Episode 6 begins with an epic train battle as the two engines vie to outmaneuver each other in a rail yard that gives them dozens of parallel and crisscrossing tracks to work with. While the engineers and their commanders battle it out, the resistance and loyalists down the line on each train also join the fight.
Wilford (Sean Bean) has the voice over:
“I was born for battle, built for it. Sometimes in battle a perfectly crafted plan gets compromised. A true general comes up with a better one right there on the spot; working without a net and sticking the landing to thunderous applause… There’s a moment in a fight when that first blow lands and everything stops. And in that flash of clarity, you know who you are. I’ll push as hard as it takes to get my engine back. Snowpiercer, 1,023 cars long.”
The action begins where episode 5 left off, with the two trains side by side and Wilford calling for his crew to man their battle stations, giving Ruth (Alison Wright) a reprieve from the frozen punishment he was about to exact on her. She’s thrown into the brig while Wilford and Kevin (Tom Lipinski) head for Big Alice. Tunnelmen and jackboots fill the corridors.
It seems like the supply of jackboots increases with every episode. Wilford must have instituted a draft.
Javi (Roberto Urbina) reports that Snowpiercer was aimed straight at Big Alice, but then it turned onto a side track that veers to the southwest. They could be as much as 20 kilometers away by now. Wilford suggests they could be turning around to come at Big Alice from the other side. Javi apologizes for not seeing Snowpiercer coming. Wilford tells him the cowards on Snowpiercer made sure conditions were favorable for an ambush. He knows they were up to something with their drive by, so he tells Javi to turn on the headlights. Javi flips the switch just in time to light up a pile of debris on the tracks that’s meant as a trap. Wilford yells for Javi to brake. Between the sudden braking and the debris, Big Alice is badly shaken. Wilford changes his mind and tells Javi to go full throttle to help push through the debris. Javi starts to say that he’s worried about an axel, but Wilford cuts him off, insisting on full power.
Wilford orders Kevin to send Zarah (Sheila Vand) to the engine. Then he wants his Head of Hospitality to question known members of the resistance to see if he can root out their plan for disrupting the battle. And now that Layton’s (Daveed Diggs) back, there’s no need to be careful with them.
Wilford: “Take the gloves off. Make an example.”
Kevin: “I thought you’d never ask.”
Wilford asks Javi about their speed and is told it’s 14 kilometers, practically a crawl. He begins to think out loud, trying to figure out Layton’s plan. He’s certain that Layton is too smart to simply reconnect the trains, because the jackboots would crush the pirates in hand to hand combat in tight quarters. The next best choice is to “peck” at Alice-piercer from the side, which would require parallel track, something the rail yard is full of.
Till (Mickey Sumner) acts as a lookout from the library on the pirate train, letting the engine know that Wilford was slowed down but not stopped by the debris trap. Alex (Rowan Blanchard) points out the next opportunity to pull up alongside the other train, coming up in a few minutes. Layton leaves to tell Josie (Katie McGuiness) to prepare.
Audrey (Lena Hall) gets curious about what’s going on and asks Bess if they’ve found Wilford. Bess says, “You’ll know it’s him when his head is on a pike.”
As Josie finishes putting on her cold suit, Layton asks if she’s ready for the mission. She replies, “Ben (Iddo Goldberg) takes us close, I jump over, breach the Big Alice engine, and you reconnect.” She’ll only get one chance, so she tells herself that she’d better not miss it. Layton walks away, without kissing her this time. 👍🏼
The jackboots drop Zarah off in Big Alice’s engine room. Wilford tells her she’s not there as a hostage, but rather as his confidante. He lets her look at Snowpiercer through binoculars, suggesting their method of attack will be to cut the head off the snake. “But I have a surprise for them.”
There have been two main methods of attack used on Snowpiercer across the seasons, whatever the type of battle, whoever the combatants were- full frontal assault with a twist and sneak attack with a twist. What would make Wilford’s attack surprising is if there was no surprise twist involved. Wilford’s surprises usually involve torture and humiliation, so I could live without them. Also, every move he predicts Layton will make is actually what he has has planned. He’s very predictable for someone who appears to be so chaotic.
The Tailie tunnelmen, Pike (Steven Ogg), Z-Wreck (Kwasi Thomas) and Strong Boy (Kurt Ostlund), are in the sub train being forced to move heavy canisters of compressed oxygen as part of Wilford’s surprise. They decide the time has come to get Ruth out and take action, since whatever Wilford has planned for the frozen air, it can’t be good. Pike says he’ll distract the guards while they get Ruth. Z-Wreck stops him, pointing out that he’s in charge of the resistance now, so he has to take care not to get caught. Pike will get Ruth while Strong Boy starts a fight with the guards as a distraction.
