On this week’s episode of Snowpiercer Melanie Cavill gets ruthless during her search to find someone who knows her secret. Elsewhere on the train other characters - including Josie, Till, and Ruth - face hard choices of their own and things get really bad for one of them.
Melanie is desperate to find Layton and over the course of the episode “The Universe is Indifferent” she threatens to take janitor Terence’s arm and Zarah’s unborn child then actually takes Josie’s pinkie finger (her later death was more an impulsive act of self-defense).
Melanie is calmly sinister when she questions the janitor and Zarah about Layton’s whereabouts. But we see Melanie’s cool demeanor crack a few times so the stress is getting to her. After freezing and smashing Josie’s finger, Melanie rushes to a bathroom and vomits. I assume that was her first time doing something like that herself even though she’s ordered freezings before. She is still out of sorts when Ruth approaches her and snaps at Ruth in a rare public display of anger. Melanie is stressing because she knows her control of the train is threatened but she doesn’t know how serious the threat is yet.
Josie’s death didn’t particularly affect me. Despite the time we’ve spent with her I didn’t really connect with Josie enough for her death to be a “holy shit” shocking moment like, say, the shocking death in the second episode of MI-5 (Spooks for those of you outside the US). I suppose if the writers knew they were going to kill her off then they didn’t define her much beyond how her death would affect other characters.
Bess Till is a much more interesting character to me. At the start of the show, she was not much more than a security thug (though nowhere near as bad as her partner Osweiller) maintaining status quo order on the train. But her time working with Layton on the murder investigation got her thinking about what’s going on aboard the train. She crossed a personal Rubicon a couple of episodes ago when she helped Layton escape from the drawers (Osweiller points out that she could lose an arm for that) but didn’t fully become part of Layton’s revolution until Josie’s interrogation and death. That death may have been a fridging to motivate Layton but it also was a motivator for Till. She is now willing to risk her relationship with Jinju and her newly won status as a second class passenger to change the status quo.
Ruth Wardell also had to make a choice this week. On her day off, Ruth is approached by Commander Grey, the head of the train’s black-clad security force, ostensibly for a date but actually to meet with the Folgers about ousting Melanie and Ruth taking over her position. Ruth tries to warn Melanie about the first class plot but Melanie’s angry outburst has probably driven Ruth to join the coup plan.
Zarah may face serious trouble for her choice. Given that the train is a closed system with limited resources, it stands to reason that pregnancy would need to be a rationed privilege. That also makes it potent leverage. Melanie wields that leverage against Zarah and she is the only one of the people Melanie questions to completely roll over. Since conveniently Josie is also her ex’s (and I assume baby daddy’s) new lover, that helps Zarah’s decision to point her out for Melanie. But since she did at the Tail, the Tailies consider her even more of a traitor (her first offense being to abandon the tail for third class). When the revolution comes, Zarah will be in some Tailies crosshairs. When Layton finds out her role in Josie’s capture, he won’t be happy to say the least.
Speaking of Layton, he seems to be fully recovered from Drawer Sickness. He gets Audrey to arrange a meeting to win over some third class passengers to his cause. We’ll have to wait to see how successful he is. In a more interesting turn, he meets with LJ Folger and it looks like he’s about to make a deal with a devil.
In this week’s Wilford update, there is more evidence that there was a Mr. Wilford. Ruth tells a story of being recruited for her job on the train by Wilford. While Melanie is interrogating Josie she says that she “inherited someone else’s creation” of a social system and if she had created it she would have created “a different world… a more just world.” It’s sounding much more likely that Wilford was a real person and while Melanie may have been the engineering genius behind the train itself, Wilford was responsible for everything else.
- Josie’s final discussion with Till states the show’s central thesis - duty to the train versus duty to each other. Melanie justifies her actions as serving the train - maintaining the status quo, order, and balance of limited resources. Layton wants to destroy the status quo and redistribute resources to improve the lot of the Tailies. Yes, this is pretty much the definition of class warfare expressed in the context of the train and embodied in Bess Till’s character arc.
- Miles is upgraded to an apprentice engineer ahead of schedule due to the loss of a Breach Team engineer during last week’s emergency. But he hasn’t forgotten that he’s a Tailie and has some last minute instructions from Josie. Melanie also has an almost maternal interest in him though she might have an ulterior motive since Miles may be leverage against Layton.
- Terence the janitor and black market kingpin is avoiding taking sides. He doesn’t rat out Layton to Melanie but he doesn’t join the revolution plan either. He’s obviously going to wait and see who is winning when the uprising happens and will throw his support to them.
- “What do we do when a child is ill?” “Get a mask on.” This was filmed long before the current pandemic but it’s unintentionally timely. Infectious disease is yet another hazard that could wipe out humanity on the train (though to be fair, that would be true in any environment the last few thousand humans found themselves in).