Alright, folks! After a first episode where they were really setting the stage for the world of Snowpiercer, this train is really starting to roll (pun totally intended) and the TNT series’ second episode – “Prepare to Brace” – is beginning to open things up in a variety of ways, and I’m very much enjoying what I’m seeing thus far. I know some folks are a bit surprised that the show has a very heavy police procedural bent to it, but I think it’s something of a unique approach that I wasn’t certainly expecting going into this, and I’m going to continue to remain open-minded about it because Daveed Diggs is just that damn good.
Now that we know that there’s a murderer somewhere in the elite areas of the Snowpiercer, “Prepare to Brace” sets out to build upon the mystery of who not only murdered another passenger aboard the titular train, but also removed all of their appendages and their penis (ouch!) to boot, which also gives us more glimpses into the world of the Snowpiercer, beyond the unfortunate souls who struggle to survive in the tail.
But before we dive into Layton’s (Diggs) findings during this initial round of investigation, “Prepare to Brace” kicks off with us learning that while Mr. Wilford’s train still remains a feat of engineering meant to endure the harshest of conditions, there are some outside threats that pose some big problems for the transport that could potentially have huge implications for the safety on everyone on board.
“Prepare to Board” also comes bearing some repercussions for the “Tailies” after their assault on the train’s security when Ruth Wardell (played by Alison Wright) shows up to claim an arm of one of the residents of the tail car. The no-nonsense Ruth initially picks a little girl as her victim of choice, which I have to admit made me gasp in horror, but the girl’s mother volunteers to go in her stead, and we watch as the extreme cold and a sledgehammer end up claiming the woman’s appendage. It was one of the most shocking, visceral moments in the Snowpiercer film, and the power of that moment is not lost in the series whatsoever – it’s still a huge gut punch moment that left my stomach in knots.
There’s another set piece from this week’s episode of Snowpiercer that left me absolutely breathless, but I’ll get to that later.
In the meantime, Layton begins to do some initial legwork in his investigation into the brutal and mysterious murder of a third class passenger named Sean (the poor soul referenced above) which takes the former detective deeper into the third class world of Snowpiercer. Brakesman Bess Till (the fantastic Mickey Sumner) is tasked with accompanying Layton to the various areas of the train as he makes some inquiries and tries to piece together just who could possibly commit such an atrocious act and just why they would want to do so in the first place.
His investigation leads him to the Nightcar, which is basically the Snowpiercer’s answer to a nightclub, but it’s not exactly what you might be thinking from the locale’s given name. We learn that the Nightcar belongs to Miss Audrey (Lena Hall) and she’s anxious to help Layton solve the murder because she suspects that those higher up than her may have a hand in not only this atrocity but another murder that was pinned on a young woman named Nikki who was found guilty of committing a similar murder just two years prior, and was sentenced to live out the rest of her time in the “drawers” of Snowpiercer, which means she now exists in a state of suspended-animation, tucked away like a dirty secret (three of the “Tailies” also get tucked away in this episode too, but Layton promises them all that their time in the drawers will be short-lived, so we shall see how that works out).
Layton’s time in the Nightcar also involves him interacting with his ex, Zerah (played by Sheila Vand), and during a sequence that’s supposed to involve the former cop having an epiphany – as Miss Audrey promises – we get a glimpse into his life with Zerah before the world went to Hell and they snuck aboard the Snowpiercer. The flashbacks make for a lovely contrast to the cold, sometimes sterile world of the perpetual train, and it really gave us a chance to enjoy both of their characters on a deeper level (I’m all for the idea of “naked donuts” now, too).
Also, what was interesting about this scene was that in some very big ways, the Snowpiercer represents the salvation of humanity after “The Event,” and I guess it just didn’t dawn on me until that moment just how much I would miss things like the feeling of water against my skin, or to hearing the birds chirping the air around me, or the sensation of the wind against my skin if I had been living aboard an enclosed vessel like this for more than seven years. It’s not a scene that’s crucial to the plot, but it does a nice job of pulling back the layers on these respective characters.
Now, onto some of the bigger moments and reveals from “Prepare to Brace.” In terms of reveals, as Layton continues probing into the evidence of the Snowpiercer’s grisly murder, we come to find out that cannibalism is certainly a thing that happens aboard this train, and it’s not something relegated to a certain class of passenger either. We also learn that one way that the “Tailies” can get their hands on essential items, like much-needed medications, is by providing sexual favors to the Brakesmen, which again, opens up the sexual politics aboard the Snowpiercer.
Something else that is expanded upon in this episode is the idea of breeding. We were told in the premiere that Melanie (Jennifer Connelly) and those in charge instituted a policy of sterilization in the tail end of the train, and when it comes to having a baby in the other classes (or at least third class), you have to win the baby lottery before you start procreating, which obvious calls into question issues surrounding reproductive rights.
Beyond that, though, is the cataclysmic breach of the meat processing car, where the cattle is stored until it’s time for the cows to get sent out to pasture (I guess that’s both figurative and literal), ultimately turning them into food for the passengers. The sequence itself left me completely breathless, with its swift cruelty towards anything that happened to have a pulse inside that car when the window tore open, exposing the workers and the cattle to the extreme elements. The breach also has bigger implications as well, because not only does that make a huge dent in the Snowpiercer’s food supply (maybe we’re going to see cannibalism become far more prevalent?) but it also makes Mr. Wilford’s infallible train seem not so infallible after all. And it’s up to Melanie to figure out just what they hell they’re going to do moving forward.
And this feels like a pretty appropriate place to wrap up “Prepare to Brace” recap. It’s obvious from Layton’s behaviors towards the end, as we see him mapping out various areas in the Snowpiercer so that he can send the information back to the “Tailies” and getting a beat down for his troubles, that he may be playing the game that those in charge of the train want him to, but he’s still got his own agenda that will undoubtedly come to ahead in a future episode.
See you all next week for our rundown of Snowpiercer episode three, which currently airs every Sunday night on TNT.