spot.
A lot of things happen at once. Layton and Boki spot Melanie. She runs for the train. The Jackboots get through the barricade to Javi, kicking and beating him with their bats. When Wilford tells them to stop, Javi says, “You can’t kill me. You need engineers.” Jupiter, like Wilford, is already excited by the smell of blood. Wilford thinks it over for a minute, because he does need engineers, but he also hates it when other people are right. He decides to punish Javi for his smart mouth and tells Jupiter to attack. Though it feels like much longer, she mauls Javi for less than 10 seconds before Wilford calls her off.
Alex watches the whole thing.
Wilford sits at the helm and puts Big Alice’s engine on full speed to counteract Snowpiercer’s slowdown, so that Melanie can’t get on the train. This explains why the train’s wheels were on fire- the engines and wheels were being given mixed messages from each end of the train.
Melanie yells for the train to slow down, but it doesn’t. She reaches Snowpiercer, but it’s moving too fast for her to jump on.
Ben yells into the radio for Javi to slow down.
Wilford: “No, Bennett, it’s me. [He laughs at Ben while Ben puts the brakes on Snowpiercer as hard as he can.] You can brake all you want, son, but I’ve got more torque and I’ve got momentum. Just push you over that crest and let gravity do the rest.”
They’ve reached the huge canyon that almost swallowed the train the last time they took the test track. Wilford wants to purposefully push the train off. He must think the train would break in half and some cars would stay on the track, rather than the first part dragging the rest of the train over the edge with it.
I think he’s wrong. It seems to take some effort to uncouple those cars and falling happens much faster than you think it will. But who knows, maybe Big Alice started out as a 100 car train and he jettisoned the other 60 over the side of this pass, so he knows what he’s doing. Or maybe he’s psychotic and doesn’t care which way this gamble turns out, as long as his enemies die, too.
Alex screams at them to stop because the brakes are overheating.
The Jackboots drag Javi out. His limbs are all attached, but we don’t see his face and it’s not clear whether he’s alive or dead. It’s not shown, but I imagine Jupiter cleans up the blood.
Wilford drives right on by Melanie. Javi was right- Wilford needs engineers. He knows the limits of the Headwoods capabilities, so it’s doubtful that he allowed Javi to be damaged beyond their ability to repair him. He’ll be functional again. But he might be scarred and have replacement organs and limbs.
As the train leaves Melanie behind, Alex calls to her out the back window. Wilford laughs maniacally at them.
Alex asks Wilford to go back for her mother, since she has the scientific data they need. Wilford scoffs at her for believing the story that the Earth is warming. He says that’s just a made up story so that they don’t have to admit that he saved everyone’s lives.
Wilford: “It breaks my heart to see you fall for her games, but after everything, you’re so much more her than me.”
Alex: “That’s not true. I’m both.”
Wilford: “No, no.You’re just a tool I collected on the way.”
Alex: “Don’t say that.”
Wilford: “A handy little lever to pry your mother out and you did your job. Now you can join her trackside.”
Alex: “You could never be the leader she is!”
He turns and slaps her as hard as he can. She’s smarter than Kevin and has some idea it’s coming, so she’s not thrown across the room, despite the force of the blow. While Wilford is recovering from hitting her, Alex whips the razor blade out of her mouth and slices the side of his neck. Then she runs.
Wilford puts his hand on the side of his neck to stop the blood flow, then his Jackboot bodyguards drag him to the Headwoods as quickly as possible. The Headwoods calmly move into action without asking questions, almost as if this is a regular occurence.
I suspect it is.
I suspect that attempts are made on his life on a regular basis. He basically begs for it.
Alex makes her way through the tunnels, then reconnects with Layton, Boki and Ruth. (We’re going to ignore the fact that she had to cross the border somehow, just as the show did. She probably knows a secret way.) She has a new plan to rescue Melanie. Though they can’t disconnect Big Alice from the rest of the train, they can still disconnect Snowpiercer’s engine.
The aquarium car is designed to be jettisoned, even on lockdown, so it has manual overrides on the J-links at either end, unlike the other cars. They can disconnect at that point, take a zippy 10 car pirate train back to get Melanie, then catch back up to Big Alice and the rest of the train, which will be much slower and clunkier than SnowPirate. AlicePiercer won’t be able to out maneuver them, anymore than Snowpiercer could escape Big Alice at the end of season 1.
What could go wrong?
Once Wilford is stitched up, he yells at the Jackboots to form up at the border so they can search the entire train. Then he looks up at Josie, who watched his procedure from the balcony, and yells at her to prepare to breach Snowpiercer’s engine. The Headwoods try to protest that she’s not ready and she won’t survive the long walk, but Wilford just grows even harsher in response. He screams at them to send her out and then lock the door behind her. The only way she’s getting back inside is by killing Ben in the engine.
