“Conniving is good!” L.J. tells her fiance at one point during the second episode of Snowpiercer‘s third season. And that speaks to the strength of this hour over last week’s premiere. One of the benefits of Sean Bean joining the show last season as the charismatic, narcissistic Wilford was that he brought with him a more engaging Game of Thrones-like palace intrigue. Granted, there are certainly no actual palaces on board Snowpiercer, but Wilford could charm the masses in a way neither Melanie nor Andre could.
Ruth was probably the closest we had in Season 1 to someone who appeared like a conniver who could convincingly parlay their popularity with the train’s first-class passengers into a power grab. The perceived menace of a possible Ruth regime was then driven by the character being introduced as the show’s closest analog to Tilda Swinton’s terrifying Mason from the eponymous 2013 film version of the story by dispensing the cruel arm freezing punishment — an inhumane act Ruth chooses to pay some penance for this week.
So it’s a relief to see “The Last to Go” bring a return to Wilford engaging in his “charm offensive,” making deliberate choices designed to elicit either love, fear, or both depending on his target. Wilford’s at his best in those more intimate one-on-one power plays like his back-to-back meetings with L.J. and Osweiller while he’s also engaging in grand propaganda campaigns to win the affections of the masses. And while Osweiller is not nearly as ambitious as he initially seemed back in Season 1 and doesn’t appreciate the conniving of Wilford and his bride-to-be, L.J. lives for playing the political game. It’s this sort of fundamental disconnect that may ultimately divide the couple.
But perhaps the biggest development this week is a more proper introduction of our newest character, Asha (Archie Panjabi), the woman who attacked Layton last week in the lab Bennett inadvertently found and whom Andre brought with him onto Snowpiercer. Asha is the last survivor of a team of nuclear scientists wiped out by both marauders and the climate. Wonder if any of those marauders are still out there. I suspect it’s only a matter of time before we get the answer on that.
But the more immediate bad news is that Bennett’s readings from this Korean hotspot suggest the area won’t become habitable for another century, leaving only one last hotspot candidate in the Arabian Peninsula, the only region of the world, Andre discovers from a book in the library/prison car, where dragon blood trees like the one in Andre’s visions grow.
Unfortunately, the ten-car Snowpiercer doesn’t have enough provisions — especially with Asha added to their passenger list — to make it there on their own. This means reuniting Snowpiercer and Big Alice will have to happen now. Double unfortunately, Wilford has prepared a surprise for Andre’s pirate train in the form of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapon like “The Pinch” from Ocean’s Eleven. If they fire it at Snowpiercer, it’ll shut down all power and stop Team Layton in their tracks, literally.
This plot is thwarted, however, by the resistance who toss the device onto the tracks. But to accomplish the mission, Ruth runs interference, allowing Kevin to capture her. Looks like Pike may now be the leader of the resistance. Ruth is prepared to submit to the very frozen arm punishment she used to dole out herself when her sentence is suddenly delayed by the EMP going off as it hit the tracks, causing some damage to Big Alice’s systems as well as revealing the train’s position to nearby Snowpiercer. And with that, we end with Snowpiercer rolling up alongside Big Alice on a parallel track as Wiford calls for battle stations.
“The Last to Go” is now our second outing in what I’m provisionally calling the post-Melanie era of the show, and it’s thankfully, a more successful one than last week’s “The Tortoise and the Hare.” The political intrigue surrounding Wilford, John Osweiller, and L.J. Folger-Osweiller is far and away the highlight here, and these smaller confrontations are really where Sean Bean gets to shine.
But we’re sadly also in familiar environments again this week. Last week gave us the library car-turned-makeshift-prison-cell, but I miss the days of Season 1 when the set designers were given the opportunity to surprise the audiences more regularly with farming cars and aquarium cars.
The episode also continues some of the show’s larger problematic elements. The one I gripe about the most is the constant underuse and underwriting of numerous female characters, particularly Bess Till. Sure, Zarah, Miss Audrey, and Josie are often treated as mere afterthoughts when some much interesting material could be given to them. But Bess always seems to be positioned as Layton’s deputy or his loyal lieutenant while never given anything interesting to do other than to move the plot forward or voice a contrary opinion when the writers need someone, anyone in the room to serve that narrative function.
But the other longstanding tradition on this show is to just completely forget characters entirely. After Season 1, Jinju was never heard from again without explanation. Miles only appeared in 1 or 2 episodes late in Season 2, and has still gone totally unacknowledged 2 episodes into Season 3.
“The Last to Go” does have another point in its favor, however. Like last season, we’re now presented with a clear mission agenda presumably for the rest of the season. Season 2 laid out the plan for launching the various weather balloons followed by Melanie reactivating the systems at the research base. The expectation for Season 3 seems to be to head towards that hotspot in the Horn of Africa. Will it be the New Eden of Andre’s dreams or will Snowpiercer’s problems turn into an avalanche?
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