Wilford speaks. Well, sorta. Melanie at least cut up audio from presumably the real Wilford to produce the illusion he’s still around before kicking off Fight Night. From a prize fight to distract the masses to the heart of Snowpiercer’s black market drug trade, this week’s episode packed a lot into its 45-minute run-time.
We learn some of the crew had really met Wilford face to face early on. We also learn all ticketed passengers and, probably crew as well, carry a special implant in their hands that establishes one’s level of access and that there is a black market for stolen implants from those with higher class access.
But there’s another black market as well. Part of the suspended animation process used to imprison convicted criminals like Nikki involves a drug that forms the basis of a street drug on the train known as Chrono. Sean Wise was recruited by “Wilford” to gather information about the Chrono trade before Sean wound up dead. But while the drug is a recent discovery uptrain, Andre Layton says they’ve known about Chrono for 2 revolutions now.
One of the young security officers has been dealing the stuff and is secretly passing some of the already confiscated Chrono back to the tail to help the woman who lost her arm last week. He also knows Terence, Snowpiercer’s janitor who is the kingpin of the Chrono trade.
Melanie has her own problems though dealing with the fallout of the avalanche. There’s now a cattle shortage as well as heating and electrical problems. The situation is so dire that her engineer urges her to consider moving the tail section into third class and cutting the tail cars loose. Snowpiercer’s first-class passengers, some of whom funded the train originally, are growing impatient with the rationing being asked of them. Melanie even fumbles a motivational speech to the crew when one educated breakman recognizes her speech is stolen from Winston Churchill. Melanie needs a distraction to keep people happy. Bring on the bread and circuses in the form of Fight Night, a hyped prize fight event in the Night Car that promises the winner an upgrade to second-class.
While enjoying some alone time with her girlfriend Jinju — whom we saw Melanie briefly talking to in the first episode — Bess Till learns Nikki is further along in her recovery from deep sleep than she was led to believe. As she and Layton head to the medical area to talk to her, Jinju warns Melanie because they don’t want the investigators talking to Nikki in this state where she may reveal something they want to stay concealed.
Melanie is in the process of throwing Layton and Bess out when the former discovers Miles is uptrain. In perhaps her second big distraction this week, Melanie takes Layton to the school to see Miles, who’s excelling in class. So far, this school appears less terrifying than the one taught by Alison Pill in the Snowpiercer film, though the show’s trailer suggests the Wilford propaganda campaign may arrive soon. Still, in a brief moment where they’re able to talk freely, Miles assures Layton he’s keeping his eyes open.
At Fight Night, Zarah and Layton admit their feelings for each other and Zarah gives him her wedding ring to barter with. When she first left the tail for the Night Car, Layton gave her that ring. Since then, she’d traded away her own ring but never parted with his. Now, during the fight, Layton sits down with Terence, who provides a description of another man whom Sean was with the night he was killed; a man in his 30s with a buzz cut who Terrence believes was from first class.
Not wasting any time, Layton immediately trades in the ring he just got to Terrence for a favor. When he meets again with Melanie, he makes yet another deal. He won’t provide the description of Sean’s possible killer until they first allow him to see Josie, Miles’ mother, to update her on her son. Separated by the bars of a door, he tells her Miles is thriving and kisses her. After they leave, we learn what Layton got in exchange for that ring, one of the hand implants, passed to Josie orally during the kiss. Is this the key to the rebellion’s escape from the tail?
Melanie’s distraction works, at least for the moment. One first-class couple dance and express how much they enjoyed the evening just before warning her they’re aware Melanie can’t keep the good times rolling forever. Their daughter, “LJ,” appears particularly interested in Nikki and perhaps Layton as well.
The closing minutes of the episode are reserved for Nikki, who’s new situation held in confinement under guard is immediately upended by a man who seems to fit Terrence’s description of Sean’s companion the night he died. This mystery man makes short work of Nikki’s guards and breaks into her room. “You don’t remember me, do you?” he menacingly asks her. “But you do know who I am.”
Is Nikki dead already? We’ll have to wait to find out. But after a bit of slow plotting last week, “Access is Power” gave us a lot to chew on. We’re starting to get a real sense of how this train operates and what its underworld looks like. This episode appears to be all about a series of transactions. Nothing comes free, not even for the first-class passengers. And they seem to be growing increasingly impatient with management. Even the crew is starting to pick up on Melanie’s bullshit.
What will they do if they learn Wilford is out of the picture and Melanie from Hospitality has been the one in the driver’s seat lately, especially if there’s a coming insurrection from the tail? And is Wilford even dead? I’m starting to wonder if Nikki was framed for murders Wilford may have committed. That may best explain Melanie’s motivation for covering up the original murders. I am a bit disappointed though that, with all the high tech used to design Snowpiercer, Melanie’s ruse involved simple audio editing. Are the passengers and crew really that easily fooled?
There was quite a lot of world-building this week, but it was introduced organically. This was a nicely paced and exciting hour that didn’t completely blow my mind but successfully balanced the larger season narratives with the kind of development expected in the third episode of a Sci-Fi series with a complicated world. Now I feel it’s time to move past the setup phase and to start kicking into full gear. I’m hoping the show’s ready to deliver the unexpected with some bravura storytelling.