There’s barely a moment to breathe on Snowpiercer Season 1 Episode 9 as we dive directly into the aftermath of the Battle of the Night Car and Pike’s surprise return to action.
Melanie’s incarceration with the captured rebels (and opening voiceover monologue) is perhaps the most introspective moment we get.
And the question that begs asking here — very much related to my thoughts on the torture device used on Snowpiercer Season 1 Episode 7 — is why does a train have an execution chamber?
I thought I could let him go. Over time, with miles traveled. I thought I could strip Wilford away. Shed his rules, one by one. And finally, his mask. Until he was just a logo on the wall.
What sort of vision did Wilford have for society on Snowpiercer that he designed portholes to freeze off limbs, air hoses to remove appendages, and an entire car for administering the “lung of ice”?
I thought I could create a kinder, gentler world. But the train demanded otherwise. The train demanded blood. I fed her and now they will. Until we reach our final destination, everyone the same in pain and doubt. Holding our losses close on Snowpiercer, one thousand and one cars long.
Because, no matter Melanie Cavill’s faults and sins, I do not believe she would see these features as favorable amenities.
And — can I take a moment here to say — watching them execute Walter, the paper-maker, was such a kill-a-mockingbird moment.
We didn’t see Walter often, but he was Third’s rep on the tribunal, and his skill is one on which education and information rely. His death, specifically, is heavy with symbolism.
One last point about the execution chamber. It’s. Still. On. The. Train.
The fact that Layton was forced to cut away his people, trapped in the holding cell car, but retain the execution chamber (purely due to the luck of layout) is a horrific reality.
In a war with very clear combatants, crossing the lines is both dramatic and complicated.
The Tail is so used to fending on its own; even Layton has to repeatedly remind them that they have allies now.
Look, I know y’all got trust issues. I got ’em, too. People uptrain shuttin’ us down here in the dark to fend for ourselves. We learned how to survive in the shadows. Well, today… today, let’s leave this hell behind! We will fight with everything we’ve got because out there, right outside that door, there is a future that does not include us! Today, we take this train and we remind them exactly who it is they locked up back here!
For Pike to side with First to secure a better life for himself is opportunistic and very much in keeping with his character but also understandable.
Pike isn’t one for noble sensibilities. He doesn’t have family tying him to The Tail. We don’t know what he came on board with, where he comes from, what his pre-Freeze backstory is.
What we do know is that he’s spent seven years in the dark and cold of The Tail, eating whatever was rationed, and trying to look as unappetizing as possible to kill cult enthusiasts.
His compatriots in The Tail are people he would fight with, but they aren’t people he’ll fight for.
Whether his agreement with First would’ve been honored had things gone according to plan, we’ll never know. However, now that First’s plan in no longer a going concern, it’ll be interesting to see how he pivots into the new order.
And with Layton at the head of that new order, Pike will be looking to capitalize on his understanding of his best frenemy.
The thing about Layton is he’s an idealist. The good cop. Doesn’t have the stomach for sustained cruelty. He took a big risk today and he lost. Keep grinding, he’ll crumble.
There are multiple moments of reversal that play havoc with our emotions and the motivations of the characters.
Layton goes from standing with Till and Audrey in their determination to never surrender to offering himself up to preserve a chance of survival for his baby.
Cavill goes from accepting her death to finally being able to do what she’s best at in the peace of The Engine Car. Once her improbable plan to eject the military presence into the Cold is carried out, that is.
Bennett: Do you have any idea what you’ve done?
Miles: I freed The Tail.
Bennett: You’re not a soldier, Miles. You’re a tragic child.
Miles and Bennett go from adversaries in The Engine to saving the train together.
The Folgers go from their greatest triumph to certain death. (#WOOT)
And Layton, in the very moment that guarantees victory for The Tail, feels his greatest failure as a leader as he abandons those in the holding cell car to the Cold.
Layton: You knew I’d have to cut them.
Cavill: I knew the choice would be yours. It’s what we live with every second of our existance. You have the train, Layton.
The fact that Cavill knew the choice Layton would have to make echoes eerily of the shared eating of the kill cult leader’s in The Tail.
There was an understanding at that moment that everyone bore the responsibility for the killing, no matter who actually killed him.
In the same way, Cavill both tests Layton and forces on him an understanding of the choices she has had to make for the greater good on Snowpiercer.
Cavill: It was never about power.
Audrey: Is that what you keep telling youself?
Cavill: I saved humanity, Audrey.
And, now, that responsibility falls to Layton.
Till and Audrey will advise him, of course. But they have different priorities from each other as well as from him.
And Roche will have something to say.
Till: You don’t believe in the cause, fine! Then fight for what’s right. Fight for your family. Fight for your frickin’ lunch meat.
