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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Snowpiercer still struggles to connect its own dots

Illustration for article titled Snowpiercer still struggles to connect its own dots
Image: Snowpiercer (TNT)

“Without Their Maker” finally solves Snowpiercer’s shoved-in murder mystery, but the way in which it plays out only reiterates just how shoved-in it was in the first place. Erik the bodyguard is on the run in the wake of killing Nikki Genêt—until he meets his grisly death. LJ Folger, a character limited to a few lines and glances in the first few episodes, becomes a major focus and, ultimately, the real mastermind behind the killings. The way we get there is tedious and occasionally even silly. It ends up feeling like a distraction from the real story at play. Once again, Snowpiercer is back to fumbling the way it weaves the various threads of its narrative. The aftermath of the murders will hopefully have implications for the brewing revolution, but we’re not there yet. Instead, “Without Their Maker” lets the revolution fall to the backburner while we’re treated to this caricature of an evil rich person in the form of LJ.


I was admittedly slow on the uptake of Erik being the killer at the end of last episode, but that’s also reflective of the problems Snowpiercer has with character. Erik is a loose sketch at best. He’s a device. We learn a little bit more about him in this episode, including that he had a white dad who he hated but whose record collection he keeps. These details might be specific, but that doesn’t automatically equal cogent character development.

What’s more significant is his relationship with LJ, which is similarly loosely defined. Layton pieces together that he did her bidding, torturing downtrain folks as part of her weird theater of horrors. That’s what we’re left with by way of motive: LJ is simply a bored, beautiful, young first class passenger who had to torture men to feel something. Maybe there’s ultimately more to it, but the episode draws LJ in broad, cartoonish strokes to the point where it’s borderline comical. I’m not sure what direction Annalise Basso was given for her performance, but she brings a strange energy to this performance that just feels out of place. It’s almost like Snowpiercer was trying to go for an Eliza-Scanlan-in-Sharp-Objects vibe with this character, but it’s a misfire. I can’t tell how old LJ is supposed to be either, which is another failure of the writing.

There are still some loose ends to the killings, including how Nikki fits into all of it. Erik’s final words to her, after all, suggested a deeper connection between them. Nikki has connections to several characters: Miss Audrey, who’s in mourning in this episode in the wake of Nikki’s death, Zarah, Erik and LJ, Jinju, Till. Everyone seems to have personal investment in the false accusations against her and now in her death, and yet Nikki is still mostly just a specter. That’s really the issue at the heart of Snowpiercer’s attempt at a crime procedural: It lacks stakes. Layton catching LJ is satisfying on some level because she truly believes her privilege insulates her from getting caught and doesn’t see his betrayal coming, but it’s a quick satisfaction that subsides, because who even is LJ Folger?

Look, there’s absolutely something meaningful under the surface of LJ’s motive: Her violent voyeurism is another insidious side effect of capitalism and rigid class structures. Whereas the other first class passengers look at Tailies and downtrain folks with disgust and a little fear (look no further than their collective reaction to Layton coming into their world in this episode), she looks at them with wonder and awe. It’s equally if not more disturbing of a reaction. It’s all a spectacle for her, much like Fight Night. She’s amused by the fact that Tailies don’t get to see the sun. But “Without Their Maker” never fully engages with any of this, instead letting LJ just unfold cartoonishly. Snowpiercer is slow to connect the dots of its narratives.

Layton pieces a lot together in the episode, including the fact that Wilford doesn’t exist anymore, at least not in corporeal form. “Myth is a powerful thing,” he muses over sake with Melanie, who earlier in the episode notices Layton noticing that she’s faking a call with Wilford to placate first class. Not only are the class structures of the Snowpiercer completely socially constructed; they’re contrived to the point of play-pretend. Melanie keeps Wilford alive, making her complicit in the sham. She tries to relate to Layton by talking about her dirt farm roots, but she’s hardly a symbol of justice. It’s still these moments that are the most compelling on Snowpiercer, the ones that dig into the idea that class is socially constructed and enforced from the top down, touching all aspects of life. Layton sees a beautiful aquarium and calls it what it is: yet another beacon of resource control.


On that note, we do spend some time in the Tail and efforts toward an uprising between all the LJ stuff. Josie uses the key Layton kissed into her mouth to sneak off during a lunch break on sanitation duty and meet up with Astrid, a former Tailie brought up train to work in food processing. There are moments with emotional weight to them, like Josie seeing outside for the first time and accepting food from Astrid. There are real stakes here, too. The tension of Josie getting back in time is the most genuinely fraught part of the episode.

Again, Snowpiercer’s story and cast is sprawled to the point of dilution. The cop show-adjacent stuff takes away from the meaningfulness of its story on uprising and class. Layton ending up in the drawers certainly propels the story forward. The protagonist is quite literally sidelined. But in some areas, Snowpiercer is burning through story too fast, and in others, it’s taking its sweet time. Four episodes in is pretty deep to still be struggling so much with character development.


Stray observations

  • I really have to wonder if ANYONE involved in adapting Snowpiercer for television regrets making a leader of the revolution...a COP. “Cop show” as a default premise for serious dramas has got to stop.
  • We get a little more of Jinju and Till’s relationship: Till doesn’t want to “come out” about their relationship—not because of the queer aspect but because thirdies are apparently “weird” about dating uptrain. I don’t know, something doesn’t quite sit right with me that the only queer couple on the show so far still have to keep their relationship a secret for reasons other than homophobia.
  • I’m still not sold on the voiceover switching device working.