Released earlier this year, Snowpiercer brings to television and to Netflix an adaptation of the 1982 French graphic novel Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob. Fans might recognise the name from a film released in 2013 featuring Chris Evans and written by Bong Joon-ho, the latter of which executive produced this new series for television. Much like the film, Snowpiercer is set years after an apocalyptic ice age has consumed the earth and left humanity’s only survivors to travel round the world on the unrelenting train called (you guessed it) Snowpiercer. The trailer touts this series as a class commentary, something that should be expected following Bong Joon-Ho’s Academy Award winning Parasite. However, in watching the first few episodes you could be forgiven for thinking Snowpiercer is a murder mystery or a climate change warning, and you would not be wrong as all three themes are connected and interwoven to provide a deeper commentary. The series features some stars, such as Daveed Diggs from Hamilton fame taking up the lead role of Andre Leyton and Jennifer Connelly featuring as the mysterious Melanie Cavill.
Let’s start with the writing, something of a sore spot for many Netflix shows. With an executive producer such as Joon-Ho at the helm you would expect the script to be of the highest quality. The opening episodes set out the premise well, the audience can clearly understand the series of events that lead to the worldwide ice age and how our main character Andre Leyton ended up in what is called the Tail. The show introduces its theme of class divide very quickly with the inclusion of different classes within the train and an underclass in the back end of the train. “Tailies”, as they are the referred to by the passengers higher up the hierarchy, stormed the train at its embarkment without paid tickets and for Andre Leyton appears to have become somewhat their leader. The opening episodes also bring forward the key characters from each class with the beginning of the murder mystery plot line. These are well written and very engaging; I would suggest binge-watching the series to get the best out of the writing while its there. As the series goes on the writing does unfortunately decrease in quality, increasingly implausible events take place and many plot lines are left to peter out. This is the downfall of many Netflix shows as there are different writers for each episode and not a consistent tone for the entire series. The implausibility of some of the events becomes laughable by the end of the series, as does the mantra that begins each episode “These are our revolutions, 1001 cars long.”. While the writing may deteriorate throughout the series, the premise doesn’t become any less interesting or relevant.
The main focus of the series is the effects of climate change on class divides. The opening episode begins with a graphic novel style animation depicting the events that lead to the global ice age, blaming a lack of interest in climate change by large corporations and scientific action taken too late. The inclusion of this in the animation style slightly lowers the amount of finger pointing the series does and ties the series in nicely with the graphic novel on which it is based. However ham-fisted the writing, the points raised are very valid as climate change disproportionally affects the less wealthy, in particular developing nations within the economic south. Climate scientists have been giving out warnings about climate change and the effects that it will have on the global population for over 30 years, not much has been done so far in the way of abating the coming crisis. This topic is obviously a large draw for audiences as dystopian fiction has been popular for years.
The depiction of extreme class divides is another topic faced head on by the series, sometimes in a bit of a blunt and simple manner. The train setting provides the perfect place to divide its occupants into distinct classes with wealthy ticket holding families being served in first class, working peoples who serve on the train in professional capacities being in second class, manual skills labourers living in third class, and finally the creation of an underclass of people who survive on limited resources and not work on the train. Class divide has become wider recently and particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic with a huge rise in unemployment and lack of proper healthcare in less developed countries. Snowpiercer does miss some underlying distinctions between class that would provide it with a more intersectional approach to class dynamics, but in general it tackles important aspects. A prefect examples is the conflation of attempting to better one’s own circumstances with being a class traitor. Without giving too much away, this topic and ones like it are addressed well later in the series and I believe this will continue into the second series currently on break from production.
One of the best things about the show is its cast. Daveed Diggs takes up the lead role of Andre Leyton, a former New York detective and leader of the Tailies. He takes on the role with a determined intensity that creates a strong impression throughout the beginning of the series. As the series progresses you do see Diggs struggle with the script and some of the direction, it creates an uncertain performance that is less than the high-quality work you would expect from a seasoned professional. The real talking point is the excellent Jennifer Connelly, playing head of hospitality Melanie Cavill. She takes on this enigmatic role expertly, giving the audience conflicting opinions throughout the show as towards her motives and her real intentions. Connelly’s ability to work with the script is impeccable and provides a compelling character throughout, constantly leaving the audience wanting more. It’s safe to say that she steals the show. Other actors that should be given commendation for their performances are Alison Wright who takes on the role of Ruth Wardell and Lena Hall playing Miss Audrey. Alison Wright in particular takes on more action as the series progresses and I believe will have a larger role in the second series that gladly suits her skills and poise.
Overall, the series has a good basis on which to grow, providing that the writing becomes more consistent. I enjoyed my viewing experience (if not always for the right reasons). Snowpiercer is interesting and certainly gave me food for thought. Although the writing does leave more to be desired, it provides some fun moments with the cliché phrasing and awkward interactions. Enjoyable but not all together complex – I give Snowpiercer 6/10 for its attempt in bringing forward relevant topics.