“Positive thinking’s great, just as long as it doesn’t replace critical thinking.” This line from Melanie Cavill speaks to the central conflict that has redivided loyalties on Snowpiercer, the little engine that could, but which the question is now raised if it should. Yes, Melanie has returned as Jennifer Connelly rejoins the cast in this season’s biggest episode. And also possibly its best.
As Wilford says, “Somone has to be the grown-up and keep these people alive.” While everything with Wilford carries a degree of subterfuge — and in this case, this appeal to Melanie also served to create the distraction Wilford needed to escape his cell — it could only have been effective on Melanie if it was also true. Layton’s New Eden lie was a mistake. The train would be traversing a difficult stretch of track just to get to a destination that might not — and even more likely to not be — the safe haven Layton promised. And as Alex alluded to when catching Melanie up, what they have is not a real democracy because Layton cheated with his big lie.
But what makes this a great, organic conflict is each character has real reasons for being on the side they’re on. Alex sees Melanie’s against-all-odds, miraculous survival as proof that data alone can’t lead their decisions and, as she says, “Sometimes it’s good to take a leap of faith.” But Melanie didn’t keep everyone alive for seven years on hopes and dreams but rather on being practical and avoiding stupid risks. And having been the architect of the train’s previous big lie, Melanie came to learn the merits of being open and honest with the passengers. Javier and many of the passengers are right to feel betrayed when Melanie exposes the truth.
The episode of Snowpiercer made time for plenty of other developments as well though. Despite Andre’s assumption that Melanie’s return would mean Bennett and Melanie’s relationship would continue, Ben is clearly now eyeing Josie. Despite that, Ben’s advice to Layton to make a move with Josie if Andre is serious about only being co-parents with Zarah seems genuine rather than a deliberate sabotage attempt. Though it appears the Andre/Josie ship has sailed already. She says she loves him but isn’t interested in a romantic relationship at least at this time. Whether it’s because she too is more interested in Bennett now is unclear.
The other romantic relationship crumbling is that of newlyweds LJ and John Osweiller. After following his wife to a secret meeting with Dr. Headwood, John confronted his wife, who pulls a knife on him. LJ reminds her husband that he knew who she was when he married her, and he needs to stop trying to change her: “Don’t think I won’t sacrifice what I love to get what I want.” Indeed, that is who she’s always been, determined to rise to the top of the hierarchy no matter what. He can either get on board or be lucky if all she does to him is leave him. Instead, John reports her, letting Roche know something is about to happen.
But not every relationship on the Snowpiercer is doomed. Bess and Miss Audrey admit their feelings for each other as well as share their first dance and first kiss this week. That Bess shows support and understanding for Audrey’s concerns over attending the party and took Audrey to the Night Car instead demonstrates this relationship may have staying power.
“A Beacon For Us All” is a bit of a kitchen sink episode. It’s got everything: Connelly’s long-awaited return (as more than just a dramatic device to convey another character’s inner thoughts), strong character work, suspense, and organically developed inter-political conflict.
And for all that’s packed into this week’s installment of Snowpiercer, it manages to also be wonderfully paced, taking the appropriate time to let Melanie’s rescue and catch-up — as well as other character stories set up earlier in the season — really breathe only introducing the next big political conflict in the final moments. Kudos to writers Aubrey Nealon and Michael Kraus for trusting the audience to invest in the more intimate human stories without inserting some tacked-on, life-and-death plot as a crutch.
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