As Snowpiercer pulls up alongside Alice-piercer for the second time, Ben opens the cold lock so Josie can climb onto the other train and breach the engine. When Wilford realizes they’re side by side again, he calls for the harpoon. A hatch in the side of the train opens, with someone manually controlling the harpoon. Josie sees the weapon and tells the engine to pull back. Layton orders Ben to switch tracks. They react quickly so that the harpoon/small missile hits the back end of the pirate train. Those cars are destabilized and begin to derail. Sykes (Chelsea Harris) helps evacuate Asha (Archie Punjabi), then Alex jettisons the last four cars, the closest point where there was a J-link they could use to decouple the cars.
How many cars was Wilford willing to take out with the harpoon? Were they aiming for the engine? Does he want to kill Layton so badly that’ll he’ll destroy Snowpiercer to do it?
Zarah stays calm, watching the scene from Big Alice without reacting outwardly. Wilford yells at her for not giving him the reactions he wants. She continues to stare at him, stonefaced. He gloats that the war will be over by morning if things continue as they are.
Layton takes Asha to his cabin, formerly Melanie’s cabin. She asks him to turn out the lights before he leaves, then sits down on the floor and puts her metal helmet on, breathing heavily. She looks like the Black Knight and sounds like Darth Vader. Nothing ominous about that.
By the time Layton gets to the engine, Wilford has put his entire train into blackout and is hiding in plain sight. Zarah asks what Wilford is up to. He tells her they’re in a lull in the action, but he wants her to stay with him. She figures out that Snowpiercer won’t attack the engine if she and the baby are there. Wilford is using her as a human shield.
Layton wants to know how they could lose a 10 mile train. They have a few different ideas about what Wilford could be up to- trying to make a run for it out of the valley to a spot where he’d be on more equal footing with the pirate train; preparing to sneak up and use his harpoon to destroy the rest of the cars; or maybe hiding around a corner, lying in wait to attack them. Layton decides they should go dark, too, then follow the track that takes them to the top of a ridge where the higher ground will allow them to see the entire valley. Once they have eyes on Alice-piercer, they’ll be able to guess what Wilford’s strategy is.
Kevin rousts LJ (Annalise Basso) and Oz (Sam Otto) out of their honeymoon nest. He’s commandeering the Night Car to use as his torture chamber. He has a line up of kneeling resistance members, including Strong Boy and Z-Wreck, waiting to be questioned. LJ sends Oz to start some coffee.
Pike uses the black out as his chance to visit Ruth. Jackboot Stu Whiggins (Kristian Bruun) is guarding the door and recognizes Pike, though he doesn’t know his name. He tries to hold Pike off, but he’s only one easily intimidated former Firstie against a scary Tailie and former cannibal. Stu soon gives in and lets Pike visit for 10 minutes as Ruth’s “lawyer”.
Pike tells Ruth he’s breaking her out, but she doesn’t want to kill Stu and a second guard to get the keys. She tells Pike, “You’re a brave man, but this war is bigger than us.” Ruth is from another time, when war and soldiers were honorable.
She tells Pike that they need to make Alice-piercer visible to the pirate train so Layton can find them. She has an idea for how to do that. He’ll have to get to Hospitality.
Asha is still hyperventilating in her metal helmet. Layton tries to talk to her, but she’s too much in her own head, so he takes her helmet off. He apologizes for leaving her alone during the battle. She asks if Wilford crippled the train. He brushes off her fears, explaining that they’re just playing cat and mouse and it will be fine. She finds it hard to believe that the 8 of them in their tiny train can beat The Great Mr Wilford in his 10 Mile Train.
Layton tries to explain to her that Wilford isn’t who she thinks he is, but those carefully built impressions are hard to change based on the word of one person. She believes that Wilford is the one who built the train (he financed it, but Melanie (Jennifer Connelly) was the main designer) and that he’s led Snowpiercer for 8 years (once again, actually mostly Melanie, with help from a committee of 2nd Class professionals). Layton tells her that Wilford wanted to be king and she accuses him of wanting to be king in Wilford’s place.
There have been signs that we should worry about who Asha really is, such as the multiple blood splatters in the nuclear plant and her fragile mental state. The way she threw that “king” reference back at Layton is another. You know who else thought that way? Wilford. People who quickly turn someone’s words around on them like that tend to be narcissists themselves, revealing what they would do.
I should note that Wilford did lead Big Alice for 7 years as its king. He was ruthless and the people experienced great hardship. He murdered half of them in a planned cull. But he didn’t institute a class system. Unlike the population of Snowpiercer under Melanie and Layton, the people of Big Alice were largely equal in their suffering, as the people of Alice-piercer have been under Wilford for the last 6 months.
Layton explains that they’re fighting Wilford for personal reasons. His partner is on the other train and is pregnant.
Asha: “If you’re doing this for a child, you will do things that you will regret.”
Makes you wonder what happened with her nephew in that nuclear plant.
Layton: “I just came in to warn you. We are not giving up. This is gonna get worse before it gets better, okay?”
