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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Snowpiercer serves up courtroom drama as its revolution gains speed

Illustration for article titled Snowpiercer serves up courtroom drama as its revolution gains speed
Image: Snowpiercer (TNT)

In “Justice Never Boarded,” Snowpiercer cruises along without Layton, drawered by Melanie because he knows too much. He spends the episodes in a haze of drug-induced flashbacks to the time he helped end cannibalism in the tail, allowing Snowpiercer to dabble in some horror sequences again. Snowpiercer cobbles together several genres once again in this episode—to mixed results. The show continues to struggle with character development and also pacing, and both of those weak spots dampen the stakes. There are compelling, cogent story threads in there, but Snowpiercer is having trouble weaving them together. Frankly, the show also struggles to really say something meaningful about revolution, societal upheaval, and political unrest. The show should feel incredibly of-the-moment but ends up feeling more like a diluted, too neatly packaged rendering of revolution. Its opening monologues rely on sweeping statements about justice that never really dig past the surface.


This week’s opening monologue comes from Miss Audrey, newly determined to push back on first and second class in the wake of losing Nikki. The Night Car is supposedly depoliticized, as Melanie points out. But Audrey seems to be waking up to the idea that neutrality is dangerous in the face of oppression. Revolution reverberates in all 1,001 cars of the Snowpiercer. Audrey rightfully points out that third makes the train run. They are the working class, and they have immense collective power if pushed. She shows that power by sending a pointed message up train to first to turn up the heat, and then she strongarms Melanie into letting third have a place on the tribunal set to determine LJ Folger’s fate. It works, but then Melanie intervenes using the shadow of Mr. Wilford and—whether intentionally or not—hastens the spark of revolution that Lila Folger warns her husband is coming.

It still seems unclear exactly where Melanie is coming from with her decisions, which is why I’m torn on whether she knows that pardoning LJ will surely embolden an uprising. She does it under the guise of keeping LJ quiet about whatever the informant told her before she and Erik killed him. And I wouldn’t go so far as to say that she’s attempting to give the uprising a reason to fight harder. Yet, it’s difficult to place Melanie in this whole mess. Ruth champions order—even goes so far as to say that free will can’t exist onboard because it messes too much with order—and Melanie is absolutely attempting to preserve order by keeping Wilford alive as a phantom presence, but her motivations are blurrier. Audrey hints at Melanie valuing justice more in the past, but as tends to be the case with character development on this show, it’s doled out in too small of morsels or with too broad of strokes.

We see Melanie be a little more human than usual in this episode in the sense that she gets so stressed out that she has to literally bang it out with one of the other engineers she drives the train with. And it yields the kind of scene that Snowpiercer doesn’t do enough of. The post-sex scene between Melanie and him is intimate and specific and compelling on a character level. Snowpiercer often gets so swept up in the world-building and the game of lining up the pieces for its sprawling narratives that the characters feel more like players in that game than real people. Audrey is loosely sketched. Jinju is barely sketched. Bess is inconsistently sketched. Melanie is confusing. Josie and Zarah are both barely developed outside of the way they fit into Layton’s arc. That is a whole lot of character issues for an ensemble show.

And the character development issues aren’t confined to any one class; it’s the whole damn train. The Folgers continue to seem like caricatures of soulless rich people, and we learn that LJ has always been a demon. She literally forked her father’s eye as a child, and now her idea of fun is to have her dad pop his eye out and put it in her mouth?! As I touched on last week, the attempts to make her seem like an eccentric monster are just a little too much. It’s almost like Snowpiercer can’t figure out how to paint rich people as evil without doing so in cartoonish ways, which just isn’t as effective as more grounded character development and storytelling would be. Rich people don’t need to be literally popping eyeballs in their mouths and torturing folks in order to be corrupt and evil. Even their silence about the injustices in the Tail is violence. But Snowpiercer doesn’t deal with these more nuanced approaches to establishing motive and stakes too often.

“Justice Never Boarded” has a thrilling heist component to it in the form of Josie sneaking out of the Tail again to save Layton. She gets some help from the janitors, who are only willing to help her break into the drawers because it means that they can score some drug supplies to keep their business going. Everyone wants something on the Snowpiercer, and the fraught ecosystem of the train’s social, economic, and political groups continues to be a strong part of its world-building. The failures of capitalism are often on full display, and that’s also true in the way the tribunal unfolds. Money insulates first class not only from disease, as Audrey points out, but also from any consequences.


The tribunal plotline—which dominates the episode—is a little clumsily executed. The plotting involves too much build-up and also too much time spent in the actual proceedings when what really matters most is the fallout. Much like the cop procedural aspect of the show’s narrative feels wedged-in, this episode feels a bit like the writers just wanted to wedge in a legal drama. The tribunal further exposes the injustices and unbalanced power structures aboard the train, but it does so again in broad strokes and without much attention to specificity, especially on a character-level. It’s possible that the tribunal wouldn’t feel so dragged out if those character issues were less glaring. Wonky pacing and underdeveloped characters are becoming problems that exacerbate each other on the show. And while the brewing revolution is the most exciting part of the series, it won’t hit as hard if the stakes don’t start to feel higher and more personal for everyone involved.

Stray observations

  • Jinju sponsors Bess’ upgrade to second class, and the moment the part of the contract is read that reiterates Jinju’s responsibility for Bess’ actions, it’s very clear that Bess is going to do something to get herself and her love in trouble. That moment comes when she whacks her asshole partner over the head to help Josie free Layton.
  • I’m starting to find it hard to believe that no one ever questions Wilford’s existence. Layton figures it out in a matter of days.