Of arms and the man I sing. Episode 2 begins and ends with arms. Literal arms. Severed arms. And shattered ones.
The arm scene in Bong Joon Ho’s eponymous 2013 film features one of the most memorable — and haunting — images in that Snowpiercer. Tilda Swinton’s spectacled and unassuming Mason holds up a shoe and delivers a speech justifying the established order of extreme inequality to the impoverished Tail section while guards cruelly punish a lawbreaker by exposing his arm to the elements outside the train and then, once frozen, shattering the arm with a sledgehammer.
“Prepare to Brace” opens with a similar scene with Alison Wright’s Ruth in Mason’s position, showing no greater empathy while uniformed officers carry out the nasty business of arm removal.
Up train, Layton (Daveed Diggs) and Breakman Bess Till (Mickey Sumner) are focused on different severed limbs, those of recently deceased Sean Wise. Sean’s killer or killers took more than just his arms, but also his legs and genitals.
The investigation brings Layton and Bess back to the night car, the train’s nightclub, where Layton meets Miss Audrey (Lena Hall). She hopes he’ll reverse the injustice of Nicky’s false arrest from the murder years ago. Layton’s been led to believe the night car is also a brothel, but his ex, Zarah (Sheila Vand) reveals there’s much more to the night car experience than sex. Zarah believes Sean Wise was an informant for Wilford in exchange for favors. For instance, Zarah and Sean had won the baby lottery granting them permission to start a family.
Layton deduces the tools necessary for the amputations of Sean Wise’s body parts could only be found in one place, the butchers in Snowpiercer’s cattle car. He and Bess are initially denied entry to the cattle car but, after an avalanche causes a breach that freezes the whole car along with its livestock, the two discover Sean’s missing body parts hidden in the fridge. Were the butchers Sean’s murderers? Layton has doubts.
Melanie conceals the extent of the damage from the avalanche. It’s bad. They’re already scarce on resources, and now they’ll have to ration running water. Also, Ruth is sent once more to the tail to collect children for apprenticeship training. Miles is among the children seized.
With a little ingenuity, Layton escapes the cell he’s locked in during the hours he’s not working on the case and tries to pass along a map of what he’s seen to his friends from the tail section. After a fight, he’s apprehended. He later tells Melanie this train is a monument to class. She thinks it’s far greater than he realizes while not denying Sean Wise was Wilford’s informant.
“Prepare to Brace” is perhaps a fitting title for an episode that seems to be serving as a bridge between the world-building first installment and hopefully more compelling drama to come.
We can reasonably assume we’re probably not going to solve the Sean Wise murder until much later in the season, so we’re watching Layton and Bess following small leads and making slow progress. This mystery has to drag out by necessity of the storytelling, so it’s hard to fault the writers in that regard. Still, one always hopes these plot mechanics don’t end up feeling so plodding and banal. I might have even preferred they pushed back the recovery of the missing limbs until Episode 3 if they could have spent more time exploring the more colorful world of the night car.
I am pleasantly surprised the avalanche came now. The fallout may force Melanie to make more hard choices sooner rather than later. I wasn’t clear on whether Snowpiercer has more cows in other cars or if cows are now entirely extinct.
Miles being drafted into an apprenticeship now provides an exciting opportunity to further explore Snowpiercer’s classroom car, the setting of one of the more bizarre and disturbing scenes in Bong Joon Ho’s film.
Now that the track is laid down, I’m hoping Snowpiercer starts to take us to some surprising and weirder destinations.