Winter already came for Snowpiercer seven years ago, but with the arrival of its newest cast member, Game of Throne‘s Ned Stark himself, Sean Bean as Mr. Wilford, the passengers and crew of this little engine that could may be facing their toughest challenge yet.
Fortunately, Season 2 wrapped production just before the Covid-19 pandemic turned us all into shut-ins. So while other shows remain in a frozen state, this train keeps on chugging as we pick up right where we left off.
Snowpiercer had just begun to restore order following the coup that removed Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly) and installed Andre Layton (Daveed Diggs) as its new leader when supply train Big Alice arrived. This prototype engine docked with Snowpiercer’s tail and hacked its systems forcing the 994-cars-long locomotive to a screeching halt as Melanie’s previously believed dead daughter Alexandra, portrayed by Rowan Blanchard (Girl Meets World), emerged to herald the return of Mr. Wilford.
Wilford, Layton observes, now has his boot on their throat. While Layton and company are reduced to collecting fresh produce, drugs, and whiskey on Mr. Wilford’s shopping list to get the train running again and keep all on board from freezing, Melanie is still outside. She successfully restores full engineering control to Bennett and Javi, but Big Alice can now act as an anchor whenever Mr. Wilford wants, maintaining his leverage over Snowpiercer.
Melanie’s thermal suit rips, leaving her exposed to the elements. She almost becomes Season 2’s first casualty as she lays helpless on the frozen tundra. It’s then that she sees falling snow. A hallucination or is it real? The temperatures are supposed to be too harsh for snow. We’ll no doubt learn more about what this is all about later this season as Melanie has no time for that. As the trains begin to move again because Team Snowpiercer delivered the literal goods, Melanie collects an ice sample and boards Big Alice instead of her home train.
Onboard Big Alice, she reunites with Kevin, a company man from the before times, who’s no fan of hers. Wilford tells Melanie he’s been lurking all along, waiting for the right time to strike and take back his train. Melanie’s daughter Alexandra has been raised by Wilford to hate her mother. It’s Alexandra herself who orders Melanie to the brig. There, Melanie notices some cryptic messages scrawled on the walls: “If you blow the math, we’ll take a bath.” This seems like another mystery we’ll revisit down the road.
Meanwhile, on Snowpiercer, Layton declares the former Tail to be the new border, which must be secured at all cost. guards are set up in two places to push back any insurgency from their new neighbors. Layton also announces a postponement of his democracy experiment and institutes martial law until the new threat is defeated. This will likely prove a giant mistake, especially when he and pregnant Zarah are given special treatment, a fancy suite in first-class. Making Wilford-loving Ruth the lead in diplomatic initiatives with Wilford is another risky decision even if she does think Zarah’s pregnancy changes everything.
On Big Alice, a physician couple, who seem a little off, treat Melanie’s frostbite with some goo they developed. More on this in a second.
Unwilling to wait for Wilford to make his next move, Andre leads an attack. He recruits Pike, now running his own black market operation, to trick Kevin and others on the opposite side of the Big Alice’s door to open up. When they break in and fight their way through, Wilford releases Icy Bob on them. As big as The Mountain from Game of Thrones and at least as fierce, Icy Bob single-handedly dispatches Layton’s troops. More troubling though is that, when frozen mist is released to push back the incursion, Bob alone is unfazed. Could Bob’s apparent immunity to subzero temperatures be related to the frostbite treatment goo Melanie was given?
Snowpiercer does take Kevin hostage, but Wilford orders Alexandra — who turns out to be his engineer — to separate the trains and leave Snowpiercer to freeze, presumably unaware Snowpiercer’s systems are back online. Melanie appeals to Alexandra’s humanity, but after some hesitation, Alexandra still follows Wilford’s order. Though that only triggers a bomb Melanie planted that destroys the connecting mechanism. These two engines won’t be splitting up anytime soon.
“The Time of Two Engines” sets us up nicely for a new season while introducing a number of mysteries we’ll no doubt be revisiting over the next seven weeks. Are temperatures changing? Who wrote those cryptic messages on the walls of Big Alice’s brig, and what do they mean? Why is Bob immune to the extreme cold?
Understandably, many of the extended cast get short shrift in this more crisis-focused installment — especially Miles, who is entirely absent this week — as Wilford and Alexandra as well as the Big Alice itself take center stage. I suspect the story of this second train will be elucidated in time as I’m reminded of The Pegasus storyline in Battlestar Galactica and the tail section survivors on Lost. Life on Big Alice was likely much harsher than that on Snowpiercer with their far fewer resources. Perhaps in some ways similar to those living in Snowpiercer’s tail.
Where this episode suffers is in some of its plotting. The writers needed Layton’s forces to infiltrate Big Alice, then used the most cartoonish plan to achieve it. Bribing people on the other side of the door with delicious fruit is just ridiculous. And it certainly didn’t require Pike, who has proven untrustworthy. But most importantly, it undercuts the potential menace of Big Alice the writers probably want to maintain this early in the season.
This speaks to a larger issue. Since Wilford — and Big Alice as a whole — are posed to be the primary antagonists this season, our heroes on Snowpiercer should appear almost helpless against them so early in the season. But after the premiere, we’ve already seen Melanie outsmart Wilford and seemingly make some headway reconnecting with Alexandra.
While it’s the nature of these sorts of dramas that we expect Alexandra to ultimately switch sides and bond with her mother by season’s end, it seems too soon for her to already show hesitation in following Wilford’s orders. The stronger the opponent is to overcome and the harder it is on characters to make decisions, the more satisfying the climax when those turns are eventually made. I hope the season doesn’t turn Wilford or Alexandra into pushovers.
Check out our Snowpiercer Season 1 reviews here.
New episodes of Snowpiercer air Mondays on TNT.
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