He’s so out of control that it doesn’t occur to him that there are innumerable self-contained cars she could breach to save herself in the 10 mile walk between engines, especially if it will kill her to go all the way to Snowpiercer’s engine. For example, the cattle/butcher’s car breached and didn’t take any other cars with it. He can’t actually control what she does on top of the train, unless he has enough Jackboots to stalk her from below as she traverses the roof of the train..
Good job, Alex, for pushing Wilford over the edge, so that he’s making big mistakes. And she did it by using the assassination method he wanted her to use on Layton early in the season. This game is only fun for him if he never loses so much as a turn. Too bad she didn’t kill him.
Layton goes to his cabin to share the plan with Bess and Zarah. And Audrey, who’s still tied up in the closet. Bess reluctantly agrees to join the new plan, but Zarah decides to stay behind, for the sake of the baby. They decide to take Audrey on the new train as their hostage.
I don’t think Audrey will be as upset as they think she’ll be, though she might pretend for a while in front of Sykes. Zarah is the one we should be scared for, but she also knows how to survive, no matter what she has to do.
Zarah: “Wilford wants me on a pedestal. I can survive him. You’re gonna need me here. When you come back.”
Andre: “I’m coming back for you, Zarah.” They hold each other tight.
The Headwoods hustle Josie to the the cold lock while explaining Wilford’s orders to her. She tries to back out, but they won’t let her. They try to be matter of fact about the mission, maybe even a little positive, but fail. Mr Dr Headwood demonstrates how to use a pneumatic breach pike once, then attaches it to her back. As they lock her into the cold chamber, Mrs Dr Headwood says, “I’m sorry. It’s in your hands now, Josie.”
That’s the one clue that they hope she disobeys Wilford’s orders. A reminder that she can think for herself and use her new hands to benefit herself and her people once she’s outside.
Josie at least gets a helmet and gloves, unlike Icy Bob. In Snowpiercer’s engine, an alarm lets Ben know that Big Alice’s cold lock has been breached. Sykes tells him it will be Wilford’s new Tailie Coldwoman. He probably remembers Josie from that time she poisoned Miles so that she could visit with him in Dr Pelton’s office before Ben took Miles to the engine for the first time. Ben played it cool, but I think he knew what was happening the whole time.
Sykes cheerfully tells Ben that Josie is coming to breach the engine and kill them both. Without batting an eye, he says, “She’d never do that,” and calls her up on the radio. He doesn’t give her his name- he just says he’s the engineer on Snowpiercer and he has control of the engine. “We’re gonna need your help.”
Ben was so confident that Josie wouldn’t turn. There may be more to their relationship than we’ve been shown. Or he could just believe all of the stories he’s heard about her.
It takes Josie a minute to get her footing on the roof of the train, but once she knows what she’s doing, she runs the 10 miles.
Wilford is heading back to the Snowpiercer end of the train again- how many times has he gone back and forth today? Layton cuts him and his army of Jackboots off somewhere in a 1st class hallway. Layton’s alone, but he’s brought his “conversation axe”, as Wilford puts it. Wilford is still holding his neck, looking kind of gray and worn out. It’s been a long day of “conversation” for him already and he’s not a young man.
Layton is meant to be a distraction, slowing Wilford’s progress down while Boki and Ben coordinate the decoupling process on the aquarium car. He says that they intend to go back for Melanie and Wilford’s not coming. As they talk, Layton slowly moves to the front end of the aquarium car.
Wilford is twitchy about having a weapon pointed at him- Alex got to him. He knows exactly how well-trained Alex is as a sneaky little assassin. Live by the sword, die by the sword. Come to think of it, Wilford had at least two glass cases full of swords. Alex can probably fence as well.
Ruth and the others rush to the front of the train. Ruth sees her beloved Hospitality uniform hanging in her old office and stops to snag it to take with her. Unfortunately, Kevin was hiding behind the door with a taser wand. He won’t let her out of the office unless she leaves the Teals behind. She knees him in the groin, causing him to hit an impressive high note, then takes the wand and the teals and runs.
Layton stands at one end of the aquarium and forces Wilford to stay at the other. Bess brings Audrey out, who’s gagged. Layton says that Audrey is their guarantee that Zarah and the others stay safe. Wilford tells Bess that she’s “sealed her fate.” She says, “It’s not the first time.”
Layton tells Wilford to step back. As he does, he notices the J-link emblem on the floor and finally figures out what’s going on. He guesses that Boki must be in the subtrain working on decoupling the cars and orders the Jackboots to stop him. Boki puts up a good fight, but Ben loses contact with him before he’s finished with the second link.
When they lose contact with Boki, Layton gets desperate and holds a knife to Audrey’s throat, threatening to kill her if Wilford doesn’t stay on the other side of the aquarium car. Wilford tells him to go ahead and “do it, in front of God and all the fish.” Then he looks at Audrey and assures her that Layton wont kill her, because it’s just “not who he is.” Audrey doesn’t seem happy about testing the consistency of Layton’s morals, since she’s watched him kill many people, including his friends in the POW car. Wilford gets the excited look he has when blood is about to be spilled. He’s hoping Layton hurts Audrey, giving the Jackboots a reason to attack.