Roche: It’s a travesty to call this lunch meat.
Speaking of the Head Brakeman, I’m really glad that he survived and that he was willing to choose the right side of the war.
Roche: Just tell me this, is it possible the train won’t reconnect?
Cavill: If we blow the timing. Or if there’s damage during the separation. It could prevent recoupling.
Roche: Then what?
Cavill: Then the back half of the train will freeze. And the front half will starve.
Roche: Hm. Ok. Thought so. Just want to hear someone say it out loud so we all know how freakin’ stupid this is.
Even more so, I’m pleased that he maintained his role as a clear-sighted and honest man. He may have sided with The Tail, but he never romanticizes their chances.
Even the final execution of Cavill’s train-style barn-swallow maneuver is fraught with wildly swinging emotions. Things don’t go smoothly as would be expected.
The fact that Layton and Roche were unsuccessful in defeating Grey and his jackboots on their own (even with a gun) is just realistic. The train’s military has demonstrated its vicious and efficient strength in multiple encounters.
Grey: Do you know how much damage a bullet can do down here?
Roche: I’m counting on your brainpan to slow it down.
And it was just heart-warming to see Strong Boy launch himself into the fray the way he did. Having a team of recently-revived Tailies prove the winning factor against the jackboots greatly appeals to the underdog-supporter in me.
It occurs to me that if we were to look at the various characters’ journeys thus far this season, the individual who has been transformed the most is Bess Till.
Of all the players, Till’s story has been the most in line with the Hero’s Journey. From the moment she’s assigned to Layton while he investigates, she has grown as an investigator, as a revolutionary, as a person.
When Jinju sponsored her for the upgrade to Second Class, Till could’ve made staying there her priority, turning her back on anything that could endanger that status.
Instead, she answered the vocation within herself to do the right thing and chose to fight for those trying to create a more fair and equal society aboard Snowpiercer.
In doing so, she’s ended her relationship with Jinju; she’s allied herself with the revolution, and she’s made it clear that she will not stay silent in the face of injustice. She’s chosen a more difficult path, but it’s a true one.
Without exaggeration, I cannot think of a better season finale in recent television than Snowpiercer Season 1 Episode 10.
Those who read my reviews regularly know that I hold season finales to a higher standard than even series finales since they must, in my mind, serve a double purpose — satisfyingly concluding the season’s conflicts while sparking something new to make me want to return.
And, on both fronts, Snowpiercer’s finale delivered with elegance and spectacle.
With the war won, the script moves swiftly to tidy up the last of the housekeeping.
They could’ve phoned in Cavill’s wrap-up. Had her turn over the train and quietly retreat to the Engine Car, a deposed regent’s retirement.
Instead, we saw more nuance and vulnerability in Melanie Cavill on her last day in Hospitality than we had in all the preceding narratives.
We’re all haunted by our choices. The personal choice we all made when we boarded this train and the collective choices that brought us to that day. Choices made over decades even when we knew climate change was real. And finally, my own choice to pirate this ark and lie to you all which has brought us to where we are now. May we all move forward with greater awareness of the choices that we make. We are one train and today, that train chooses change. I hereby relinquish governance of Snowpiercer to the rebel forces. These are our revolutions.
To make the finale stand out, even more, there is no voiceover at the start. Melanie greets the train in a nearly standard manner and turns over the train, all 994 remaining cars, to Layton and the rebel forces.
Then there’s the visit to the Night Car, and we suddenly realize that for seven years, Cavill has repressed and hidden her grief over leaving her daughter behind.
Remember when Life was everywhere you looked, everywhere you walked, cradled you, fed you wonder, made you who you are. Now, hear Snowpiercer. Feel the track. Metal on metal. The flow of your Engine Eternal. Her veins bringing power to everything that’s still alive.
And now, finally, when she no longer has the responsibility for the survival of humanity on her shoulders, she can allow herself to mourn and accept what she did and what she lost.
She can finally let herself feel, and with that switch flipped, she tries to make peace with Ruth.
Cavill: You look ready.
Ruth: Ready for what? Anarchy? Chaos in the corridors?
Unfortunately, the new Head of Hospitality isn’t dealing well with her new feelings.
Like Jinju and Till’s relationship, the foundation of trust between Ruth and Cavill has been irrevocably damaged.
Beyond keeping secrets, Ruth blames Cavill for the loss of both Nolan Grey and the god-like presence of Mr. Wilford and for the destruction of the orderly state of the train that had afforded her the status and respect she had come to accept as her due.
Ruth: Oh yeah, leave me here with these… people. Andre Layton’s council of representatives?
Cavill: It’s a clean slate.
Ruth: It’s never gonna work.
