Review: Snowpiercer (TV Series)
With the release of the show’s third season, Stanley Murphy-Johns makes the case for going back and watching the flawed yet artful show in its entirety.
Is the acting a strange amalgamation of melodramatic and wooden? Yep. Does the writing fall flat in the quieter moments? Absolutely. Is the central metaphor so on the nose that it hurts? Without a doubt. But is Snowpiercer one of my favourite TV series from the last 5 years? Yes.
To best explain my overwhelming love for this, in sum, mediocre show, I will start at the beginning – the concept. There is a train, a very, very long train – 1001 cars long to be exact – and this train carries the last dregs of humanity as they perpetually circle the earth, sustaining them against the ice age unfolding just beyond the carriage walls.
Having been built by the eccentric billionaire, Mr. Wilford (Sean Bean), the train perpetuates the extremes of class separation. Fairly self-explanatory are the in-built distinctions: first-, second-, third-class and the tail all very clearly correlate to a certain section of society. The concept is simplistic – but do not for one moment assume that this affects the measure of its impact. The viewer’s simple awareness that those in the tail are subjugated by those classes above (or ahead of) them, doesn’t dull the impact of its depiction on the screen!
In actual fact, if anything, it adds an extra layer of intrigue. This is a concept purpose-built for those who love media that weaves many interrelated stories together into one grand, dramatic tapestry. Being one such individual, a show about a very long train that introduces five storylines in the first episode is always going to get me excited.
…the show screams dystopia even before you see someone’s arm being frozen off their body
Moving from concept to composition, suffice it to say that the style of this show is extremely rich. The wardrobe combines Victorian style with postmodern sensibility and creates a steam-punk analog that manages, thankfully, to avoid those obnoxious metal goggles. There is the night car, which resembles prohibition-era America, reminiscent of a time where everyone was blind to imminent disaster. And this frivolity and excess is contrasted starkly by the etiquette of the first-class, which does its best to mirror upper-class Victorian custom and separates its passengers as far as possible from the harsh realities of the majority of the train. As might be clear by now, this harshness becomes most apparent in the squalor of the tail, whose citizens struggle to survive as people ‘up-train’ throw caviar into their gullet.
Yes, yes, it’s all very on the nose – but do let me finish. My point is: the show screams dystopia even before you see someone’s arm being frozen off their body and that, to my mind, is a very impressive feat. A feat made possible by what is clearly an abundance of talent in the set and costuming departments.
Whilst my comment at the beginning of this piece concerning the quality of the show’s acting may be perceived as categorising it as a weakness, I can assure you it was not meant to do so. The strangeness of the amalgamation is also thoroughly intriguing. The performances, mixing melodrama and a tendency towards the robotic, just seem to add to the ever-shifting tone of the show.
There is but one takeaway – you must watch the show and see for yourself
Daveed Diggs stars as Layton – a ‘Tailey’ who used to be a detective before the world became a frozen hellscape – a man who exudes charisma to such an extent that, were he to call on your support in the revolution, you know you would follow him. However, the warmth and the kindness he can produce is largely only impactful due to brilliance of his counterparts on the other side of the aisle.
Take Jennifer Connelly as Melanie, the head engineer: never before have I hated and then so quickly come to love a character. To begin with, she’s just awful but then, slowly, creepingly, you find yourself dismissing the fact that she just killed someone, justifying that ‘she’s doing it for the greater good’. Even now, I still don’t know how my mind was changed so suddenly.
Finally, Sean Bean, who arrived in season two, isn’t dead yet (so you’ve got to assume it’s on the way) and, really, he’s as good as you could ever want him to be – the perfect pantomime villain for Layton to battle with.
This was a strange and jumbled review, yes, but that’s only testament to the bewildering yet irresistible show that’s been constructed here. There is but one takeaway – you must watch the show and see for yourself. People aren’t perfect and neither is Snowpiercer, so go and watch this brilliantly messy piece of art.