Layton is a prophet. Maybe even a savior, maybe not. I suspect he’s like Moses- he and his generation won’t be allowed into the promised land. Asha seems to be a dark prophet as well, perhaps the yin to his yang.
Audrey sings You Are My Sunshine to amuse herself while Bess waits for something to happen. Lena Hall’s voice and interpretation are as lovely as ever. Bess tells Audrey she enjoys her singing until she remembers what a terrible person she is. Then Bess insults her for singing covers, which is just uncalled for.
Undaunted, Audrey accepts the backhanded complement to her singing and explains that she sings for Wilford. Bess basically says, “Ew,” which I think we can all agree with. Audrey tells her she can scoff all she wants.
Audrey: “At the end of the day, that’s all there is, a person you sing for. Who’s that to you, Bess? How do you get all the way to the end of the world and have no one?”
Audrey hit Bess right where it hurts. She still misses Jinju. Don’t we all? Bess replies that she has people, even though she doesn’t sing for them. Layton, Zarah, Roche (Mike O’Malley). Her old boss was her mentor and friend. She thinks about getting him out of the drawers every single day. Audrey, who happily escorted him and his family to the drawers, says she hopes he survived.
Let’s take a moment to recall that Roche participated in the pre season 1 murder investigation and cover up that put Nikki Genet in a drawer, which ultimately led to her death in season 1. Audrey was close to Nikki, who was framed for murder for the convenience of Melanie, Roche and unknown others, so she can be forgiven for having complicated feelings toward him.
She’s playing on Bess’ insecurities as a Wilford spy and because Layton coerced her into returning to her old life with Wilford in order to spy for the resistance. She wants a little revenge for being sent back into the lion’s den, which she knew she’d probably never escape. As with Asha, Josie and others, Layton didn’t pay enough attention to her concerns and pushed her into a mission that swallowed her whole. But I have faith that the old Audrey is still in there somewhere. Bess may be just the person to draw her out again.
Pike slips into Hospitality in First Class, which is still sealed off and ice cold. He sets off the fireworks that Hospitality has access to, creating a whole show. The crew of the pirate train has been watching for evidence of Alice-piercer and spots the fireworks right away. They enjoy the show for a while.
Alex figures out that Wilford is heading out of the valley, making a run for linear track where the pirate train won’t be able to ride alongside him. They decide to cut him off at the pass, so to speak. Now that he’s lost his cover, Wilford panics and tells Javi to press on at full speed. Javi points out that they’re draining their batteries and would get farther at a slower speed. Wilford yells at him to put everything into the engine.
Kevin takes a page out of Melanie’s book and questions Strong Boy while freezing and smashing his fingers. It doesn’t work any better with Strong Boy than it did with Josie in season 1. And unlike Melanie, Kevin performs his torture and mutilation in front of a room full of witnesses. Z-Wreck screams for Kevin to stop.
Oz and LJ stand nearby until Oz can’t take it anymore and pulls her aside, telling her he didn’t sign up to have their club host open mike torture sessions. He thought he was getting away from that kind of business. LJ tells him that “war isn’t pretty” and this will be one more thing Wilford will reward them for. Oz asks her to think about what will happen if Layton wins and then finds out that they stood by and watched this happen.
Kevin decides that Strong Boy doesn’t need his tongue if he’s not going to talk. Someone hands him the frozen air hose and he shoves it down Strong Boy’s throat. He intends to give Strong Boy a DIY lung of ice along with his frozen tongue, killing him for certain.
Kevin has been psychotic since Wilford coerced him into suicide, brought him back from near death, then had Mistress Audrey train him like a dog to ignore his fears and channel them into cruelty. This is the culmination of that cycle. Actually, the end of the episode will be the true culmination, but this is Kevin coming full circle, from murder victim to murderer.
Josie tells Layton that because of the harpoon, they need a new plan. They still can’t just pull up and connect end to end because Wilford’s jackboot army will be waiting for them on the other side of the door, as if they never left. They decide to use Audrey as the distraction that will help them get into his engine.
Bess handcuffs Audrey and brings her to the front of Snowpiercer’s engine, while Josie, still in her cold suit, goes back to the cold lock. Javi tells Wilford that they’re almost out of the valley, but they’re also almost out of juice. Wilford tells him to keep pushing the engine, certain that they’ll make it.
What I don’t get is how Wilford thinks they’ll keep going once they run out of power, whether they’re still in the rail yard or out onto a single track? If they’re dead in the water, the pirate train can get to them wherever they are. Javi proves himself to be a better engineer than Wilford in this episode- second or third best in the world. He hasn’t gone up against Alex in a while and they’ve both gotten 6 months of hard experience since they’ve gone toe to toe as engineers, so they need a rematch to determine their current rankings.