The stand off is broken when Josie’s pneumatic breach pike breaks through the glass at the top of the aquarium. The water and fish freeze wherever they’re exposed to the outdoor air. Josie continues to smash open the aquarium, with Ben cheering her on. It only takes a few hits for enough water to freeze to explode the car in half, separating the first ten cars from the rest of the train, as planned. Layton, Audrey and Wilford rush to escape the accident and the cold.
Emergency doors must shut when the cars separate. Wilford and Layton watch the two parts of the train pull away from each other, just as Layton and Melanie watched each other from the decoupled ends when they left behind the mid section to get rid of the Folgers, Nolan Grey and the Jackboots in season 1 episode 9.
This is where episode 9 ended in season 1, and where the season’s main storyline about the war for the train ended. Episode 10 was an epilogue that set up season 2- Layton attempted to set up his new government while Big Alice chased Snowpiercer and eventually caught her. At the end of episode 10, Melanie got off the train to make one last attempt to stop Wilford, while Alex revealed herself to the Tail.
When Snowpiercer’s engine and first ten cars break free, many of the season 2 plot threads end (for now). The last few minutes are an epilogue, focusing on finding Melanie and setting up the future of Snowpiercer.
After a brief time jump of somewhere between a day and a week (they had to circle around the long way to get back to the station, but we don’t know where there might be more shortcuts), SnowPirate has reached Melanie’s pick up point. Layton and Alex head out into the snow to look for her at the research station, dragging a sled behind them. While they struggle in the freezing temperatures and deep snow, Ben and Bess monitor them from the overheated engine room. Ben explains that Snowpiercer’s engine runs like a race car with only 10 cars attached. It’s going to get a little hot.
The research station is empty, cold and unlocked. They follow an electrical cable to Melanie’s tent in the room with the geothermal vent. The hard drives with her data and her personal log are safely stored inside, but Melanie is gone. Alex is devastated. Layton urges Alex to pack the hard drives on the sled so they can get back to SnowPirate. It’s what Melanie would have wanted.
We hear Melanie read her final journal entry as voice over: “I had nothing here to return to. I’m only human, so of course I used up my resources. Ate my rats to extinction, and the cold crept in. There isn’t enough power to keep me alive more than a few hours, but on a trickle charge, the drives could last months for you. I knew when the train blew past in sparks and flame, Snowpiercer braking and Big Alice pushing, that Wilford was sabotaging it all somehow. But you were there in the window, Alex. I knew you’d come back. I can feel you reading this as I write, so now I can put on my helmet and walk into the white at peace. You are my hope, Alex. Learn to love the people that got us this far, and together, one day, you will build a better world.”
As Melanie reads, Layton and Alex bring the data back to the train. Alex reads her mother’s journal in the top bunk of their cabin, the bed that was always meant to be hers. She cries as she finishes.
Ben uploads Melanie’s data and climate model into Snowpiercer’s computer while Bess and Layton watch. The monitors in the engine room show maps on the screens. First the locations of the 12 probes appear. Layton is confused when all 12 probes appear in Melanie’s data, since he was told she didn’t connect to the 11th and 12th probes. He glances at Bess and Ben, but neither reacts to the change. Before he can say anything, the climate models appear, showing the warm spots on the globe, and Josie walks into the engine.
There are warm spots on every continent that’s visible- not sure about North America and Antarctica. Everyone is happy and laughing. One monitor sounds an alert- for the first time in 7 years, a storm is approaching.
Josie, Bess and Ben look to Layton for a decision. One by one, he looks at the three of them, and then at the monitors. After seeing the missing probes, I have a feeling he’s wondering who he can trust. Josie and Bess have just returned from spending time with Wilford. Ben is one of Wilford’s proteges.
Layton says, ” Let’s go get our train back.”
But he probably thinks, “Games upon games.”
Episodes 1-8 of season 2 were filmed before the COVID pandemic. Then production shut down in March 2020, as it did for all productions. Months later, the final two episodes were rewritten based on which cast members were available according to pandemic travel and health restrictions. Those two episodes were shot under the new COVID restrictions.
So, because of the pandemic, the ending of this season isn’t quite what it was meant to be- the carnival, for example, was supposed to have some crowd scenes, as you’d expect. Jennifer Connelly wasn’t available to film, so they worked around her absence the best they could. That’s probably why they reused footage of Melanie running for the train and her journal entry was done in voice over.
They are already filming season 3, also under COVID restrictions, and have announced that Jennifer Connelly will be part of the season. That doesn’t mean Melanie is alive. It could mean she’ll just do more voice work; or we’ll see more flashbacks, as we saw with Nolan Grey this season; that she’ll be alive but in a separate place from the rest of the returning cast so she doesn’t have to travel in order to film, such as on a new train; or that she’ll be on Big Alice or Snowpiercer and fully integrated back into the show.
