After dropping the more familiar narrative constraints of its first season and delving into more unknown territory, Snowpiercer manages to form its own riveting path through the snow. Through this season, the narrative and characters are propelled into so many unexpected directions that it makes this season a much more surprising and engaging watch.
Right off the bat, it’s clear this season is going to be one thing – complete chaos. The introduction of Mr Wilford (Sean Bean) has thrown a spanner in the works, messing with the newly formed leadership of the train with Andre (Daveed Diggs) at the helm. Wilford’s introduction, along with the arrival of a new train-full of passengers creates a brand new power struggle that instantly heightens the tension of the whole series. The stakes feel much higher, and not just because the narrative is branching into unknown territory. For the first time in the series we actually have a definitive villain, where previously it was Melanie (Jennifer Connelly) and Andre both fighting for what they believed was right. As a result, the season moves at such a quick pace that there’s almost no time for a toilet break.
The season spends a good deal of time expanding the world, allowing us to understand a lot more about what’s going on outside the train and also what happened before the train departed. All of this is fantastic world building that adds another layer to what’s going on. On top of this, it feels like certain character arcs are given more room to breathe, like there’s a greater variety of things going on for everyone. Some characters rise and some fall, but the overall amount of change and character development is quite strong. Melanie is one who’s arc is a definitive high-point of the season, really having a lot more of an emotional arc this time around with the introduction of a familiar face. Ruth (Alison Wright) has much more to do, and the season also gives some more insight into the intricacies of her character with all the major changes spreading through the train.
What’s very clear is that this season is absolutely ripe with tension. It’s riveting from beginning to end, and the way it ramps up the thrills going into the final 3 or 4 episodes is utterly brilliant. The final 2 episodes, specifically, are some of the most perfectly executed minutes of TV. The horror, drama and edge-of-seat thrills in these moments are next-level impressive. Then there’s episode 6, which is an absolute standout for reasons I won’t go into. The unravelling of the tight social hierarchy of the first season really gave the narrative more room to breathe without feeling constrained by the laws of the train. One downside to the ramping tension of the main story arc, is that there are a number of side character subplots that are almost entirely absent from the latter few episodes of the season. It’s like their arcs are all put on hold when things really start heading to a climax. It’s a minor observation and necessary sacrifice
When it comes to characters and performances, one man makes all the difference in this season. Sean Bean as Mr WIlford is the perfect addition to the cast. He plays an over-the-top style of villain, but it’s executed to perfection in a way that still fits within the tone of the series. Mr Wilford is a perfectly extreme villain, both in the way he is set up and how he’s portrayed through the season. He is endlessly captivating to watch and elevated so much by Sean’s performance. So much about the narrative and Melanie’s prior actions make complete sense when you see Mr Wilford in action, which is a great sign of incredible writing. He has an influence on almost every single narrative and side-plot through the entire season, which shows how much he brings to the series. Without his presence, the season probably wouldn’t have been able to overcome getting stuck in the same back and forth power struggles.
Sean Bean isn’t the only one bringing all of the acting finesse – Jennifer Connelly is still a powerhouse, but is much more vulnerable this time around. She’s the calm before the storm, the perfect antithesis to Mr Wilford in every single moment. She is the beating heart of the season, bringing so much hope and emotion to every episode. Daveed Diggs nails every scene he’s in, delivering all of his dialogue with a sense of drive that encapsulates what his character means for certain people in the train. Aside from that main trio, a number of other supporting characters do stand out, including Rowan Blanchard who is a fantastic new addition to the series – making a huge impact across all of her scenes.
There is still a good deal of action this time around, but it’s more of a subtle approach than the first season. It doesn’t feel like there’s as many large-scale fights, but there are a couple used as major set-pieces. Much of the conflict in the second season is intellectual – like a chaotic game of chess between Snowpiercer and Big Alice. I love this approach as it really does allow Mr Wilford to thrive as a character.
In the end, Snowpiercer managed to take a great first season and make it even better the second time around, all thanks to the introduction of Sean Bean’s Mr Wilford. As the narrative branched further beyond the confines of the relatively familiar first season, everything became much more intriguing and exciting. Having Mr Wilford play such a major role in the season was the gift that kept on giving. Every second where he’s on screen made for some absolutely incredible and unpredictable content. The series’ ability to build the tension and thrills towards a climax is just amazing, creating plenty of edge-of-seat moments that will have your heart pounding. Given how much this built on the first season, I’m intrigued to see where things go from here as it once again sets itself up for a wildly different season.