Episode 1 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 2 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 3 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 4 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 5 – | Review Score – 3/5
Episode 6 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 7 – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Episode 8 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 9 – | Review Score – 4/5
Episode 10 – | Review Score – 4/5
Snowpiercer has had quite the wild ride both on-screen and behind the scenes. Originally released as a graphic novel, the rights were then snapped up and handed to Director Bong Joon-Ho. This resulted in a decent dystopian Hollywood blockbuster. Off the back of this success, TNT snapped up the rights to produce a small-screen adaptation. Then it was a TBS exclusive… and then back to TNT again. Along the way this wobbly train lost a lot of its small-screen passengers, including the original show-runner and Director who fell out over creative differences.
With the train seemingly looping around the track aimlessly, Orphan Black creator Graeme Manson mans the engines and, with a new crew on-board, gets the series moving in the right direction. That direction sees this 1001 carriage train utilizing elements of a whodunit early on before evolving and growing into something more action-orientated and exciting late on.
At the centre of this conflict lies the same hierarchical class issues as the source material, teasing a possible rebellion on the horizon. For those unaware, the story takes place in a frigid post-apocalyptic wasteland. With biting winds and an icy chill that can freeze you in an instant, the only sanctuary comes in the form of a high-speed train circling the globe.
Dubbed the Snowpiercer, these environmental issues outside are just one ingredient to a nightmarish cocktail being concocted across the season. With the train segmented into different classes, the “Tailies” and 3rd Class are fed scraps and given little light or hope. By comparison, the bright, lavish carriages in 1st class play host to powerful and influential men and women living the high life.
Overseeing all of this is the mysterious, unseen presence of Mr. Wilford and his right-hand woman Melanie who broadcasts his messages to the train. When a dead body shows up however, Melanie is forced to look further afield to find someone who can help get to the bottom of what’s happened. That person comes in the form of Andre Layton, a Tailie and natural-born leader instilling hope in everyone around him. As he’s brought up the train to investigate, in secret he prepares for the upcoming rebellion he and his kin have planned.
This essentially sees the series take on two distinct halves. The first plays out as a slow-burn murder mystery as Layton questions people up and down the train. When the truth is revealed, those whispers of rebellion grow into a discontented roar. This crescendos into some great episodes late on that really ramp up the tension and reward your patience with some well-shot action set pieces. With the show already renewed for a second season, the final scenes also leave the door wide open with a teasing cliffhanger at the end.
Deciding to switch genres mid-season and evolve the show from a murder mystery to an action thriller is a surprisingly bold move. Given the show was released one episode a week, Snowpiercer expects a certain degree of patience from its audience – 5 weeks to be precise. That patience can certainly be seen with the audience ratings too, which actually lost a fair number of viewers early on before bringing them back strongly for the end. In that respect it does beg the question whether this may have been better suited to a platform like Netflix which, ironically, have actually snapped up International rights to stream weekly.
Snowpiercer however is a show that perhaps should have released with the Hulu model. Watching three episodes in one hit and then dropping back to a single episode a week may have helped alleviate some of the pacing issues this show has. It’s during these early episodes that things feel sluggish and characters spew exposition endlessly as we get accustomed to the train and its players. While it’s understandable the series needed to do this to some degree, throwing in a methodically paced murder mystery too doesn’t feel like the right creative choice.
Thankfully, Snowpiercer grabs a second wind and finishes strongly despite a couple of wobbles on the tracks. The second half is exciting, full of great set pieces and some nice twists too. There’s plenty of scope for a second season and the show does well to pick up the pieces left from its nightmarish inception that many questioned would ever see the light of day. It may not be the best dystopian thriller of the year, but it is one that pulls everything together to finish strongly.