Wilford might have doubled back for Melanie and beat Layton there, sending someone out in a volt sled to stage the scene and coerce her into writing her journal entry. Or Melanie’s radio signals might have drawn the attention of other survivors, either in another train (in the books there are several) or in a colony using the warmth of a larger geothermal fissure. She could have gone with another group willingly, hoping that she could turn them into allies who would eventually help her overthrow Wilford.
So either Melanie walked off, “into the white”, having purposely set the scene so that no one would come looking for her or she’s being held against her will. If she wasn’t kidnapped, I can only think of one reason why Melanie wouldn’t want Alex to find her right away- she’s pregnant and she wants to keep her pregnancy a secret for now.
She and Ben were sleeping together, so it’s possible. We were shown multiple times that the Xs on the whiteboard counted the days well past 30. They drew attention to the board from the start with the drawing of the face on it, using Xs for eyes, and then showed it again at the end. She may have been counting the days of her own cycle in addition to the days since she left Snowpiercer.
Snowpiercer, Hope and the Antichrist- Let’s Get Thematic
When season 3 begins, we won’t be sure if Melanie and Javi are alive or dead. Javi is on Big Alice, so Wilford and the Headwoods have the power to save him, either through traditional medicine or their various augmentations. The overall theme of Snowpiercer, whether it’s the book series, film or TV show, is that against all odds, there is hope for rebirth and renewal, though the cost of getting there might be high. The S2 finale was shown for the first time during Easter week and shown again on Easter Sunday, which emphasizes this message.
The series began with the myths that the Earth, Wilford and Alex were dead and Snowpiercer was dying. There was little hope for long-term survival, but Melanie was desperately attempting to find a way, through her experiments with the Drawers and the suspension drug. Her experiments tried to save people by entombing them alive, giving them shared nightmares and turning them black inside. Not surprisingly, this method wasn’t working out well.
At the end of season 1, we learned that Alex and Wilford are alive, but psychotic, in Wilford’s case, and emotionally damaged, in Alex’s. Also at the end of S1 and the beginning of this season, we had the fake out that Josie was dead. Then we learned that she was alive, but critically injured and in a coma. Josie woke up when Zarah, a pregnant woman/symbol of life, whispered in her ear, but she still needed extensive healing. Wilford’s minions helped Josie heal through artificial means. Over the course of season 2 we also learned that the Earth is warming after it was frozen through artificial means, but it still needs time to heal.
Though Melanie was associated most closely with Death in S1, that was partially a choice that she made for herself out of guilt. By the end of S1, she’d backed away from that role by turning the train over to Layton in the hope that he could move Snowpiercer further away from Wilford’s destructive “order”. When she discovered that Alex is still alive, she moved fully away from the role of Lady Death, but this season she became a virtual ghost when she went on a quest to atone for her previous acts.
By discovering that the Earth is warming more quickly than expected, she put herself on the side of Life, but she needed to feel like she deserved to reach the promised land with the rest of Snowpiercer. And by the end of her trip to the research station, she had decided to live- she ran as fast as she could for Snowpiercer when she saw it on its return trip. She didn’t give up. She reinvented herself and earned her place in the new world. She wasn’t suicidal.
Season 1 explored death, perseverance, necessary sacrifices and the end of the world, with Melanie and Layton as the Dark Mother and Father who were forced into terrible decisions, but who always searched for ways to survive and keep Hope alive. Though they presided over bleak circumstances, Melanie and Layton still represented Hope, even in season 1. The proof of that for Melanie begins with the theft of the train from Wilford. If she didn’t believe there was a chance for Snowpiercer to keep them alive until the Earth thawed, she wouldn’t have left Wilford and Alex behind in Chicago. Melanie’s role as Dark Mother is to represent the cycle of life, death and rebirth- creation and destruction. Layton adds in loftier concepts such as justice, equality, reason, loyalty and family- the pillars of civilization that are often left behind when life becomes difficult, either on an individual or a societal scale.
Season 2 has had an additional emphasis on hope, children, healing, rebirth, science, religion and the artificial vs the natural. Other than in episode 6, Melanie’s episode, the season 2 dichotomies have generally been represented by Layton and Wilford- Layton encourages loyalty, observes reasonable limits and seeks justice and equality for all. Wilford coerces obedience, puts no limits on his own desires or on how far his scientists will go and doesn’t believe in justice or equality. He believes he is the god-like creator of the Snowpiercer ecosystem, therefore his Will is God’s Will.
Wilford believes that he has no obligation to be fair or just and he doesn’t value morality, other than obedience, in his people. While Melanie and Layton are complicated symbols of Hope and Rebirth, Wilford is symbolic of the Antichrist– an opposing force who tries to twist or crush the forces of hope, goodness and innocence at every opportunity. Wilford, the True Evil God of Death and the Apocalypse returned to remake Snowpiercer in his image.
Melanie and Layton were each given their children as symbols of the return of Hope. Unfortunately, this time hope came along with everything else that was in Pandora’s Box.
