Welcome to Snowpiercer Explained, the next in a long line of explainer columns about our favorite shows. With TNT dropping a new show into the Snowpiercer universe, we’re riding along to help you keep up with the mythology and filmmaking of this post-apocalyptic freight train.
With the episode “Prepare to Brace,” Snowpiercer continues to raise more questions about Melanie (Jennifer Connelly). Last week’s episode revealed that she’s the mysterious Mr. Wilford, and she’s been pretending to be a steward to keep her true identity a secret. In the second installment, the cracks slowly begin to appear in regards to Melanie’s real identity being exposed.
“Prepare to Brace” does a great job at juggling multiple narrative threads, but the murder investigation is the glue that ties everything together. During his investigation, Layton (Daveed Diggs) discovers that the killer’s third victim was an informant for Wilford. He then comes to the realization that the train’s higher-ups want the assailant caught because it’s possible that their undercover spy spilled the beans about Melanie while he was being tortured.
Layton doesn’t know Melanie’s secret yet, but he has figured out that she’s hiding something. This episode plants the seeds for their inevitable showdown, as Layton wants to uncover the truth, and Melanie will undoubtedly want to silence him when he becomes privy to information that he shouldn’t know. Still, Melanie must also deal with a homicidal maniac who probably knows the truth already, and Layton is the only person with the skills to sniff the culprit out.
There are a couple of reasons for Melanie wanting to keep her secrets intact. First of all, she insists on maintaining the train’s natural order, built upon a system of inequality and injustice. In this episode, Melanie shows that she cares more about keeping her system functioning than she does about people’s lives. The only passengers she does make attempts to please are the elites, who have become unsettled due to last week’s attempted rebellion from the Tailies.
The reason why Melanie doesn’t let the engineers slow the train down during the harsh weather conditions is that it will mean further upsetting the rich people, which could cause more civil unrest on the train. She needs them to be satisfied to ensure that her system keeps operating the way she wants it to, and if that means putting lives in danger, then so be it. That said, her decision comes back to bite her, as evidenced by the avalanche causing some of the cattle and livestock to die.
Melanie’s insistence on maintaining the authoritarian status quo also explains why the train’s law and order system is very problematic. There are no fair trials here. When Layton visits the Night Car, he discovers that the first accused murderer, Nikki (Madeleine Arthur), was put into an induced coma, which led to neurological problems and decaying skin. She’s innocent, but she’s had to suffer for the so-called greater good.
This mindset is further exemplified when one of Melanie’s employees blames the train’s butchers for the murders. Layton isn’t willing to let that happen because he’s a good cop, but the scene shows that the train’s stewards have been conditioned to be corrupt for the sake of protecting Melanie and her regime. At the same time, no one at the top of the hierarchy really cares about corruption as long as their interests are served.
Maintaining the order is one reason why Melanie doesn’t want her secret out, but there could be another that’s more personal. While she doesn’t want anyone outside of her circle to know that she’s Wilford, she also doesn’t want people discovering how she became Wilford. This episode drops some hints that there’s more to this facade than a woman pretending to be the train’s mysterious patriarch.
There’s a brief scene that reveals Melanie holding a picture of a child who’s presumably hers. It’s clear that she has a past, and this scene suggests that there’s more humanity to her than her authoritarian tendencies suggest. There are more revelations about her coming, one of which could be that she isn’t the original Wilford.
In an interview with Syfy Wire, showrunner Graeme Manson said that Melanie “stole” the train. This practically confirms that she isn’t the original Wilford, but how did she come to inherit the moniker? The most obvious reason is that she and her cohorts overthrew him. There’s another scene in this episode that shows Melanie staring at the area where prisoners are kept in a comatose state. Perhaps the real Wilford is one of them.
Snowpiercer is keeping its cards close to the vest for now, but it’s shaping up to be more complex and nuanced than the movie. Furthermore, Melanie is an intriguing villain who continues to be perplexing. Maybe she isn’t even a villain at all, and her reason for maintaining order is merely a way of keeping up appearances while she works on a grander plan to bring about change.
We’re only two episodes in and the show has already established that nothing is ever as simple as it appears. There’s no telling where it’s going, and that’s why it’s rapidly becoming essential viewing.