‘Snowpiercer’ Season Finale Explained: Did the Show Go Off the Rails or Stay on Track?

     July 15, 2020

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[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers through the Season 1 finale of Snowpiercer.]

Though it’s taken quite a long time for TNT’s Snowpiercer to get moving, the sci-fi drama series chugged along this summer to its ultimate Season 1 finale just this past weekend. Surprisingly, Snowpiercer brought its class warfare story to a revolutionary close with a two-part finale. And more surprising still, it was the penultimate episode “The Train Demanded Blood” that actually played out the final moments of the revolution, leaving the season finale “994 Cars Long” to act as a closing chapter and bridge to the Season 2 story to come. But you probably have some questions from both parts of that two-part resolution, and we’re here to answer them and clear some things up.

The overall story of Snowpiercer can be painted with a pretty broad brush. The TV series, like the movie and the graphic novel it was based on, centers on a class-based conflict; First class passengers enjoy all the amenities of the bygone modern world while the lowest-class “Tailies” struggle in crowded conditions with little resources at the tail end of the train. That train just so happens to be the last bastion of humanity, an Ark of sorts that houses survivors of a global freeze and was designed to support them all for at least a couple of generations. But humans being humans, fights break out, black market pipelines funnel goods from the haves to the have-nots and back again, and the powerful take advantage of the weak. It’s all of those simmering tensions that blow up in the two-part finale of Snowpiercer and turn the train’s hierarchy on its head.

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Image via TNT

In “The Train Demanded Blood,” Daveed Diggs‘ idealistic but soft-hearted revolutionary leader Andre Layton is faced with an ultimatum: Surrender to the ruling First Class, who has ousted the train’s engineer Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly) and are holding revolutionaries hostage under their superior militarized force, or keep on fighting and doom everyone to certain death via poisonous gas. Layton’s decision is forced once he learns that Zarah (Sheila Vand) is pregnant with his child; he turns himself in. However, Melanie escapes and moves down-train to bring Layton and the Revolutionaries a plan: Disconnect the train cars at an upcoming junction and leave the oppressive Folgers and their armed and armored Jackboots to survive on their own, separated from Snowpiercer. Their coordinated effort works, but also costs the lives of the captured prisoners, whom Layton tries to save but must ultimately sacrifice in order to save the rest of the train. That hard decision is just one of the many that Layton will have to make as the man in charge.

“994 Cars Long,” however, shows what that new position is going to look like. The true season finale feels a bit more like a bridge to Season 2 than anything else, but things quickly turn chaotic. Melanie has handed over control to Layton, who wants to instill a democratic system of governance among the surviving members of all the classes. All well and good, but the remaining First Class passengers are fearful as the Third Class members and Tailies move up the train, enjoying their new-found freedom and all its excesses that they’d long been denied. (A side effect of this wild sweep is L.J. Folger (Annalise Basso) being kicked out of her comfy home and finding solace in fellow outcast Oz (Sam Otto).) But while Layton and the engineers are busy trying to restore order to a tumultuous situation, a crazy wrench is thrown into the works from out of nowhere. This is where Snowpiercer gets nuts.

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Image via TNT

While approaching Chicago, the city where the passengers and stowaways of Snowpiercer originally boarded, the team picks up a strange radio broadcast coming from outside the train. It’s revealed that Snowpiercer had a partner, the supply train Big Alice, and rumor quickly spreads that none other than the thought-to-be-deceased Mr. Wilford is running it. In a sequence that’s pulled more from the graphic novel than anything in Bong Joon Ho‘s feature, Big Alice races alongside Snowpiercer, hops to the same track, and clamps onto its tail section in a truly sci-fi bit of Transformers-like moment.

There’s a power struggle on a number of fronts here. In the Engine, Bennett (Iddo Goldberg) reveals to Melanie that he purposefully slowed Snowpiercer to sync up with Big Alice in the hopes of taking its resources. Melanie, in her cold-proof suit, is thrown from the train when she tries to sever the uplink between the two trains. In the Tail, Ruth (Alison Wright) squares off against Layton as they discuss who should first address Mr. Wilford aboard during the hostile takeover: Layton’s armed militia or Ruth’s well-appointed children’s choir and welcoming committee. Layton concedes and plays on Ruth’s hunger for power and idolization of Mr. Wilford. However, it’s not Mr. Wilford who greets them, but a young woman who’s revealed to be Melanie’s daughter, Alexandra Cavill (Rowan Blanchard), who was presumed dead during the Freeze six years earlier.

That’s where the first season of Snowpiercer ends, but it’s not where the teases for the show’s future stop. We got a Season 2 tease of newcomer Sean Bean who plays, surprisingly, a character once thought dead but revealed to be very much alive: Mr. Wilford.

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Image via TNT

Wait, what? We were led to believe that Melanie had left the billionaire Mr. Wilford for dead during the boarding process. But we were also led to believe that Mr. Wilford was alive and well on Snowpiercer, at least until it was revealed that Melanie, the actual designer of the train, had been taking on his duties from Day One. So is this Mr. Wilford actually the billionaire in the flesh? It sure seems that way, though we’ll have to wait until Season 2 kicks off to know for sure. Apparently he survived aboard his supply train Big Alice and has been tracking Snowpiercer down ever since to reclaim his property.

That sets up an interesting story — a tale of two trains, you might say — which will expand the interior and exterior worlds of Snowpiercer, bring some new blood into the mix, and further explore the more expansive story from Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette‘s “Le Transperceneige.” It’s also pretty bonkers. The sudden reappearance of not one but two presumed-dead characters with major ramifications to the story feels like soap opera territory. Maybe that’s just what Snowpiercer needs to get viewers back on board for Season 2, or maybe it’s a sign that this show is about to really go off the rails.

Television