A train ride that's fun except during peak rush hour.
Here be spoilers…
What we like
Bong Jong-ho's Snowpiercer was an examination into classicism and it would set up the foundation for Parasite, which would garner a slew of awards, including the Oscars. Given the medium as a film, Snowpiercer, could only do so much. Within the two-hour duration, we're introduced to the circumnavigational train of the same name—the Snowpiercer—carrying humanity's remnants, comprising of the poor, living in the tail-end of the train, and the elite, situated in the front-end. We're forced to accept that there is a government maintaining a delicate balance, lest it upsets its self-contained eco-system. With the lack of specifics, the off-kilter theatrics of Tilda Swinton's character and the magical realism of the story, the movie almost feels allegorical.
The TV series allows for the expansion into the world of Snowpiercer. For example, didja know that the locomotive is made up of 1,001 cars long and is 10-miles long? That sounds like it could fit all you need in there. And people can travel beneath Snowpiercer by taking a subtrain.
You're reminded that an entire world is fitted into the 100,1-car Snowpiercer. You have jobs like sanitation, janitorial, a police force (called Brakemen), agriculture. You even have an underbelly, a thriving drug trade, wheeling-and-dealing, it shows us another side of the world that the movie couldn't.
And there's a more defined class system on board. First-class, which is near the front of the train, are filled with your one-percenters, the nouveau riche; they get fine dining, bodyguards, all the luxuries that the train could afford them (though, how the first-class could continually funding this lifestyle after the old world has frozen over is beyond me). Then, you have the second-class citizens, then the third.
And then the Tailies, the people who didn't buy a ticket and, instead, force themselves onto the train before it took off. They are "your tired, your poor, your hungry" sequestered at the stern of the vehicle, barely eking out a living. Y'know, like what today's modern refugees have to go through.
It is this sort of desperation for a better life, that the Tailies plots another revolt (there was a previous attempt that didn't fair well for them). Leading this is André Layton (played by Daveed Diggs), a former homicide detective, who is tasked by the enigmatic Mr Wilford to investigate a murder on the train. Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly) is the voice of Mr Wilford and number two.
Before you go, ah, much like Murder on the Orient Express, (we applaud your literary affectations for Agatha Christie), this particular solitary homicide turns out to be the start of a serial murder. As the newly-minted 'train detective', Layton has carte blanche (almost!) in travelling the length of Snowpiercer.
There are a myriad characters on board of Snowpiercer, each of them, from the onset, look like they have interesting pasts or harbouring a secret. Layton is likeable and is trying to balance solving the crime while passing information of the train layout to the Tailies. Smart and slow to anger, Layton exposes his own vulnerabilities when he comes into contact with his ex-wife, Zarah Ferami (Sheila Vand). Connelly's Cavill maintains a steely-eyed look of calm as she juggles her responsibilities of being the affable concierge, acting as Mr Wilford's Voice and keeping Snowpiercer on track.
What we didn't like
I suppose, that people who are fans of Bong's work will be disappointed with the direction that Snowpiercer the series is taking. It's not bad but it's the expectation that will upend your liking of the series. But it is the pacing that might derail the series. It's an ensemble series so it jumps from character to character so sometimes the pacing is interrupted by a secondary or a tertiary character's moment, and then it either returns to the main storyline or continues detouring to other plot lines. The pacing drags and quickens; drags and quickens, like a student driver behind the wheel for the very first time.
It could be that the series is trying to differentiate itself from Bong's masterpiece and is still finding its voice. It's also trying to maintain interest. Certain facets of Snowpiercer grabs your attention, others not so much. Storywise, there are more mysteries to be unveiled over the course of the next few episodes but some do not pass muster. The murder case, that was the impetus, is resolved in the fourth episode but how it was solved is neither smart nor intriguing. Not all the suspects and clues are presented fairly and when the murderer is revealed, you're left unsatisfied.
But its only at the end of the fourth episode, that it starts to get interesting. Now we're cooking with gas. Snowpiercer is renewed for a second season, so we'll have to see where it will take us. Hopefully, it gets more compelling until we reach the end.
What to look out for
The gorgeous decor of Snowpiercer. The grimy, low-lit slums of the Tailies to the opulence and splendour of the bar and brothel, the Nightcar, each section takes you to a different world.
Also, take note of the upside-down lapel pin that Cavill wore in the second episode that hints at the shocker at the end of the pilot.
Snowpiercer is out now on Netflix, with an episode drop every Monday.