There have been many smaller rebirths during the first two seasons- various people returned from the uncertainty of the Drawers in season 1; the Tailies emerged from the windowless tomb of the Tail cars; Kevin appeared to die in Wilford’s tub (possibly the worst form of baptism one can imagine), only to return as one of Wilford’s most devoted disciples; various characters have reinvented themselves (Layton, Zarah, Melanie, Oz) or had epiphanies that changed their outlook on life (Ruth, Bess, Sam). And some have had fake rebirths, while instead just flip-flopping in their allegiances according to which side they thought would benefit them the most at the time, like LJ, Jake and Pike.
It’s not a coincidence that when Zarah found Josie in the infirmary early in the season, she was wrapped in bandages like the biblical Lazarus. Jesus raised raised Lazarus from the dead, but that miracle brought Jesus the fame that led the priests to betray him, which ultimately led to his arrest and crucifixion. Raising Josie from the dead may ultimately lead to her wanna-be saviour Wilford’s downfall, as well. In his haste to create killers, this Antichrist made Josie into a powerful tool for his enemies.
Wilford uses scars as his “mark of the beast” to designate who belongs to him. Though the Headwoods could heal his followers completely, they are all left with a scar to remind them of their debt to Wilford. The Wilford “W” logo serves the same purpose. The Breachmen and other workers are given Wilford coins with his “W” as their numbers/marks.
The Antichrist is believed to arrive on Earth before the second coming of Jesus and Judgement Day, another, darker form of rebirth. Is Snowpiercer heading toward a Judgement Day of some sort? That’s what Wilford planned for with his 2nd Culling. In S3, he may attempt to put his plan in motion as quickly as possible out of spite toward Layton.
Snowpiercer is also heading toward its New Eden, once they decide which warm spot to recolonize. Expect Wilford to create a culture war, and then and an actual war, between his Believers, who refuse to believe that the climate is warming and cling to their belief in him as their God and Saviour, no matter what he does (he’ll claim every terrible action is necessary because others forced his hand), and Melanie/Layton’s science believers, who are waiting for them to return with the proof that the Earth is warming and they can leave the train before long. While they wait. the Tailies, Ruth, Zarah, Pelton, Oz, Pike, Emilia, and Boki and Javi (if they survive) can strengthen their underground network, becoming a terrorist organization with cells that are in hiding and cells that are embedded in Wilford’s inner circles.
But what about the children, symbols of Hope? If Audrey told the truth about the Headwoods’ artificial wombs, Zarah and Layton’s child is in grave danger.
Melanie knew the Headwoods before the Freeze and spent time alone with them early in the season. She and Ben had already slept together at that point, so she may have even suspected she was pregnant and have spoken to them about the medical facilities on Big Alice (in a general way- she could have said her interest was for Zarah). The Headwoods would see their innovations as life saving for pregnancies in which the life of the mother is endangered, so they’d share their knowledge. But Melanie would understand the larger implications.
As Alex said in this episode, Wilford has also made her his child as well. But she’s an adult now, no longer an innocent. She’s ready to fight for herself and everyone else, as she proved in this episode and as Melanie notes in her journal entry. Mother and daughter love each other and want to be together, but they no longer need each other as parent and child.
So, just as I said at the end of last season, the show has several choices for Melanie’s character, since her original story arc is over. The most obvious and the road most taken for middle aged female characters is to write her off the show. She was in less than half of this season and has declared herself dead, so the odds seem to favor that option.
The show could replace her with her teenage daughter’s coming of age arc, the most cliche move possible. The Killing of the Karen in Favor of the Kate is the story arc network executives want to see. I had to stop watching the Charmed reboot because during the first 2+ seasons literally every woman over the age of 40 was deemed evil and killed by the hot, young Charmed Ones (in the case of a couple of Charmed Ones and their handler, not actually so young anymore, but through the miracle of plastic surgery and Botox…).
Let’s hope that Snowpiercer does better by it’s female lead in the future than some other shows. Sean Bean took over the show this season as a psychopath and sadist, sending Jennifer Connelly’s strong, complicated leader into the white long before the pandemic hit. Not a good look for the producers. Not the way to keep this viewer watching in the long run. I won’t watch or write about continued gratuitous coerced suicides and dog attacks, especially when the character is showcased as a “fun” sadist.
I left The Walking Dead when Negan showed up- I’m not going to watch Negan 2 be lionized much longer, especially if the female lead is written off to do it. And I don’t really care what the sad, sadistic old serial killer’s backstory is- I’m not interesting in watching another psychopathic mass murderer be turned into a Teddy Bear. We need to stop normalizing this sh-t. Whether it’s in real life or fiction, it’s really not okay to give mass murderers, torturers and psychopaths their “happily ever afters” just because they can also be charming.
Melanie’s Last Journal Entry
I’ve noted several times that this episode has calbacks to to other episodes. One of the callbacks is to the ending of season 1. Once again, Alex is on Snowpiercer, Layton has control of the train, Wilford is on Big Alice, and Melanie is alone, out in the cold. As with the end of season 1, it’s starting to snow.