And here comes the pirate train. Snowpiercer pulls up head to head with with Big Alice, cutting off her forward escape to open track. Alice-piercer doesn’t have enough power left to outrun the pirate train in reverse, so they’re stuck. It’s comparable to Wilford’s own move from the end of season 1, when he rammed into Snowpiercer’s tail, opened Big Alice’s jaws and took a bite out of the train to teach it a lesson for leaving him behind 7 years earlier.
In hindsight, Wilford’s train acted exactly like his dog.
Layton’s current plan will continue to riff on Wilford’s season 1 playbook. There are distractions on both sides, just as there were then, starting with Wilford pretending he doesn’t recognize Layton’s voice. Then there’s the showing of the hostages. Zarah speaks to Layton, but Layton holds Audrey back while he negotiates Wilford’s surrender and buys Josie time to get into place. As Wilford continues to talk with bravado, Big Alice completely runs out of power.
Then Layton turns a spotlight on in Snowpiercer’s dark engine so Wilford can see Audrey, but only her. He asks to speak to her. They hand her the mic while Layton puts on his cold suit and exits the train. She stands completely still while Wilford watches her. She says only one word, “Joseph.” She doesn’t make any attempt to signal to Wilford that Josie and Layton have left the engine, though she watched both leave and saw Josie’s cold suit. She followed the play by play when Icy Bob sabotaged Snowpiercer in season 2 episode 8 and she knows that Josie has cold immunity. She understands what’s happening right now.
Snowpiercer nudges right up against the other train. Javi suggests moving Big Alice slowly to keep her systems running and the heat on- she is a perpetual motion machine. Wilford orders him to shut the engine down, once again turning the entire population of Alice-piercer into his hostages. He tells Ben that the pirates have to reconnect Snowpiercer or everyone will die. Ben says Wilford’s desperate, but agrees to reconnect. In Spanish, he tells Javi to open a beer. Javi surreptitiously opens one of the cold locks on Alice-piercer. To cover the blast of cold air, he warns Wilford that the temperature is dropping all over the train.
Still a rebel. ❤️
Wilford orders the jackboots to the back end of the train, where Snowpiercer will reconnect. He facetiously tells Zarah to bundle up. Stuie regretfully tells Ruthie that the trains are preparing to dock. She softly assures him that he has no choice but to follow orders and join the rest of the jackboots. Ben gives Alex final docking instructions. He finishes by reminding her to wait to reconnect until everyone is in position. The jackboots remind each other to have their weapons ready because the first thing they’re going to do is clear the pirate train of its crew.
Josie climbs down onto the windshield of Big Alice, the move Wilford sent her to perform on Snowpiercer 6 months ago. Back then, she was supposed to break the windshield and kill everyone in the engine, including Sykes, no questions asked. Now, her instructions are to threaten to break the windshield if Wilford doesn’t surrender.
Wilford is certain Layton won’t go through with it, but he points out Zarah’s presence as his insurance policy. He’s also happy to see Josie- though he’s a psychopath who demands loyalty, he can be oddly forgiving when it suits him. He’s missed having a cold warrior as a weapon and a breachman. (Did Boki survive the killer flu or was his reincarnation as a henchman on Hawkeye’s Disney+ show a sign?) Josie was an exciting new toy Wilford that barely got to play with before she took herself away from him, increasing her value by showing her spirit and intelligence. Wilford loves loyalty, but he also loves a challenge. Sycophants are boring.
Just as Wilford glibly insists that Josie won’t do it, she cracks the windshield. He moves with lightning speed to close the blast door, leaving Javi at the helm to freeze.
OMG, hasn’t Javi suffered enough???
Wilford is impressed with Josie’s determination. Before he’s done reacting to her chutzpah, Layton hits him from behind, then keeps hitting him. Layton came in through the cold lock Javi opened instead of opening an actual beer. He has his own breach pike, which he drives all the way through Wilford’s hand. When he’s done beating Wilford up, Layton sits him down next to the train wide microphone and says, “Tell your men to stand down or I will throw you off this train.” After the beating he just got, Wilford believes him.
Wilford complies: “This is Head Engineer Wilford. Boarding party, stand down. We will not be taking Snowpiercer by force. Stand down. Weapons down.”
He stops there, but Layton orders him to “Say it!” Wilford does the thing: “Andre Layton has the train.”
One of the best moments in 2.5 seasons. Of course Wilford refers to himself as Head Engineer, hoping to retain the title despite the regime change. And, as expected, Layton has been demoted from “King” to “Mr” to “Andre”. But there are worse things Wilford could call him than his first name.
The people of Snowpiercer are happy, other than Kevin and LJ.
Layton takes the mic. As he turns from Wilford, he sees a very pregnant Zarah for the first time in months and cuts his speech short: “Citizens of Snowpiercer, we’re back.”
He goes straight to his wife and hugs her, sliding down to put his face on her belly. Josie walks in, takes one look, and leaves again. I have no doubt that Wilford noticed the look on her face.
Alex finishes reconnecting the trains. When Kevin feels the jolt of the cars recoupling, he’s confused that his reign of terror has ended so quickly.
