This review is based on the first five episodes of the Netflix series.
The much-awaited Snowpiercer TV series, which serves as a prequel to Bong Joon Ho’s dystopian, post-apocalyptic 2014 movie of the same name is here and boy, round and round and round she goes.
Snowpiercer the TV series takes place 7 years after the Earth has frozen up – but years before the events and plot of the original movie. When Earth suffers the consequences of man’s contribution to global warming, the last remaining inhabitants board a train that goes round and round the world, protecting them from raging avalanches and a chilling weather of -117 degrees Fahrenheit. Passengers are forever contained in a metal container, 1,001 cars long.
To be a part of this journey, some of the passengers bought tickets to get on it. There is the rich and filthy rich who parked themselves in first class where they sit in fancy lounge rooms, wear animal fur and worry about being body shamed in the sauna. This group consists of people who own dynasties and have contributed more than a million dollars to the train’s main engineer and owner of Wilford’s Industries, Mr. Wilford, so they believe the train is just as much theirs as it is Mr. Wilford’s, and see themselves as being above the law.
The second class folks live comfortably – enough to be content and enjoy special privileges, but not too extravagant like those in first class. They’re teachers and doctors, scientists – basically the middle class folks who ensure that society maintains its current economies and workforce. Then there are the third class passengers, who have “earned” a spot by participating in a bloody and violent fight night.
The third class people don’t live very well. Their carriages are packed with people living like sardines, where there is a lively and noisy night market happening all day everyday, with a night-car (a fancy way of disguising a brothel) and small diners. They are the blue-collar working class made up of janitors, brakemans, chefs, ex-soccer players and workers where their conditions aren’t great and they can only aspire to get out of third class.
And then there are the tailies – inhabitants who live around the tail of the train and are classless. They didn’t, or for some couldn’t afford tickets to board the Snowpiercer and they had to fight their way in, by jumping on board or risk dying on the outside. They live in an empty carriage, made beds out of cupboards meant to store luggages of the classed passengers, share the space with rats, eat protein bars made out of God knows what, and sometimes each other if their food rations get cut. They’re the end of the train, the bottom of society, seen as nothing but freeloaders expected to be grateful to even have a spot on the Snowpiercer – nevermind the inhumane living conditions and constant torture enacted by Brakemans and Hospitality.
Oh, wait there’s carriage service? Yes. Hospitality takes care of all ticketed passengers on the Snowpiercer. They’re there to make your ride pleasant as you make revolutions around the world. Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly) is head hospitality and is very close to main engineer, Mr Wilford. She’s the only one who has access to Mr Wilford and she oversees everything. Seriously, there isn’t one thing this woman doesn’t do, except for caring for the tailies.
Like the film, Snowpiercer tells a cautionary tale of global warming, class inequalities and oppression. But showrunner Graeme Manson (co-creator of Orphan Black) takes a different direction from Bong’s film, by having a murder-mystery ala Murder on the Orient Express. That’s where we meet Andre Layton (Hamilton Grammy and Tony Awards winner Daveed Diggs).
Layton is a tailie who fought to get on the train and was a homicide detective in his former life. When the murder of a third class passenger comes to light, hospitality head Cavill put him and Brakeman Till (Mickey Sumner) on the case, promising that justice would be served for the tailies if Layton co-operates.
The first five episodes give insight on the lives in each of the cars of the Snowpiercer. We, the viewers, learn exactly who Mr Wilford is in the first episode.And this is a twist that you may not expect, especially if you’ve seen the movie and expect nothing new It sheds light on the creation of the cabin drug Kronole, how the eco and agricultural system sustains itself in the train, and how the Snowpiercer mimics human society.
Referencing Karl Marx – “You’re a bourgeoisie now,” – the TV series provides a deeper look at class inequalities as compared to the film. The characters in the show are obsessed with societal order and the idea that for one class to flourish, another must be oppressed. And in typical Marx fashion, a revolution is expected. The oppressed will fight back with their makeshift knives whilst the rich are protected by golden doors, bodyguards and high-technology. We learn in Snowpiercer that a revolution has happened before, and again in the 2014 film when the tailies plan yet another revolution. It’s proven that the cycle repeats itself and doesn’t end, pointing towards how the oppression can only stop if the system that puts them under is destroyed. But once the system is destroyed, there is disorder, and no one wants disorder.
Class oppression isn’t the only theme discussed in Snowpiercer. Like most new Netflix series coming out now, it’s current to politics. Though not explicit, the show has feminist undertones; that behind every man is a much more successful woman, that women’s emotional range and care for other individuals should be recognised as real labour and that in the most heinous of crimes, women are not victims but instead fighters and survivors that should be known for their names, for who they are and not as another man’s victim. Snowpiercer progresses in showing diverse couples like queer and interracial couples such as Till and Jinju, who are of different classes, and a White-Asian gay family living it up in first class.
The murder-mystery goes on for five episodes long and with it drama around privileged blue-eyed redheads, train faults and *gasp* more murders. With a commendable cast made up of Tony award winners like Lena Hall who plays Nightcar runner Miss Audrey and faces seen in fan-favourite films like Sheila Vand (Argo), you can’t help but close one eye on the plot that derails every now and then. Hall’s performance of Say It Ain’t So Joe by Murray Head is chilling and her speech on the death of one of the passengers is strong and moving. Jennifer Connelly’s Melanie Cavill is a complex character and the actress switches between the icy, stone-cold hospitality manager in front of passengers, to a warmer personality in private life easily, making it hard to hate her despite the evils she’s done. Cavill is a refreshing take on Tilda Swinton’s Minister Mason in the original film who is uptight and unlikeable. Layton somewhat embodies Curtis (Chris Evans) from the film but is more laidback, more inquisitive, and actually spits good jokes.
For the lack of creative visual storytelling, the producers have even tossed in two brief music numbers that come rarely, but are so powerfully delivered in the emotion it delivers. Snowpiercer is the kind of show that piques your interest but whether or not you stay for the ride is up for debate. We for once, enjoy murder-mysteries and dystopias a fair bit so this isn’t something we hate.
It is unclear where the direction of the show will head after episode five, but the tv series seems to be steering further and further away from the Snowpiercer film audiences and fans love fiercely. The tv series is weirdly optimistic. Despite the violence and oppression, the show tries to create hope in humanity, promising a new future that can be ideologically better and equal. This differs from the film that aims to show the unravelling of humanity and pushes for further divide. Fans may call this show a misdirection, or even a trainwreck if they’d like, but for first timers without context or haven’t seen the original film, it presents an interesting premise. Plus, who doesn’t love a good sci-fi/post-apocalyptic/crime content to take our minds and anxiety off the real life problems we face whilst living in a global pandemic right now.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
A murder-mystery, a revolution, a cautionary tale – Snowpiercer is everything audiences will like all at once, though some might feel that it is a little too much to chew (chew) on?
Story - 8/10
Direction - 7/10
Characterisation - 9/10
Geek Satisfaction - 8/10