Snowpiecer's Second Season Welcomes in a New, if Unsurprising Tyranny

Sean Bean as Joseph Wilford.
Sean Bean as Joseph Wilford.
Screenshot: TNT

After getting off to a rocky start, TNT’s Snowpiercer ultimately found its footing over the progression of its first season. Years of post-apocalyptic simmering class conflict between the titular train’s cars erupted in its climax, setting the stage for a second season that wants to try and explore those conflicts beyond the confines of its source material.

Over the course of Snowpiercer’s debut season, things came to multiple heads following the lower-class passenger uprising led by Andre Layton (Daveed Diggs); its outcome was that everyone learned the truth about Snowpiercer’s mysterious, secretive conductor, Mr. Wilford, portrayed by Game of Thrones’ Sean Bean. Wilford’s actions in the first season—not to mention those of Snowpiercer head of hospitality Melanie (Jennifer Connelly)—gave the show’s sizable cast plenty to chew on, as their characters all attempted to make sense of what would become of their futures, now that Snowpiercer’s passengers had all but given up on maintaining their strange society.

Illustration for article titled Snowpiecer's Second Season Welcomes in a New, if Unsurprising Tyranny
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But in the first season’s final moments, which is right where the second season picks up, Snowpiercer signaled that it was about to veer even further off the source material’s tracks, as everyone on Snowpiercer learned that their train wasn’t the only one still chugging through the never-ending ice and snow.

As Snowpiercer’s second season opens, there are still plenty of people who want Melanie’s (Jennifer Connelly) head, as well as the heads of the rest of the hospitality staff, on spikes for their years of brutal subjugation and deception. But most everyone’s focus in season two’s early episodes—four of which were provided ahead of time for review—is on Big Alice, another monstrous train of Wilford’s creation that’s latched itself onto Snowpiercer with the threat of grinding the locomotive to a halt.

In the same way that the sudden realization that Wilford might actually be dead or have never boarded the train rocked Snowpiercer’s passengers, learning that he’s alive and well aboard Big Alice fills some of them, like hospitality manager Ruth Wardell (Alisson Wright) and teen sociopath LJ (Annalise Basso), with a cautious but nonetheless delusional hope that their savior’s arrived. But others on the train, like Layton, Sam Roche (Mike O’Malley), and Bess Till (Mickey Sumner), know to view Big Alice and its inhabitants as a threat if only because of how insistent Melanie was on keeping them away from Wilford.

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Among this tension Snowpiercer’s second season attempts to weave a dark, narrative rhyme as it reintroduces us to Melanie, who finds herself in the season’s opening moments quite outside of the two trains, clad in a special suit that can only do so much to protect her from the deadly frost. Unlike everyone on Snowpiercer who doesn’t have a solid idea of what Wilford’s arrival means, Melanie is the one character that does, and there’s a feverish passion to the work she does gathering snow and tinkering with the trains before she finds herself being hauled back aboard to face what Wilford’s arrival on the scene really means.

Melanie and Layton shaking hands.
Melanie and Layton shaking hands.
Screenshot: TNT
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At the same time that Melanie’s stepping foot on Big Alice for what might be the first time ever, Snowpiercer introduces us to Melanie’s long-lost daughter Alex (A Wrinkle In Time’s Rowan Blanchard), who boards the train as Wilford’s envoy with a list of demands that must be met under threat of Big Alice killing Snowpiercer’s power source. In Alex, you can see shades of her mother’s calculating eye, but also get a sense of what sort of negative influence Wilford was during her upbringing aboard Big Alice.

The tenuous peace and faith in a fledging democracy that Snowpiercer’s passengers established in season one is something else increasingly tested this season, as Snowpiercer and Big Alice’s fates become figuratively and literally interconnected in different ways. When Bean’s Wilford eventually strides his way on screen, he does so with an air of unmistakable darkness that immediately marks him as this season’s villain. But what’s somewhat curious about Bean’s presence as Wilford is how the character’s actions sometimes undercut the gravity he’s supposed to carry.

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When we meet other new characters—like Big Alice’s hospitality head, Kevin (Tom Lipinski), and a man best only known as “Icy Bob” (Andre Tricoteux)—they all help create this idea of Wilford and Big Alice as indominable forces of evil that everyone on Snowpiercer would do well to fear. But in scenes like the moment when Wilford eventually comes face to face with Melanie, there’s something that feels almost too silly about these figures, especially compared to the image and reputation Snowpiercer has spent the past season trying to project. This is still a show about people surviving a wintery apocalypse by bundling together on trains, and after the way Snowpiercer committed its first season to examining what revolution in the end times might look like, it feels like something of a decelerating step back to pivot away from that to a typically sinister Big Bad figure, who does Big Bad things like deliver ominous speeches to popular music.

Whether that initial threat that Big Alice’s arrival signals comes home to roost in later episodes of season two remains to be seen, of course. And in spite of some of the disappointment with Wilford himself, there are some interesting ideas at work in Snowpiercer’s second season that have the potential to make this next leg of the journey one worth following. As a start, though, it’s a season that stays the course and maintains pace rather than doing anything truly new with its world. But in tricky weather situations like a frozen apocalypse navigated by nightmare trains, accidents happen all the time—so who knows what the future may hold?

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Snowpiercer returns to TNT today, January 25.

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io9 Culture Critic and Staff Writer. Cyclops was right.

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DISCUSSION

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Even in Snowpiercer S1, it was pretty silly despite its desire to be taken super-seriously, from cheesy CG that would make “Legends of Tomorrow” laugh to the desparate amounts of cable-friendly bare butts in an attempt to feel “adult”.

But hey, there are way worse ways to kill an hour of TV than throwing that cast together in one show and letting them cook.