LJ is more adaptable and recognizes an enemy of the current state when she sees one. She decides to simultaneously help Layton out and remove a witness to some of what she and Wilford spoke about in private. My girl has always been a multitasker.
She’s been peeling an orange with a small paring knife. Now she says it’s time to get on the right side of history. She gives Z-Wreck the orange, sweetly tells Oz that she loves him so much, then swiftly stabs Kevin in the neck, straight into the jugular vein. She and her violent season 1 bodyguard/boyfriend, Erik Sotto, must have practiced that one, it was such a confident move. As the blood spurts out of Kevin’s neck and Oz takes in the scene with shock and horror, LJ raises her fist in the air and yells, “Long live the resistance.”
Sometimes I love this show so much. I could write a doctoral thesis about LJ, the little girl who stabbed her father in the eyeball with a fork. Oz’s shock makes me fairly certain that I was right- at least some of the evidence against her in season 1 was planted by the Brakemen and Oz was the one ordered to plant it. She knows it was him. That’s why she’s made so many speeches about conniving as a necessity in life- to excuse what he did to her as well as explain herself. That’s also why her reputation as a man killer never bothered him. He knew it was exaggerated. Until now, when she decided to embrace it. Someone needed to take bold action to change their fortunes. Half the resistance just watched her avenge Strong Boy’s death. She made sure his best friend, Z-Wreck, was watching her.
While the rest of the train celebrates, Josie leads Wilford to the brig. Layton finds Ruth in the library, where she’s liberating some of Wilford’s private stash. He says he knew he could count on her to keep everyone together while he was gone. They hug and have a drink.
Bess and Dr Pelton (Karin Konoval) go straight to the drawers to revive the Roche family. Sam and Carly (Esther Ming Li) are in stable condition, but Anne (Elaine Kao) didn’t make it. It looks like she’s been gone for a while, so maybe no one was monitoring the drawers closely. Could be that was the Late Mr Dr Headwood’s job. Or it could have been sabotage by a political enemy of hers or a professional enemy of her husband’s.
The Tailies pay their last respects to Strong Boy. It looks like he’s laid out in his bunk, but I couldn’t tell for sure. His tongue is missing. Kevin wasn’t content with killing him; he followed through with breaking his frozen tongue. Strong Boy was a generous soul who spent his life in service to the other Tailies, training to be a soldier from the time he was a child. Hopefully he’s in a warm, peaceful place now.
Kevin deserved to die a much worse death. LJ did him a favor.
Ben finds Javi, still sitting at Big Alice’s helm. He’s crying and probably in some form of emotional shock, since he just went through another near death experience at Wilford’s hands. He’s been in survival mode for months and going through continuous trauma following the abandonment by his family and violent trauma. It’s going to be a while before he’s remotely okay. Ben gently hugs him and holds on, starting the healing process.
Layton tells Ruth about New Eden. She warns him that the track they’ll need to follow is the worst on the route and there was a war in the Horn of Africa when the climate crashed. On top of that, everyone on Alice-piercer is exhausted from life under Wilford. They’re going to be skeptical about accepting more hardship.
He explains that he wants to put the decision to a vote, to show the people that democracy has won. “We’ll choose our path forward together.” She asks if he’s willing to accept the outcome of the vote, whatever it is. He’s certain he can convince the majority to see it his way. The train won’t last forever and this is their chance to stop it on their own terms. She tells him that a significant portion of the population don’t support him. He says this is about supporting Melanie’s dream, too.
That doesn’t address the the diehard Wilford supporters. And the fact that he’s pretending to offer a fair vote while manipulating the voters. He’s not remotely offering Snowpiercer democracy. Maybe true democracy is too messy and uncertain for an ecosystem as fragile as the train. If so, then let’s say it, rather than lying and pretending. The train needs fair but consistent leaders with expertise in their fields and some way to hold them accountable.
Ruth says she’ll inform the notary to prepare a train-wide vote. She asks Layton if he’ll accept it if they vote no and he doesn’t answer. She suggests he think carefully about what he’s going to say to the train.
Sykes brings Audrey some clothes and informs her she’s confined to Third Class and barred from the Night Car. She refuses to give Audrey Wilford’s location. Audrey predicts everything will fall apart again.
As Josie bandages Wilford’s hand, they remark that it’s poetic, like a monster returning to her creator. Wilford predicts that the train will reject Layton again. “I am the train.” Without a word, she walks out on him. He leans back against the wall, satisfied that he got into her head.
Layton sits up from leaning back. The visual question is clear- is Wilford right? Are they two sides of the same coin?
He’s in the library with Asha, informing her that she has a vote today.
Asha: “Politics. You forget about them when you’re the last person on Earth.”
He says he needs to ask something of her.
Asha: “You brought me back to life, Andre. What is it?”
