Bong Joon Ho’s incredible 2013 action thriller, Snowpiercer has finally made the transition to TV, boasting an all-star cast and the same post-apocalyptic grittiness as the movie. It follows the last of humanity as they circle the globe in a 1001-car train that is subject to social injustice and class warfare.
Upon hearing that this was going to be an adaptation of the story from Bong’s film I was a little hesitant as that film had such a strong story with important social commentary that it would be hard to top. However, the fact that it would be able to go more in depth with the way the train is run, the social hierarchy and the different types of people, I was excited at the possibilities. Then the pilot hit and it was incredible. It was thrilling, intense, introduced a slew of great characters and revealed some stark contrasts from the film’s story. It really was the best possible beginning to this series and set it up for greatness. However, based on what happens in this first episode I began to wonder whether this story could really sustain an entire series without dragging or becoming repetitive. The answer to that is yes… for the most part.
Allowing this story to unfold over the course of an entire season (and more) has allowed it to really delve deep into the construction of the train and how the class warfare impacts every section of the train. That’s what really sets this series apart, the fact that it can showcase the stories of a tonne of characters without having to cram it into the span of a single movie. There are layers to the train and with each passing episode more and more layers are revealed, allowing us to learn more about the train than ever before. This is great, but are these stories all interesting?
As the series breaks into the middle of the season, it does feel like it’s dragging a little, especially when compared to the lighting-fast start to the series. It’s like the pilot episode is showing us how thrilling it all will be, before separating that with some episodes in the middle of the season that don’t quite hit the mark for the entire thing. There is a murder mystery arc that takes up the entire first half of the season and that’s great, but some of the side arcs aren’t as attention-grabbing. They’re never bad, they just don’t have you itching to move on to the next episode. These arcs do work in the long run thanks to how much necessary character development is packed into them, but in the moment they do feel like the hurdle on the way to the climactic finish.
That being said, the final stretch of episodes is the series at its very best. The building of pace and tension leading towards a massive finale is executed near-flawlessly. This is where all of the initial setup pays off and you see a lot of duality with characters you may have liked but now hate and ones you hated but now like. It ends on a high note which places the series in a spot to really explore some cool ideas and maybe fill an entire season a little better than this one.
As far as the passengers go, there is a great variety of characters with varying personalities within each class so that no matter which section of the train you’re in, you’re not wishing you were somewhere else. The series no doubt features a tonne of time with both Andre Layton (Daveed Diggs) and Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly) and the development of these characters is plentiful. Being on the opposite ends of this war, the two characters clash in ways that show how they are both different and very much the same. What I love about the way they set up these two characters is that neither of them is the villain and for the entire season I was rooting for both of them to win. It’s a really great detail that shifts the ‘hate’ to other supporting characters on the train.
Some characters, such as Pike (Steven Ogg) and Zara (Sheila Vand), don’t get as much screen time but do make an impact with their limited scenes. Being a train that is heavily populated, there are a number of characters that only get a few scenes throughout the season. This is a shame, but it lends itself to the fact that there are an unlimited (theoretically) number of personalities that the show can work with to keep things fresh.
When it comes to the performances, the all-star cast does not disappoint. I already mentioned their characters, but Daveed Diggs and Jennifer Connelly are the glue that holds this entire series together. Whenever either of them is on screen, they command all of the attention through the raw strength of their performances. In the scenes they both share, the way they go back and forth makes you really buy into the fact that these are two people who really don’t see eye to eye. To name a few, Mickey Sumner (Till), Alison Wright (Ruth), Mike O’Malley (Roche) and Annalise Basso (LJ) are all standouts in their respective roles, each bringing a unique personality to the show that has you either rooting for or against them.
Lastly, the series is absolutely beautiful in the way it’s shot and the set design of the train. The design of the interior of the train gives each section a distinct personality that says a lot about the people that live in those sections. The visual effects are stellar inside the train whereas the shots outside the train look cool but you can tell it’s heavily computer generated. That’s obvious considering the Earth isn’t actually frozen over, but it would be good if those effects could make it look like it is.
In the end, Snowpiercer delivers a very strong first season that proves the story does lend itself to the length of a TV series, with enough characters, twists and subplots to keep things interesting over 10 episodes. The performances are stellar, characters are rich and the tension rises towards a thrilling finale that sets things up for greatness. If it wasn’t for a lull towards the middle of the season where it felt like it was beginning to drag, I would have no complaints. Fans of the movie, the original graphic novel and sci-fi thrillers in general should get on board Snowpiercer, 1001 cars long.