The Snowpiercer TV reboot purposely distanced itself from Bong Joon Ho’s 2013 film. That was quite a feat on multiple levels: (1) The show knew that there was no chance to measure up to a masterpiece, so it chose, instead, to be relentlessly different despite being confined to the same claustrophobic setting; (2) The series managed to raise fresh questions about the source material (Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette’s graphic novels) while still embracing the story’s parable that delivers an absolutely frigid take on class warfare and social uprising. The show thankfully did not try to replicate characters resembling an unusually gritty Chris Evans and a deliciously bonkers Tilda Swinton because that’d be asking for failure. Instead, the show got weird in its own way, as a freaking procedural for awhile, and Daveed Diggs pulled off a fine revolution leader. Likewise, Jennifer Connelly did the ice-queen thing well, and overall, the first season more than embraced its imperfections while remaining pretty darn watchable.
Granted, the show was confusing as hell in spots. It also debuted as a concoction that was so intentionally clumsy that I admired the sheer effort and every drop of frozen excess. The good news is that the show’s still a hot mess and has effectively doubled its messiness, and only a few days ago, WarnerMedia greenlit a third season. Once the second season starts rolling, it’s plainly apparent why this ride should continue. I’ll elaborate more soon, but first let’s do the set-up necessaries.
Snowpiercer the show began roughly seven years after apocalyptic event that caused the Earth to freeze and eight years before the events of the film. The globe-circling train, which can never stop (for more than a few minutes), apparently contained the last survivors of humanity. The class structure of the train still remains the main source of conflict, although the sense of peace after Diggs’ Layton emerged as leader from the uprising efforts, well, that peace doesn’t last long. Connelly’s Melanie had proven to be integral to Layton’s revolution despite her villainous ways, but at the end of last season, sh*t got real with news of a second train, Big Alice. That vessel was conducted by the train’s billionaire mastermind creator, Mr. Wilford, who was assumed to be dead. He was, of course, embodied in the film by Ed Harris, who waxed rhapsodic about the need for “balance” and how Darwinism is the way, and so on. Well, Wilford is now portrayed by Sean Bean, and he wants his damn train back.
Naturally, Mr. Wilford’s absence in the first season was confusing, to say the very least. It sure as hell didn’t make sense for him to not be alive in a prequel series since he’s the very reason why Snowpiercer train exists in the movie, and why the train’s an almost mythic feat of engineering. As it turns out, too, Wilford’s newfound presence is the spark that this show needed to freshen up any stale air inside the train’s confines. Also, it packs a punch to consider this question: now that the first train has achieved democracy, how will Wilford impact the train’s precarious state of peace?
In short, Wilford completely f*cks everything up in the best way possible for the show. The second train has connected with the first one, and things could not be more adversarial from Wilford’s objectives. He despises Melanie, and he’s got her daughter (who everyone also previously thought was dead), Alexandra (Rowan Blanchard), in tow. For that matter, he’s brought other new characters, who are ready to shake up the newly revolutionized train’s little world. Fresh dynamics abound between Big Alice’s figures and those of the original Snowpiercer, so the show can veer off in unanticipated new directions. It’s a brilliant tactic, even if the execution isn’t always spot-on, and all of the resulting conflict provides a lot of fodder for the future, so I can see why the previously planned two seasons can easily last for at least three installments.
Wilford’s really something, too. We didn’t get to see too much of him in the Snowpiercer movie, and the show’s first season paints him as a Wizard-of-Oz-like figure who’s supposedly pulling strings behind the scenes. Well, his physical manifestation puts him very much front-and-center, and boy, is he a showman. He’s sinister as can be with bloodthirsty qualities that have to be seen to be abominated. Let’s just say that his presence goes a long way to make sure Tilda Swinton’s character, Mason, is no longer haunting the train like a phantom limb that’s sorely missed. Yes, Wilford is even more entertaining than Mason, and Sean Bean is having a ball with the character. He sure must enjoy this role knowing that this gig should be one of the rare instances where he doesn’t play a character who bites it. Bean’s awfully good at dying, but hey, that routine gets old. And now, he’s pulling off an ostentatious, flashy version of Wilford.
Bean is pretty great in the role, but I sense that even with a slightly lesser actor, Wilford’s introduction would have prompted appropriate turbulence. The previous characters had grown close to each other in close confines. They know each other’s motives and personalities and even how each other smelled, and now, Bean’s almost literally making conductor movements at times while maneuvering through his mechanical baby that’s keeping mankind alive. Yes, of course there’s a god complex in there, and watching the ongoing power plays as Wilford lines up dominoes provides nearly endless opportunities for conflict. After all, Snowpiercer has virtually doubled in train size, and there’s that much more emotional territory to be mined. Not to mention the drama.
Snowpiercer confidently shifts into new gears with Season 2. It’s traveling miles beyond the initial procedural framing, and the seemingly hurried revolution from last year’s episodes is quickly forgiven with a richer storytelling journey in its place. Vast stretches of train never materialize on camera, hopefully providing fuel for the future. There’s more to be done and said on the social-caste front, but the “now, it’s personal” power struggle presented by Wilford is invigorating. And the show now resembles Bong Joon Ho’s film even less, but that’s a good thing. To this show’s credit, its unpredictability is now its strongest suit. Let the cinematic masterpiece stand on its own, I say, and let Snowpiercer the series be appreciated upon different expectations, which aren’t nearly as profound as the film, but they’re sure entertaining.
TNT’s second ‘Snowpiercer’ season premieres on Monday, January 25 at 9:00pm EST.