Ever since Big Alice and Snowpiercer’s fates were fused together, Wilford’s evil wheels have been turning as he plots to take over the empire he built. With growing unrest aboard Snowpiercer, he’s positioned to finally make his move. As Roche puts it in “The Eternal Engineer,” the train is one dirty look away from a civil war. But it isn’t another big violent event that eventually gives the control back to Wilford. A Big Alice army led by Icy Bob doesn’t take the train by force. No, the moment that Wilford takes the helm is quiet. It lacks fanfare. It’s a silent stepping into what feels like a grimly inevitable change of power. And the understated nature of this shift actually makes it all the more seismic, all the more of a gut-punch for these characters who realize too late that their enemy is this powerful.
Layton’s already on edge due to the growing support for Wilford on the train. In a funeral service for the murdered breachmen, a few members of Roche’s brakemen throw up Ws with their hands, and Roche writes it off as just part of old tradition, but it’s clear that something bigger is happening here. There’s a rumor that the jackboots who survived the revolution are rebuilding a security force in support of Wilford. Boki is still so unflinching in his support of Wilford that he refuses to believe he’s behind the deaths of his crew. He still blames the Tail. It’s always easiest to blame the most disenfranchised group, and Wilford depends on that. Wilford really has pulled off such a cunning and effective staging for a civil war. He uses Icy Bob to sabotage Snowpiercer’s engine, and he has choked the easiest solution to the problem by eliminating the breachmen.
It isn’t until Boki sees for himself that the train has been intentionally sabotaged that he finally shifts his allegiance from Wilford to Layton. He previously pledged his life to Wilford, and like so many individuals and groups who have done the same, that pledge fostered a zealous attachment to Wilford, which is not so easily severed. The passengers crave a break from the violence and chaos that the revolution stirred, and it’s making them veer back toward the very source of that violence and chaos: the old ways of Wilford’s empire. Last week’s episode firmly establishes Wilford’s approach to manipulation on an interpersonal level and a massive scale: He creates the problem so that he can solve it. Without breachmen to help out, down their lead engineer, and lacking the part necessary to repair the engine, Snowpiercer’s leaders have no choice but to call upon Wilford to fix the problem he created, which is causing massive leaks onboard and also slowing down the train. Wilford becomes their life support.
But before we get to the climax of that central conflict, let’s visit some of the other subplots stirring up drama on both Snowpiercer and Big Alice. Some of these are mundane, like LJ and Oz’s predictable but unnecessary romance. LJ and Oz have been bizarrely employed all season as a comedic-relief goofy duo, which doesn’t sit well given that both were responsible for such atrocities last season. Roche being torn between doing what he believes is the right thing and protecting his family makes for a strong character arc, but it would be more effective if his wife Anne felt like a more fully realized character than just a mouthpiece. She points out that their family lived well under Wilford’s rule, and Roche has to point out to her that Wilford had portals installed on the train to freeze off the arms of dissenters, and she just kind of blows right past that. I do think it’s believable that so many characters would prioritize their own well being over the common good, and Wilford’s whole experiment depends on that individualism. But we’re shown this in such broad strokes when it comes to Anne that she feels like little more than a symbol.
Alex remains two steps behind Wilford’s plans, and it feels a bit like history repeating itself. Melanie was always wary of Wilford’s cruel tendencies, but she remained somewhat ignorant of the full extent of his schemes, thinking that she could outmaneuver him in the moments before the train took off into letting her bring more scientists on board. She never seemed to consider that he would execute them. Alex, meanwhile, has known all along that it has been the plan to take over Snowpiercer, but she has remained somewhat willfully ignorant of what that really means. Just as she was starting to show signs of empathy for Melanie and the people of Snowpiercer, Wilford shut her out, and the intended effect has taken hold: Alex is desperate to be on Wilford’s good side again. She’s out of the loop but still ultimately complicit in what Big Alice is doing to Snowpiercer, swept up in the mirage of having power by merely being close to Wilford’s power. Audrey taunts her for being out of the loop, which is yet another extremely effective tactic on Wilford’s part. He turns people against one another. Audrey, it seems, is completely on his side again, a transformation I’ve had some difficulty swallowing, but there really is no denying that Wilford’s a master of trauma bonding. It’s the foundation for all of his schemes. He punishes and rewards with such frequency that he distorts people’s perception of him.
Layton says it himself when they realize they need to bring Wilford in to fix the engine: It doesn’t matter that he’s the one who broke it, the train will see him as their savior. It’s a beyond frustrating scenario, and even though Layton and the others try to maintain control, it’s clear that the train’s idolization of Wilford will win out in the end. Support for him is simply too big to contain. Boki had to see it to believe it. Ruth has only very recently accepted that Wilford has malicious intent. Wilford’s able to convince people to pledge their lives to him, as is the case with Icy Bob, who goes through physical pain to serve Wilford. Josie grapples with the fact that she has also been weaponized by the Headwood’s experimental treatments, which have reconstructed her skin but also made her impervious to the cold. While everyone else fights his battles, Wilford just sits back and relaxes (quite literally—he has been taking a bunch of baths, which Alex knows means he’s scheming).
Despite their attempts to get Wilford into the engine without Snowpiercer finding out, someone spots Wilford, and the message spreads quickly. But it’s not just that sighting that gives Wilford the upper hand. Once in the engine, Wilford flaunts that he’s still the person most knowledgeable about the train and how to fix it. Again, it doesn’t ultimately matter that he’s the one who instigated the problem. The fact of the matter is that he’s the one who can save the day, and the passengers of Snowpiercer will believe what they want to believe. He has so firmly solidified the myth that he is humanity’s salvation. He steps in to fix the engine when Javi can’t do it fast enough, and when he heads to the phone to make the all-train announcement that he put things back together, Layton lets him.
In that small moment, everything changes. Wilford is simply too big, and Snowpiercer is too mired in chaos. It’s the perfect conditions for a despot to step into power. Wilford has lined up all the pieces for a disturbingly smooth takeover, and Snowpiercer’s stakes are very urgent as it nears the end of season two. While we certainly have no incentive to root for Wilford, watching him pull this off is oddly satisfying. It throws all of the characters into dire situations and injects Snowpiercer with momentum. The look on Layton’s face as he realizes that Wilford is going to get exactly what he wants is an instantly memorable shot. Again, Wilford’s masterplan is so calculated, so shrewd, that there’s an inevitability to it. Legend is a powerful thing, and Wilford has made a legend of himself with his cult leader approach to winning people over. He makes people believe they need him.
- Roche and his whole family are in the drawers now, and Layton’s a prisoner aboard Big Alice. This episode really does end on such a dire note.
- Will Alex be the one to finally betray Wilford? I hope so!
- But I also kind of do hope that Audrey betrays him, too, even though it’s clear that she’s in too deep.
- Layton bracing after Boki hitting him on the shoulder in a show of support is a funny moment.
- The Headwoods are supposed to be very menacing, but they come off as a little goofy sometimes.