Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 24, 2021)
Before he became the Oscar-winning director of 2019’s Parasite, Bong Joon Ho made 2013’s Snowpiercer. An adaptation of a French graphic novel, this property leapt to the TNT Network as a series in 2020.
With this Complete First Season package, we find the series’ first 10 episodes spread across two Blu-ray Discs. The plot synopses come from the set’s liner notes.
First, The Weather Changed: “The Great Ark Train Snowpiercer circles a frozen Earth, keeping humanity’s last survivors alive – until a murder on board threatens the established order.”
Given that Snowpiercer already exists as a movie, one might expect the series pilot to not need the usual exposition. However, the show offers different characters who need introductions – and besides, the film wasn’t such a big hit that TNT could assume viewers would know it.
As such, like other series debut programs, “Weather” tends to come long on expository material. The murder investigation adds a bit of intrigue, at least, so the episode doesn’t solely deal with introductions. While I can’t claim the program dazzles, it becomes a decent opener.
Prepare to Brace: “Layton (Daveed Diggs) investigates the murder while gathering intel for his revolution. Melanie (Jennifer Connelly) faces a resource crisis that could impact everyone.”
With those intros out of the way, “Brace” allows for the series to pursue a more active narrative bent, and it does so in a competent manner. So far Snowpiercer gives off a bit of a Blade Runner vibe in the way it goes into Layton’s investigation, and that makes the episode reasonably involving, if not scintillating.
Access Is Power: “Layton descends into the black market, while Melanie stages a prizefight to defuse class tensions.”
As a movie, Snowpiercer often felt more like a metaphor than a real narrative, and that issue threatens to swamp the TV version as well. With nearly eight hours at its disposal, the series enjoys more space to expand, and it does.
However, so far I feel unsure that the show can find anything particularly interesting to do beyond those metaphors. Through three episodes, we basically get little more than a murder mystery with some social commentary, and I feel less than enthused with the series’ progress.
Without Their Maker: “A twist in the murder investigation brings Layton face-to-face with the murderer – and dangerously close to Melanie’s secret.”
Does it seem like a good idea to reveal the identity of the killer so early in the series? I guess it’s not a fatal flaw, as it adds some suspense.
While we don’t get to piece together the investigation along with Layton, we find tension because appearances of the murderer become fraught. Still, the series continues to feel fairly mediocre, as the overall narrative has yet to connect in a meaningful manner.
Justice Never Boarded: “Tension between Third Class and First Class comes to a head at the trial of the Snowpiercer killer.”
With the murder investigation less of a factor, Snowpiercer starts to become more engaging. The tensions among the train’s various factions heat up and this episode begins to give the series more of a pulse.
Trouble Comes Sideways: “Layton lays track for revolution, while Melanie faces an engineering emergency that threatens every soul on Snowpiercer.”
After the increased drama of “Boarded”, “Sideways” represents a step backward, as it doesn’t seem as enticing. While it comes with potentially dramatic events, the story seems scattered and doesn’t quite connect.
The Universe Is Indifferent: “Melanie intensifies her search for Layton as he plots to weaponize her secret.”
As we approach the final part of Season One, I feel like Snowpiercer should intensify, and in some ways, “Universe” goes in that direction. However, it feels less than engaging, as the various plot threads fail to prosper. While it moves along the overall narrative, “Universe” lacks much punch.
These Are His Revolutions: “Revolution has finally come. As Layton leads the lower classes forward in armed rebellion, Melanie’s house of cards collapses.”
Whatever the battle’s conclusion may be, we don’t find it here. The episode starts the fight and advances it in a decent manner, though it seems a bit less thrilling than one might expect.
The Train Demanded Blood: “The rebel forces are on the ropes when a dangerous foe joins them. A plan is hatched to take the train, but it may destroy them all.”
The battle continues here, and the action roils in a moderately engaging manner. I can’t help but feel I’d become more involved in the mayhem if the series had better developed the story and characters pre-revolution, though, as I fail to find myself connected to the tale enough to really care.
994 Cars Long: “In the revolution’s aftermath, Layton and Melanie realize the greatest threat to their survival is right over their shoulders.”
After all the violence of the prior episodes, “Long” acts more as denouement than climax, though that doesn’t mean it lacks drama. Still, it comes across more as wrap-up for S1 as well as point ahead toward S2.
Will I look forward to the next year of Snowpiercer? Meh. Like the movie, the series has its moments but it leaves me a little cold as a whole. I’ll check out S2 and hope it clicks better, as S1 remains moderately interesting but not consistently involving.