In the Hospitality office, he announces to the entire train that today, for the first time, they will get to choose the train’s destination. He describes how Melanie’s science gave them a map of warm spots and the pirate train spent months scouting them out. None of them were warm enough, but there’s one more location to check. The journey to the final location on the list will be difficult and there will be more hardships. But he has evidence that it’s worth the risk.
He puts Asha on the microphone. She tells the train that she is a survivor from New Eden, a warm place filled with new, green life. Layton tells the train that the choice isn’t between him and Wilford. It’s “between the train we know and one we don’t.”
Later, Ruth informs Layton and his governing committee (Bess, Ben, Alex, Josie) that the “yeas” have it. The vote was almost two to one in favor of searching for New Eden. Bess decides another lie hardly matters. Layton hopes it’s the last one, but Ruth thinks the train demands a lie. They all join in to agree, except Josie. When Layton asks her to weigh in, she says, “Well, we better be right.”
I don’t believe that Bess and Ruth would be okay with this lie any more than Josie is, since it was created to manipulate a crucial vote. Ben and Alex are both used to lies because of Wilford and Melanie, but Bess and Ruth have a history of hating expedient lies, no matter who’s telling them. They were pressured into agreeing to this one. As was Asha. Including LJ, Layton is starting with five prominently placed doubters in his administration.
Ruth announces the results to the train: “Fellow passengers, our great endeavor continues. You have spoken and by majority rule, we are heading for New Eden.”
Asha is back in the library, with her helmet on, breathing heavily. She has the metal faceplate up, but shoves it down when she hears the announcements.
Does Asha know something we don’t know? There’s no guarantee that she was one of the original technicians at the plant. She could have been one of the wandering marauders. The fact that she’s in the library instead of showing even a little interest in the train as a scientific and engineering marvel seems like it could be a clue. Or she could just feel safe there because the library is the public room she’s most familiar with. Maybe she knows Wilford or someone else on the train, but is avoiding them?
It’s possible there was a third train and she was on it, until something happened to it- or she was exiled. (There were several trains in the books.) If so, maybe her train went through the Horn of Africa, possibly even ran into trouble there. She might know exactly what Snowpiercer will find. It could be warm and green, but scary. That tidbit Ruth dropped about the war seemed like foreshadowing. It could be a radioactive paradise. Other animals and plants aren’t as affected by radiation as humans, or at least, in the short term, humans turn out to be more toxic to nature than radiation.
RIP Strong Boy. Unlike Josie, he’s not coming back. I knew he was in trouble as soon as he started speaking in fluent English. And RIP Anne Roche. She was a traitor, but she meant well and Sam Roche loved her, so she was probably a good person before the Freeze and Wilford broke her. Apocalypses and overcrowded living with no hope of change are hard on mental health and political sanity. Kevin was probably innocent at some point, too, but I’m still glad to see that creep go.
I wish Kevin had taken Wilford with him. Layton probably kept Wilford alive because, like so many others, part of him still believes that Mr Wilford, the Great Engineer, is the train and killing him would lead to their deaths. Or he realizes that many people on the train believe it and the true death of Wilford would cause a panic.
This season is making a point of showing us that the dead are really dead and will stay that way. Resurrections are rare, even on Snowpiercer (1,029 cars long). We watched Kevin bleed out and it’s unlikely that help came for him this time. We saw Strong Boy’s frozen corpse and the difference between Anne Roche and her family. Those three people are gone.
The battle sequence was thrilling, from the fireworks to seeing Javi and Ben work together again and Wilford’s own strategy used so effectively against him. The special effects that show the exterior train shots are amazing.
I need to revisit my Lord of the Rings analysis from season 1, episode 7 and epsiode 8: first pass at it for this season has me thinking Alex is now Frodo and Javi is Sam. Wilford is Gollum, maybe combined with Sauron- the Freeze is the real Sauron. Ben is Gandalf. Melanie was Bilbo. Snowpiercer is the Precious, which needs to be taken to New Eden and converted into stable housing to nullify its power. Layton is still Aragorn and he’s currently working with a passel of female elves and tunnelmen/dwarves. I’m leaning toward Josie/Judas as Saruman and the Widow Dr Headwood as Faramir. In a way, she was close to two versions of Boromir, while she was underestimated and under coercion. As with Merry and Pippin, this is her second or third chance to choose a better path and prove herself worthy.
The way Layton went straight to making up an easy lie to force everyone to follow him, then chose to ask a vulnerable woman who owed him to carry the lie for him, is disturbing. The train could have spent 6 months or a year organizing the new government, healing from war, plague and social upheaval, rebuilding their community and restocking their supplies so they’d be in a much stronger position when they find a warm spot, wherever it is.
Instead, they’ll enter a wartorn area with bad track that could damage the train with people exhausted, grieving, split into factions and no central government to speak of. Their supplies are low and it sounds like both engines could use some repairs. Unless they find a literal paradise, it’s a recipe for disaster. Layton is getting caught up in his own ego and ignoring the needs of his people.
