Following several years in development due to production difficulties and behind-the-scenes network changes, the ambitious but uneven ten-episode TNT series is finally set to air on Sunday. Set decades before Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 adaptation, the series once again brings to life the world created in the 1986 French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, but sets itself apart through a somewhat bonkers police procedural twist!
Seven years on from a catastrophic attempt to halt global warming via climate engineering, Earth’s last survivors circumnavigate the frozen World aboard a giant, continuously moving train known as The Snowpiercer. Divided by class and wealth, the train passengers have established an unjust and fragile ecosystem with four very distinct sections; tail, third, second and first populations. Following a particularly gruesome murder of a wealthy individual, Andre Layton is plucked from the Tailies to investigate the crime in an attempt to keep the peace, as train leader Mr Wilford believes it may be linked to a spate of onboard grizzly slayings.
Opening with an intriguing flashback to pre-train life, Snowpiercer quickly descends into familiar territory as we spend much of the first episode in the Tallies’ car as they begin to plan their uprising. But Bong Joon-ho’s bleak/trippy post-apocalyptic vision quickly gives way to an intriguing murder investigation, which serves as a clever expository device to further explore more of the train’s 1001 carriages. The transition from two hour film to ten hour-long episodes allows the showrunners to expand upon the universe, highlighting the wealth divide along with other issues such as reproductive rights, access to health care, immigration through ‘upgrading’ and adapting to change in society.
However the writer’s attempts to balance the police procedural elements with the commentary on social inequality, class and wealth divide doesn’t always work, coming across a little Law and Order on the Orient Express at times. Surprisingly, the central murder investigation is resolved far too quickly, resulting in a prolonged narrative in the second half of the season, which features a growing revolution, train malfunctions and predictable betrayals. Unfortunately the generic sci-fi look reminiscent of The Expanse, coupled with clunky dialogue, also doesn’t do the series any favours, but there are some fun action sequences and wild events that add a campy quality to the show.
Hamilton’s Daveed Diggs is perfectly fine as the leader of the Tallies, who acts as the audience’s intro into the world through the peculiar homicide case he gets dragged into (severed penises anyone?!). But it’s Academy Award winner Jennifer Connelly who clearly steals the show as the multifaceted head of hospitality/right hand man of the mysterious Mr Wilford, Melanie Cavill. The complex character is utterly compelling; coming across as a calm and collected leader, manipulative and yet emotional. As the series progresses, we learn more about her intriguing backstory and agenda, and it’s here where the narrative becomes the most interesting. Supporting cast standouts include Mickey Sumner’s Bess, Layton’s less than enthused partner, along with Annalise Basso’s absolutely spoilt and unhinged rich girl LJ.
Snowpiercer is a perfectly serviceable but somewhat messy adaptation, as the initial central mystery is unable to sustain the ten part narrative, resulting in a rather bumpy ride. Fans of Bong Joon-ho’s film should enjoy the expanded world building, but I can’t help but feel a Tilda Swinton sized hole in the series.
Snowpiercer premieres May 17th on TNT