The first Season of Snowpiercer drifted away from both the graphic novel and the film in terms of plot but still retained it’s fundamental idea – A class revolution on a perpetual train. With 10 episodes to fill, show-runners Josh Freidman and Graeme Manson had to take this source material and stretch it. An approach that left gaps and those gaps were addressed with the introduction of new characters, plot-lines and themes, not all of which were successful, as my review of Season 1 covers. But now what? The revolution is won. The source material exhausted. Will Snowpiercer Season 2 continue to survive the freeze now they’ve reached the edge of the map?
Unsurprisingly, Daveed Diggs reprises the lead role as revolutionary and newly appointed train leader, Andre Layton and puts in a stronger performance this time around. Fewer scenes with needless characters aids this as well as the unanticipated pressure put on Layton’s shoulder’s after he and the tailies take the train. Leadership in relative peace, it seems, is a lot tougher than leadership in war and he wrestles with this idea throughout the series. After a disappointing first series, it’s good to see Diggs sinking his teeth into some meatier material and becoming a much more compelling lead as a result. We also see the return of the Season 1 standout Jennifer Connelly as former Head of Hospitality and Layton’s newest and most powerful ally, Melanie Cavill. Her screen time here is lesser and unfortunately the show suffers a little because of it. Especially with the introduction of some new challenges, it would’ve been fun to see Melanie flexing her intellectual muscles and her ruthlessness-in-service-of-Snowpiercer a little more this season. Other returners are Iddo Goldberg, Mickey Sumner, Micke O’Malley and Alison Wright, as the only interesting secondary characters of the show. Luckily, the creators have culled or at least suppressed the screen-time of a few lesser supporting characters in favour of making room for these four to stretch their wings more and it was absolutely the right move. Each is given a significantly larger part to play in the grand scheme of things and they seize the opportunity. Sumner’s Bess Till is appointed the new Train Detective in Layton’s absence and a particularly strong turn comes from Wright as the once steadfast, now deeply conflicted Ruth.
The real quality of performance however comes from the newest members of the cast. Namely Sean Bean and Rowan Blanchard as the notorious enigma Mr Wilford and Alexandra Cavill respectively. Until now, Mr Wilford’s presence upon the train had always been felt but never seen, the 3rd act of Season 1 revealing it was actually Melanie running the train in his stead. But Mr Wilford, being the resourceful and talented engineer he is, has found his way back onto the train by connecting a second, smaller train on which he has been living for 7 years, and he wants what is his. He wants Snowpiercer. Bean revels in playing this eccentric yet sinister character, his performance turning on a six-pence scene to scene, he is clearly having a joyous time swaggering around in Wilford’s skin and it translates to screen beautifully. The personification of a loaded god complex, volatile and charismatic, cold and vulnerable, a truly complicated, multifarious character, making him fiercely compelling throughout all 10 episodes. In many ways, he rescues Season 2 from being a repeat of the boilerplate first season. Blanchard’s Alex, Melanie’s daughter, is equally well-drawn. She’s also spent the last 7 years on the smaller train (Big Alice), where resources were scarce and perpetual existence was difficult, if not impossible. Brought under Wilford’s wing she is trained as an engineer and during this time his influence has turned her into a harsh, unemotional young woman. Angry at her mother for leaving on Snowpiercer and loyal to Wilford, the only parent figure she’s had during her formative years. Together, Alex & Mr Wilford take on Layton and Melanie in a brand new war. The war for Snowpiercer.
This conflict forms the spine of the narrative for Season 2 and gives it a solid, consistant through-line. Smaller plots weave in and out of centre frame but more often than not they are, in some way, connected to this war, making for a far more cohesive season than the first. Layton’s leadership comes under constant scrutiny as he fights to maintain peace and trust on Snowpiercer while handling Mr Wilford’s smug encroachment through propaganda and rumour, spreading throughout the train. Wilford’s weapon is fear, and he wields it disguised as order leaving Layton exposed to the fickle nature of the passengers, many of whom have long desired Wilford’s return. Melanie’s limited time in this season sees her lave the train in order to obtain information on the changes in climate that have occurred over the last few years. She believes the world is warming up again and it’s possible that the occupants of Snowpiercer could begin the colonisation of the planet. To be sure, she ventures to an abandoned facility a few miles from where Snowpiercer’s track runs, expecting Layton to turn the train around and return for her in one month’s time, once she’s gathered the data they need. Needless to say, things are never that simple and Mr Wilford won’t want to waste this opportunity to dispose of his most formidable opponent and greatest threat to his plans. After she leaves the train, we don’t see much of Melanie and it’s a shame as she is by far the most engaging and complex character of the show, not to mention Connelly is exceptional in the role. Her story-line does show us some gorgeous landscapes and takes us away from the confines of the train for the first time which allows for some more variety in the aesthetics of the series. The budget bump also gives us some better shots of the outside of the train, a particular stretch of track known as The Corkscrew, backed with music by The Haxon Cloak is a highlight, among other climactic moments.
Ruling – Overall it’s a solid step up from Season 1 and the final episode leaves us on the precipice on an interesting third Season. Unlike Mr Wilford’s engine though this show isn’t eternal and it needs to be aware of the end of the track. A third and final season would feel like an appropriate amount for a show like this, anymore could result in yet another Netflix property outstaying it’s welcome.