He wants to get off the train so he can get out from under Melanie and Wilford’s shadows and lead in a way he understands better. He’d also probably rather raise his child off the train. I won’t say he’s acting just like Wilford, because Layton isn’t actively toying with people, seeing how far he can push them before they break. But it’s frustrating to watch him, as a leader, put his own needs and desires before the good of the train and squander the goodwill he started out with.
The Women of Snowpiercer
I especially loved watching the women play so many major roles in this battle: Ruth accepts that she won’t be playing an active role in the fight and is once again prepared to sacrifice herself if the rebels lose. Then she shows her strategic ability by quietly sabotaging Wilford, telling Pike to light up the train with fireworks, which turns the tide of the battle. Alex acts as the Wilford Whisperer on the pirate train, correctly predicting his thought process. Zarah distracts Wilford by keeping him talking during the battle and provides unspoken support to Javi, as she has for months. Miss Audrey continues to act as free lance spy and saboteur on Wilford’s behalf, until she’s so happy to see him that she accidentally (or accidentally on purpose?) helps him lose the war.
Josie bravely ventures outside and climbs the train, giving Wilford the choice of whether to go down fighting or surrender. He tries to avoid the choice, but Layton backs her up and drives the choice home. Though Bess often acts as devil’s advocate, making sure decisions are sound, she’s loyal to the core and rescues the Roches from the drawers first thing. LJ makes the best of a bad situation, taking out Kevin, saving her husband from doing the dirty work and maintaining the bar’s status. Sykes proves she’s changed sides and is a valuable asset by saving Asha after Wilford harpoons the pirate train. And Asha shows that she’s a team player by going along with Layton’s plan, despite her panic attacks.
Speaking of Asha’s panic attacks, she spent most of the time that she was off camera alone, wearing her metal cold suit helmet and lost in her anxiety. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, except that she hasn’t even begun to trust anyone on the train, even after they’ve saved her life multiple times now. At least by the end of the episode she had the metal face plate up so she could see her surroundings more clearly. That’s got to be progress in the right direction, right? She’s not watching more vigilantly for enemies, right? And why move from Layton’s cabin to sit next to Audrey’s cage?
The Femmes Fatales: Audrey and LJ
Audrey and LJ are particularly interesting. Though they have appeared to be Wilford’s most loyal supporters for months, at key moments they both fatally sabotaged his cause.
When placed in front of the lit up windshield, Audrey distracted Wilford rather than warning him that Layton and Josie were coming for him. We were shown repeatedly this season that she’s always alert, always trying to get a sense of what’s going on around her and that she’s adept at communicating in signals and silent code. If she’d wanted to signal to Wilford to watch out, she would have.
Instead, the woman who staged a coup attempt on the pirate train two episodes ago supposedly lost all sense of where and when she was, caught up in seeing Wilford again, the man who’d coerced her into suicide then saved her, exactly the way he did with Kevin.
She’s a double agent and always has been. Her feelings for Wilford are real and complicated. The most likely scenario is that she doesn’t see Layton or Wilford as effective leaders of the train.
Audrey will revert to playing a neutral role until she finds someone she can back and they gain enough power to give her a sense of safety. The most likely candidates are Ruth and Roche, though there’s an outside chance she’ll try to help Wilford. Ruth proved herself as Layton’s partner in compost and as the resistance leader while he was gone for months. She’s both respected and hated as one of the voices of the train during Melanie’s rule and as Melanie’s enforcer. I don’t have a sense of how Audrey feels about her.
Roche hasn’t participated in a Big Lie; has now lost someone close to him, further cementing his man of the people status, is respected as a lawman by former First- Second and Third Classers and now has good reason to hate Wilford, which will give him closer ties to the resistance. Audrey has a complicated history with Roche, but they’re roughly even in loss now.
I suspect that Audrey’s main issue will be her fall from grace. She’ll have to spend the rest of the season working secretly on any plans she has while publicly working to mend her reputation- or she can accept her reputation, the way Zarah and LJ did, and just let people deal with it.
We’ve known since season 1 that LJ is a violent double agent (maybe triple agent- some of her bodyguard Erik’s S1 actions were never explained), but it’s easy to forget. She and Miss Audrey both understand how much a good spectacle, broad gestures and a fabulous costume can help you hide in plain sight. Oz obviously forgot who LJ is, judging by the look of shock on his face when she stabbed Kevin.
LJ understands Wilford better than anyone on the train, except maybe Audrey. Kevin was a pawn and Wilford won’t care that his pawn is dead. He may bluster for a minute, but he can always create another pawn. He will care about the survival of his best spies and that they’ve continued to act as undercover agents, collecting information and power they can use to help him when he gets out of the brig, if he ever does.
In the mean time, LJ and Oz can be the perfect citizens of the new democracy. Capitalism is king on Layton’s train, though he’ll never understand that his laissez-faire attitude leads to a thriving black market rather than spontaneous socialist programs. A social safety net takes work to create and maintain, as Melanie’s 22 hour days showed. Those Firstie welfare sponges had it great under her rule. Not even Wilford has lived that well on either train.