Melanie could be dead or she could be pregnant and in an undetermined location, with the baby as her new reason to live and fight for a better world. Or she could be in some situation in between those two extremes.
In both season finales, someone was sending unusual radio signals out. At the end of S1, Snowpiercer picked up Big Alice’s signals. Is anyone else out there listening to Melanie’s signals?
Melanie’s last journal entry was a coded message for Alex and Layton, similar to the coded message Javi radioed to Ben:
“I had nothing here to return to. I’m only human, so of course I used up my resources. Ate my rats to extinction, and the cold crept in.”
None of this is true. She had everything to return to on Snowpiercer, she just had to live long enough to get back on the train. Melanie has many years of experience with managing resources and she was ruthless with herself during the month that we watched her. She had her journal, she could continue to collect and collate research data, and there was an entire bookcase of books plus an exercise machine to keep her occupied while she waited. Or she could tinker with the station’s systems and invent something. The Tailies managed to breed rats to supplement their diet. Melanie would be smart enough to keep her rats and the lichen alive and breeding. She’s at least as smart as Matt Damon in The Martian. And she had the vent to help keep her warm- Alex told us the room the tent was in was still warm.
“There isn’t enough power to keep me alive more than a few hours, but on a trickle charge, the drives could last months for you.”
We saw in the beginning of the episode that the solar panels were reflecting sunlight, which means they were still generating power. And, again, she didn’t need to generate much power, since she’d already done her computer work. She just needed to stay alive for a while. She could have sat next to the vent, reading books and snacking on an occasional rat, for weeks. It had only been days when Layton and Alex came back for her, not anywhere near long enough for her to starve to death.
“I knew when the train blew past in sparks and flame, Snowpiercer braking and Big Alice pushing, that Wilford was sabotaging it all somehow.”
Of course Melanie recognized exactly what the state of the train was. She reminds Alex that she has this talent. And she name drops Wilford. Was she in communication with him at some point?
“But you were there in the window, Alex. I knew you’d come back. I can feel you reading this as I write, so now I can put on my helmet and walk into the white at peace.”
She tells Alex that she knew they didn’t abandon her- so why would she give up? Then she says she can feel Alex as she writes- just like she can feel the train. She refers to the last time she saw Alex, in the window of Big Alice’s engine. But then she says she’s going to put on her helmet and walk into the white- why would she put on her helmet when she goes outside if she’s ready to die? She could be saying Wilford wants to put her in Alice’s engine to be his second engineer. Maybe she’s telling Alex she went with the Jackboots rather than fighting because she trusts Alex to come save her this time. She left, but she kept herself alive.
Or maybe she’s saying she walked somewhere, but she’s alive and safe, since she wore her helmet and she’s at peace. She’s also telling Alex it may be possible to contact her through her helmet, since the helmets have radios. But the helmet needs to have power to work, so if Melanie can’t keep it charged she can’t use it.
“You are my hope, Alex. Learn to love the people that got us this far, and together, one day, you will build a better world.”
Melanie is saying that she’s depending on Alex to work with Layton and his people to find her, whether she’s with Wilford or someone else. Then they can get rid of Wilford and recolonize the outdoors.
The Wilford Family
Wilford: “No, Bennett, it’s me. You can brake all you want, son, but I’ve got more torque…”
Wilford (to Alex): “It breaks my heart to see you fall for her games, but after everything, you’re so much more her than me.”
During the struggle for control of Snowpiercer, Wilford calls Ben “son” and by his full name, Bennett, the way a parent would during a scolding. Moments later, Wilford tells Alex that she’s a disappointment because she takes after Melanie instead of him, also something a (bad) parent would say.
He doesn’t speak to Melanie like she’s his child or his lover. They are professionals and frenemies. But Melanie and Audrey have been allies since before the Freeze. And Ben and Melanie have been lovers since before the Freeze. As have Audrey and Wilford (or whatever it is they are).
My point is, though Alex’s paternity is never discussed, what makes the most sense, given Wilford’s possessive and protective actions, is that Ben is his son, Alex is Ben’s daughter and she’s Wilford’s granddaughter. Ben uses his mother’s name (or a fake name) and Melanie continued that tradition with her daughter. Wilford won’t actually let Melanie die both because he needs her skills and because that’s a line he won’t cross with his son, Ben.
It’s actually Ben’s choice that he and Wilford keep their distance, just as it was Ben’s choice, in reality, to leave Wilford behind and it was Ben’s choice to let Wilford/Big Alice catch up to Snowpiercer, probably after some negotiations which Wilford has already violated. Melanie has had day to day control of the train all along, but I think Ben has actually manipulated the situation so that he made many of the larger decisions on Snowpiercer. The mysterious Katya of the red lamps may also have some connection to Ben or his mother’s side of the family.
