Melanie is not cruel by nature, but she is willing to play hardball when needed. “The Universe is Indifferent” shows even Melanie understands last week’s victory was only a temporary reprieve from her troubles as she tightens her grip to do whatever she has to in order to crush Andre Layton. And by episode’s end, someone he cares about gets crushed literally.
Miles is Melanie’s big ace in the hole. By announcing to the whole train that Miles has been selected to become the newest replacement engineer, she’s dangling the child out as bait to snare Layton. But she didn’t count on Josie going so far as to poison Miles’ orange to bring him to the infirmary long enough for Josie to activate the boy as an agent of the tailie resistance.
Unfortunately, Josie won’t get to see how it all plays out. After threatening custodian/gangster Terrance to aid her manhunt, Melanie exploits Zarah’s pregnancy — a privilege, not a right on Snowpiercer — to put the squeeze on her. To keep her baby, Zarah rats out Josie, who is then seized and forced into the interrogation with Melanie that she won’t walk away from.
Melanie is not used to being the one to carry out the sadistic orders that keep Snowpiercer on track, and this was the rare case she had to carry out her own dirty work. But despite her best efforts, she neither learned Layton’s whereabouts nor prevented him from forming an alliance with Audrey. Last we see Layton, he appears to be exposing Melanie’s secret to LJ and may have already exposed it to many others in third class. And worse for Melanie, Josie convinced Bess to join the tailies’ cause.
Worse still, the Folgers and other first-class passengers who have lost confidence in Melanie as Mr. Wilford’s ambassador are now aggressively courting Ruth to petition to have her replace Melanie. Surprisingly, Ruth appears to lack the ambition to take them up on it until catching Melanie at her worst, too upset to mask her indifference — even contempt — towards the petty complaints of first-class.
Last week, Melanie walked away from Audrey with a confident sense she’d defeated the obstacles mounting against her, but that victory proves short-lived. In fact, her problems may be worse than ever. While Josie is now out of the picture, Bess could prove a greater threat than Josie ever could.
Perhaps, if all her enemies remained isolated, Melanie could have devised a means of turning them against each other. But with Layton and the tailies now forming a united front with Audrey, Bess, and LJ — not to mention Miles potentially well-positioned up in the engine — plus Ruth stepping up as a leader of a possible first-class mutiny on another front, Melanie’s days seem numbered.
Melanie does, however, have a few cards to play. Jinju is perhaps just as likely to influence Bess as the other way around. Miles is still vulnerable behind enemy lines. Melanie can also use Zarah’s betrayal as a means of sowing division in Layton’s and Audrey’s alliance.
And Melanie could threaten to separate the tail altogether, abandoning it to the elements, a power we’ve already established she has. And who’s to say if she has similar capabilities to drop third-class as well. There are also eleven cars of suspension draws she has control over. We still don’t know how many of those draws are currently filled, but we definitely know many members of the tail are there. If Melanie gets desperate enough, it’s hard to know what she’s capable of doing.
‘The Universe is Indifferent’ proves to be another game-changer, not only because it’s taken a major character off the board, but also in how it changes our expectations about where we may end up in Season 2. I always kind of felt like Josie’s days were numbered because television conventions have trained me to view Andre, Zarah, and Melanie as the inevitable love triangle down the road. After both women’s roles in Josie’s death this week, it’s hard to imagine Andre becoming involved romantically with either of them in the future even if I’d still consider Andre and Melanie eventually forming a political alliance likely.
This was another stellar showcase for Jennifer Connelly as we continue to explore the many facets of Melanie’s character. Understandably, as Connelly is the biggest name in the cast and the centerpiece of the series’ marketing, she’s given the meatiest material so far. Annalise Basso too has received some interesting material to work with within LJ’s limited screen time. But I do hope the writers branch out more, giving the rest of the cast more character complexity to explore and more of a chance to shine.
Now that we’re in the back half of the season, as every scene feels like it’s moving us closer and closer towards whatever happens in the season finale, I do miss the quieter, less plot-heavy scenes of the front half.
When I interviewed the showrunner last year, he expressed the thrill of discovering what new, strange environment we’d find on the other side of each new door in Bong Joon-ho’s original film. The set designs of these tightly packed, interior spaces have been a highlight of the series, but I’m not sure we ventured outside of the already established locations this week. Even for Snowpiercer, this felt like a particularly claustrophobic episode.