The world has officially gone Bong-crazy. Bong Joon-Ho-crazy that is, at least after the success of his Palme D’Or, his Oscars, and his award-winning film Parasite. Its delicious social commentary, laced with dark humor, is typical for Bong’s filmography, and one of the clearest and most commercial examples of this is Snowpiercer. A 2013 sci-fi action thriller, Snowpiercer has become a cult film of sorts, earning itself a 2020 TV adaptation. Snowpiercer’s first season feels like a muddled attempt at grasping the film’s themes, yet it builds towards an undeniably fascinating finale. Although the reward at the end feels big enough, Snowpiercer might just lose a good chunk of its viewers with its meandering and stalling narrative.
A mediocre beginning
Snowpiercer’s first episode introduces us to the structure of the train, both geographical and societal. The Tailies, named for residing in the tail section of the train which stretches out a whopping 1001 cars, are poor, dirty, and restless. In fact, they’re not even supposed to be on the train, initially reserved only for the rich and somewhat famous, but the Tailies forced themselves on to escape the deadly cold raging outside.
We are quickly introduced to Melanie (Jennifer Connelly), the hospitality director of the train answering to the mysterious Mr. Wilford, who designed the train and runs the whole operation. By the end of the first episode, we learn Mr. Wilford isn’t actually on the train and Melanie does indeed run the train with a small crew, while lying to the passengers to keep the seemingly fragile peace. Unknown to Melanie and the rest of the train, the Tailies are planning a revolution to even the score. We’re introduced to Andrew Layton (Daveed Diggs of Hamilton-fame), a Tailie who is dragged into helping when a particularly grisly death happens on the train, and Layton’s detective skills might be of use. Layton agrees to help in the hopes that he will gather useful information that will aid the revolution.
The series’ first few episodes revolve almost solely around the murder plot, which grows more disposable by the minute, with the predisposed knowledge that the subject has meatier potential. While the murder itself is fascinatingly grim, it’s just not as interesting as the film’s class politics which the TV adaptation only hints towards in the first few episodes. Snowpiercer might have worked better if it wasn’t based on such a superior film, but there’s no faulting Diggs’ performance or the weight of Connelly, who is delightfully calm and controlled in this role.
Things pick up considerably midway through the season, almost too much so. Episodes are packed with information and plot twists and while the speeding up of the narrative feels satisfying, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the series could have been this good from the very beginning.
Episode 6 “Trouble Comes Sideways” marks a real change in pace, giving the audience its first glimpse of the stakes the show can finally start racking up. An engineering emergency puts the entire train in danger and the finale of the episode is undeniably tense, as Melanie rushes to save the train. Melanie is a torn character; both an antagonist and a protagonist, a woman of many secrets. But it’s Alison Wright as Ruth, Melanie’s right-hand woman, a seriously devoted Wilford employee who is starting to rise as the most interesting character halfway through the season. However, by this point, there is too much happening within the series, and unfortunately, character arcs are somewhat abandoned in favor of action.
Once the brawling, bloody, and disruptive revolt finally begins towards the end of the season, the series starts finding its footing and fulfilling the potential behind its already-successful premise. While the action is restricted by the train’s structure and the entire concept of the revolution seems to fit the film better than it does a long-form TV show, the amount of bloodshed and gore is a welcome surprise.
There are several incredible moments scattered throughout the last few episodes, including Layton having to make a heartbreaking decision of cutting part of the train loose, dooming the people inside, both Tailies and allies alike. There aren’t quite enough of these moments, though, as if they have been sprinkled throughout the series rather than being the main course.
Just as the season becomes good, even great, it’s over. The finale leaves a lot of questions unanswered and sets things up for a potentially explosive second season, but there’s also a sense of too little, too late with Snowpiercer. The first season is too muddled and uneven to leave a lasting impression, but the last few episodes left me on the edge of my seat. If the second season can keep up the momentum of these episodes, we could have a winner on our hands.
Does it live up to its inspiration?
Snowpiercer is a worthy TV adaptation that blooms a little too late for its own good. Its uneven first season promises much for the already confirmed second season and several interesting plot threads have been set up, including the return of the mysterious Mr. Wilford, who will be played by none other than Sean Bean, who we can only pray will stay alive for longer than a single episode.
Fueled by enigmatic performances, especially by Diggs and Connelly, Snowpiercer eventually proves to be worthy of your time, but as more and more quality TV shows are announced and streamed, Snowpiercer is under the threat of getting lost in the sea of other, much more gripping shows. Let’s hope this is just a question of adjusting and the second season will knock this subject matter out of the park.
What did you think of Snowpiercer’s first season? Are you excited for a second season? Let us know in the comments.
Snowpiercer is currently streaming on Hulu.
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