If my theory that Melanie is pregnant is true, she may have convinced Wilford to come back for her by revealing that he’s going to be a grandfather again. The opportunity to outdo Layton’s special baby jelly with his own descendant would be too tempting for Wilford to resist. Maybe if the two babies are a boy and a girl, Wilford could even be convinced to keep them both alive, as the Snowpiercer Colony’s Adam and Eve.
I have a feeling that Wilford’s visit to Josie in episode 8, when he taught her to pretend her hand was still there by focusing on the fake hand, was supposed to be the beginning of a short robot hand arc, but it had to be rewritten when production shut down for the pandemic. Episodes 9 and 10 were shot months after the first 8 episodes of the season, under COVID restrictions, with some cast members unable to travel. Because everything had to be finished at home, it made sense to include fewer special effects laden scenes, such as those with the robot hand, and to instead put more emphasis on Wilford’s persecution of Melanie and Layton’s friends.
Audrey to Josie when she sits down with her in the mess hall: “The future is yours, if you want it. Just look in the mirror.”
Mrs Dr Headwood to Josie as they’re sending her out to breach Snowpiercer’s engine: “It’s in your hands now.”
What they told her wasn’t that different- both were telling her to think for herself and look for an opportunity.
Ben helped her find it when he trusted that she wouldn’t have bowed to Wilford’s coercion: “She’d never do that… We’re gonna need your help.”
Opportunity was literally in her hands, in the form of the breach tool. Snowpiercer’s future was also in the mirror, as Audrey said- Wilford had just shown Josie her new skin.
Like everyone else who survived on Big Alice, Icy Bob had nowhere to go and no reason to risk Wilford’s punishments by disobeying him. It never occured to Wilford that a Tailie could be anything more than an isolated, ignorant bum who would be grateful to him for saving them.
Wilford doesn’t have the extensive files on Tailies that he does on the rest of the passengers, so he doesn’t have the same leverage or sense of who they are. His classism is his downfall. They don’t owe him any loyalty and they come from all walks of life. Their loyalty to each other, combined with their diversity, hardened through 7 years of adversity which left them with nothing to lose, is what makes them so formidable as an enemy. The Jackboots have order, training and aggression, but they lack the extra motivation and imagination that being hungry for so long gives the Tailies and the loyalty based on a sense of family that Layton instilled in them.
Josie was a veterinarian before the Freeze- a scientist. She became a survivor, a warrior, a leader, a revolutionary and a mom on Snowpiercer. Wilford and the Headwoods turned her into a superhuman cyborg on Big Alice. Layton and Icy Bob turned her into a superhero spy.
Ben helped her become a pirate. Who will she evolve into next?
The Loss of the Aquarium
Personally, I’m rooting for the plague storyline from the books for Alicepiercer next season. It can strike before Wilford regroups and does his culling. His lack of attention to biosecurity, which was mentioned as an issue by Melanie before Big Alice docked in S1 and by Roche in his S2Ep8 voice over, should come back to bite him, now that all of the grown ups have left the building. Who knows what kinds of bacteria were lurking in the aquarium and were just set loose in the Jackboot population? On the other hand, Snowpirate happens to have Josie, a veterinarian, on board, who will be aware that they were potentially exposed to water borne illnesses when the aquarium exploded and make sure everybody who was exposed cleans up immediately.
Safety first, kids!
You just know Melanie designed the aquarium as an escape hatch that could turn Snowpiercer’s first 10 cars into a getaway car on purpose. She and Ben probably used to go over the emergency plan in whispers in the dark, under the covers, in the middle of the night to make sure Wilford never knew about it.
With the aquarium gone, we have many new species extinctions and potential food shortages coming up. Please give me back Jinju in S3 to keep everyone properly fed. Her ex is on another train, so it’s time she came out of hiding. She has Zarah’s nutrition to see to. Plus, now there will be no more caviar for Wilford. The passengers will be vegetarians before we know it- or eating Jupiter’s puppies along with Big Alice’s residents.
More importantly, the people of Snowpiercer really don’t think like people who have been through the extinction of all life on Earth and who now live on an ark. They think like 20th and 21st century Americans who live in a disposable society, tossing aside resources as if they can replace them at will, including entire ecosystems.
Melanie and Ben, two of the relatively neutral gods of this universe, each destroyed ecosystems in this episode that can never be replaced (the rats were eating and fertilizing lichen and fungus) and neither even acknowledged what they were sacrificing. No one on the entire show acknowledged that to save Melanie, they had to sacrifice tropical sea life, not just their ability to eat fish and seaweed. Not only is that reprehensible, it’s unrealistic for the people who designed and built the ark, then spent years struggling to keep those species alive. I hope in S3 we see people mourning the loss of the aquarium car for the loss of diverse life it involved, creatures who had the right to live on as species for their own sakes, rather than passengers mourning only the loss of seafood for themselves.
Are We Falling or Flying?