The production design on this show is always meticulous. This season is no different. The hair, makeup and costumes in this episode are even more outstanding than usual. They’re not necessarily showy, but the practical, sturdy yet individual styles each character has developed while living in their particular situations (in hiding, in exile or in a dictatorship) continue to reflect the attention to detail this show is famous for.
Same for the makeup, which takes on extra significance with the various injuries/scars, homemade tattoos and skin conditions that need to be replicated in every episode, such as Josie and Asha’s facial alterations the changes in the characters’ hairstyles and even the texture of their hair as their circumstances change. Especially appreciated are the newlyweds’ bedhead, the sweaty, greasy hair on the pirate train, and the various ways the characters’ exhaustion was shown, particularly the haggard look of all of the engineers, even Wilford. At least I hope that was on purpose and the actors weren’t really that tired!
This season all of Alice-piercer has been turned into Wilford’s retro-future-steampunk sweatshop dystopia, modeled after Big Alice’s look from season 2, but darker and more intense. The pirate train, which carries the last vestige of Melanie and Ben’s dream of escaping Wilford, is brighter, hotter, sweatier and more high tech, even though Wilford has custody of the mad scientist and most of the science equipment. Though he loses the battle, Wilford picks off almost half the pirate train cars and picks right up where he left off in his plan to manipulate Josie into working for him and betraying Layton. With a stigmata through his hand, Layton unwittingly gives Wilford the chance to play martyr.
A ridiculous number of characters were shot behind bars in this episode, or confined/constrained, or adjacent to confinement or in ways that made it appear they were. Besides the images below, Asha confines her head in her helmet and herself to small spaces. Layton looks as though his dreadlocks are bars across his face. Josie looks like she could be locked out of the engine instead of preparing to breach the windshield. Zarah blocks New Eden on the Hospitality office map, potentially stopping everyone from finding salvation- or maybe it’s that she’s blocking Layton from seeing the situation clearly. All three Roches are seen confined to drawers. Wilford lowers the blast door that confines Javi to the engine helm. That’s just off the top of my head.
During Wilford’s tenure, no one has escaped the ramifications of his oppression.
On the flip side, Ben keeps Alex close to him and lets Javi know they are still a team. In some sense, Wilford is correct in saying that he’s the train, because his legend gave them a sense of security for 7 years. But Melanie and Ben became the train while he was gone. Melanie is becoming a legend now that she’s gone. Ben is the chief engineer and has been the visionary much of the time.
It was Ben’s idea to leave Wilford behind and years later it was his idea to hook up with Big Alice because they needed her supplies. While Melanie was the practical engineer who understood the train as if they drew breath as one, Ben has always been both a practical engineer and understood the long-term picture in a way that Melanie lost while she was overwhelmed with the day to day details of running the train.
Until the train is rendered obsolete by a warmer climate, the final battle will come down to Wilford vs Ben’s team of engineers. Layton won the war in season 1 because Melanie and Ben ultimately backed him and brought him a plan. He lost in season 2 because the Snowpiercer engineers didn’t notice Icy Bob sabotaging their system, something I’ve had a hard time believing. They always notice when there’s someone on top of the train or messing with exterior ports.
If Ben let Icy Bob sabotage the train, I suspect it was because he’d decided to give Wilford his shot at leadership. He probably hoped that when people finally found out what life under Wilford was like, they’d appreciate new leadership, even with the inevitable flaws. Meanwhile, Ben and the rebel leaders took off for 6 months, keeping themselves safe while everyone else got a taste of what they’d been asking for- life under the real Mr Wilford, not Melanie’s watered down version.
And when Ben brought Layton back in season 3, he won, because Ben spoke one Spanish code phrase to Javi, his loyal friend, that got Layton in Big Alice’s back door, after Wilford had sent all the jackboots in the wrong direction.
Ben is the wizard who keeps the train running. Ruth is the queen who understands the train’s logistics, which keeps the human systems running. Layton is the prophet-king who gives Snowpiercer a mission and purpose to live for. He creates the stories that the people of Snowpiercer use to define themselves. He’s been doing that since he overcame the cannibals in the Tail and solved the murders in season 1.
That’s what makes Layton a particular danger to Wilford, who sees himself as an omniscient, singular god of the train. If Layton can turn the people toward meaning and goals outside of their immediate survival (Survive, survive, survive!) or the things they miss about the past, and toward hope for the future, the way he did in the Tail, he’ll have given them something Wilford can’t offer, rendering The Great Mr Wilford a relic of the past.
Layton is not a caretaker. He’s a visionary. I suspect Asha is his Mary Magdalene, a controversial, maybe even unpopular, but extremely devoted and supportive follower with many inner demons of her own.
Images courtesy of TNT.