Cavill: Democracy used to work. Sometimes, you have to lose something to find it again.
Cavill even tries to bid Ruth the farewell used by close confidantes when they part ways on Snowpiercer. But Ruth doesn’t intend on ever acknowledging her again.
Jinju: You know what they say when you break up on Snowpiercer.
Till: See you around.
Cavill returns to the Engine, ready to move forward, only to discover her past is on an intercept course.
It’s a collision which I believe was triggered by Bennett on Snowpiercer Season 1 Episode 9 when he believes he hears a message on the radio.
In sending out a message, hoping to contact Melanie, Bennett likely alerted Wilford that Snowpiercer was in the vicinity of Chicago.
And then Javi just kept calling out once he’d heard the music being transmitted.
Oh, Javi, you just can’t stop obsessing over things, can you?
But what an amazing twist on the show’s paradigm!
Reminiscent of the arrival of The Pegasus on Battlestar Galactica (2004) Season 2 Episode 10, the existence of another group of survivors when Snowpiercer’s passengers have believed they were the last ark of humanity is mind-blowing, to say the least.
For Ruth Wardell, it’s also Mr. Wilford’s Christ-like resurrection complete with a choir of children singing hymns to him (organized by her, of course).
There is a prescribed procedure for every event in Ruth’s mind, and the idea that she might not be the first person to welcome Wilford onto the train is more than she can bear.
To speak of her role as a dignitary, herald of peace, and diplomatic leader while holding a gun on Layton and his war party is some excellent use of irony.
Alison Wright delivers Ruth’s clear and obvious state of mental dissonance with deadpan seriousness, and, thankfully, Layton responds appropriately.
Ruth: I’m a dignitary.
Layton: Yeah, I feel that.
Ruth: Nolan Grey would’ve been here in his full dress uniform and I would’ve been right beside him because my uniform says ‘Peace!’ Now, this might be your democratic experiment, Mr. Layton, but I am Head of Hospitality and teal is the color of diplomacy.
So how disappointing is it for her to have Wilford’s emissary immediately ask for Melanie? Poor Ruth.
Layton’s Season 1 denouement is a coy echo to Daveed Diggs’ castmate’s line in the musical Hamilton, where Washington reminds the title character that “Winning was easy … Governing’s harder.”
In taking on the leadership role in a One Train world, he faces opposition from those in First who stood with the Folgers, those in Second and Third who lost loved ones when the seven cars were cut loose, and those, like Pike, who are taking advantage of the chaos to indulge themselves.
Pike: Don’t you just love democracy?
Layton: You gotta participate in a democracy, Pike. Now’s your chance.
Most of all, he risks falling into the same trap as Cavill did when she pirated Snowpiercer and made herself the leader. An authoritarian order can be the easiest to impose, but it’s not the society he dreamed of.
The people need to see change, not order, Ruth! We’re not taking any arms! We’re not putting people in Drawers! We look to ourselves now.
Layton has to atone for his past while he looks forward to his future. How he and Zarah will raise a child together will be, at minimum, complicated.
There’s a lot going on for Layton, both personally and politically. Unfortunately, under pressure to solve everything at once, his instinctual reactions remind his compatriots of the old way.
Layton: Do something and keep order until I get back.
Roche: Yeah, it’s got a familiar ring to it, doesn’t it?
It seems that all the petty squabbles and existential crises fall away when Big Alice bursts into view.
Nothing, but nothing, that I have seen on television in the past few years can match the spectacle of Big Alice’s front car transforming into mechanical jaws to latch onto the last car of The Tail.
That’s the cinematic value of big story-telling. I can’t imagine what the pitch in the writers’ room sounded like. “This second train suddenly roars onto the scene and then it grows a MOUTH and chomps down on The Tail, and a TUNNEL grows out of its throat and unlocks a giant hatch.”
And yet, the sheer audacious visual of the boarding mechanism was a riveting and powerful sight.
Then, in a final finesse to leave us salivating for Season 2, Alexandra Cavill, the recently-mourned daughter of Melanie, steps out of her role as emissary and gives us a glimpse of the lost child looking for hope, uttering the last words of the season — “Where is my mother?”
As you watch Snowpiercer online over and over again, waiting for its return, there’s a lot to admire in its production, acting, plotting, and design.
Logistics of glass windows and track maintenance aside, this has been a solid execution of an ambitious narrative.
They have thirteen minutes to appease Mr. Wilford. How will that look?
What do you think life aboard Big Alice will be like? How did Alexandra end up with Mr. Wilford?
What did you think of this finale? Was it your ticket to ride, or do you feel it derailed?
Meet me in the comments to discuss!
In exciting Season 2 news, check out the teaser and meet Mr. Wilford in the (Sean Bean) flesh!
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.