Look at the hardness in Audrey’s eyes in the top screen cap. She knows what Wilford’s response will be to Layton’s threat. She’s always known that what Wilford values most is the chaotic, violent sacrifice of others- always the sacrifice of others, not himself. But the right person might be able to coerce him into becoming the sacrifice. Isn’t that what she does with him in private? Lets him give in and be the one to metaphorically bleed for a brief moment? In addition to the temper that leads him to make mistakes, Wilford has a weakness there, too, that only Miss Audrey can access. That’s why she needs to stay so deeply undercover.
The second image is the painting that Wilford told Bess is one of his favorites, because you can’t distinguish the subjects’ pain from pleasure. In the screen cap above, Audrey and Layton are in almost the same pose as the painting. It’s difficult to tease out their emotions, too, but Wilford won’t understand why.
Layton won’t kill Miss Audrey for a number of reasons, one of which is that they’re friends and he’s still not sure what’s been going on with her- did she really defect or not? But even if she did defect, he still owes her for all of her help during the last war. He may not trust her anymore, but he’ll spare her life because of loyalty to that relationship. Wilford isn’t capable of understanding a bond like that, which is the kind that creates the ineffable royal Layton jelly Wilford envies so much. He only understands acts and relationships motivated by selfishness and cold strategy.
But consider the photo again- Is Layton threatening Audrey or saving her from Wilford’s influence by reminding her of who they each really are or both? He has a knife and he’s holding Audrey tight. In the end, we all know he’d protect Audrey and stab Wilford, even though it appears that he ‘s threatening Audrey.
Both Wilford and Layton have gone to greater and greater extremes all season in the pursuit of their goals. By the end of this episode, both risk everything that’s important to them- Layton leaves Zarah and the baby behind with Wilford, along with most of the people he cares about, in order to save the climate data and Melanie. Wilford nearly pushes the entire train off the tracks, into a canyon, to stop them from retrieving Melanie and the climate data. Who knows what he would have done to Layton, Bess and SnowPirate if they didn’t have Audrey.
It’s Audrey who has to remind both camps that the ultimate goal is still survival. She is Melanie’s heir in that sense- It was Melanie who programmed Wilford’s voice to chant “Survive, survive, survive,” and Miss Audrey who led the passengers to chant along with him before the prize fight in S1.
Yet in the end, it all feels like a distraction, just like the prize fight. The question is, whose distraction? Melanie, Ben and the rebel leaders are now all off of the big train or subdued in some way. But there are still plenty of rebels and Tailies on the train to keep the Jackboots busy, including plenty with leadership skills. Wilford has complete control of the big train, but he doesn’t have any of his cronies either, except the Headwoods and Kevin. The Headwoods’ loyalty is dubious and Kevin is unstable. LJ is Wilford’s mind twin, so she’ll step up to further support him, but she is also chaotic. Maybe “how to be a dictator” is something she can learn the way she learned her janitorial skills.
The reality underlying the entire season is that before long, they’ll be able to look out the windows, as they did in the film, and see for themselves that the Earth is warming, it’s snowing outside, and the snow is melting. The train’s route takes it all over the world multiple times a year. Soon, they’ll travel through the warm areas and be able to spot them for themselves. There wasn’t actually any rush to perform the weather balloon experiments. It’s nice to have scientific data to back up their observations, but was it really worth risking lives for?
When you combine this truth with the ruse about the 11th and 12th balloons and losing contact with Melanie, you have to wonder once again what’s really going on. Was this just a badly written set up to write Jennifer Connelly off the show? Was this a set up by Melanie and Ben to get her off the train before anyone realized she was pregnant? Or so that she could make contact with another train or colony? Was Ben trying to get rid of Melanie so that he could put Wilford in charge or does he have a secret lover/co-conspirator? There are too many possibilities to list.
That’s the real meaning of the painting- that we don’t even understand what kind of reality we’re looking at. The entire season has been a distorted carnival sideshow that we only think we understand.
And consider again that the people look like the art- this isn’t first time that the lines between fantasy and reality have blurred on Wilford’s train. Remember the puppet show, when Wilford prematurely declared Melanie dead to her nearest and dearest? Wilford requires more chaos and violence as he increasingly detaches from reality. He needs more and more devotion from others in his attempts to replace the emotions he doesn’t feel. He plays more games in the form of twisted moral dilemmas to replace the morality he doesn’t grasp. In the end, he knows that connections, hopes and dreams are the real currency that matters, but he’s dead inside. He has no passion beyond competitive greed and he uses it to kill everything.
But in these last two episodes, he made mistake after mistake, became more and more frustrated and angry, then lost control of the trains and the passengers that he thought he’d subdued. He was in a murderous mood by the time the trains separated. Something is coming- will Wilford punish the entire train and force them into even worse conditions than Big Alice lived under, as everyone expects, or will he try a different approach and become a seemingly benign King who takes good care of the people, convincing Alicepiercer that Layton and Melanie were the evil dictators who mismanaged resources all along (while continuing his nefarious experiments and police crackdowns in secret, obviously)?
Deadline: Season Finale Interview with EP Becky Clements
Images courtesy of TNT.
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