The Snowpiercer TV series has a chilling amount to live up to. The film it’s based on, crafted by Parasite director Bong Joon-ho, offers a wildly entertaining and symbolic analysis of class struggle that becomes more relevant by the day. “First, the Weather Changed” is a decent first episode and sets up the series to make something of itself as well — as long as it can stay on track.
The premiere is set only 6 years, 9 months, and 26 days after Snowpiercer, the luxury train meant to churn on endlessly in an effort to preserve humanity, departs during a permanent winter brought about by attempted climate control following global warfare that raised the world’s temperature. It’s a toddler compared to the film, which takes place a whole 17 years after Snowpiercer’s departure. A slightly lighter tone is brought out by the self-aware and semi-sarcastic attitude of the main character and former homicide detective, Andre Layton (played by Daveed Diggs). The lead certainly has a tall order stepping into the shoes of the film’s star Chris Evans, but Diggs delivers — Layton has the same calm temperament of Evans’s Curtis, but stands out with a more reassuring spirit and stunning hair that could leave even the Predator blushing.
The plot initially follows Layton and the tail of the train as they plan for rebellion against their front car oppressors and the mysterious Mr. Wilford. Anyone aware of the film may find these points lackluster, given its entire existence hinges on the failure of each attempted insurrection over a 17 year period. Juicer plot points unravel in the exploration of the high class’s perception of the tail — a perspective less explored by the film — offered primarily through Melanie Cavill (played by Jennifer Connelly), who fills the role of the train’s overhead voice. The brief moments where Melanie is unwound are enticing as she isn’t vilified and is shown to hold more than a few secrets that set her apart from her fellow first class passengers.
The show picks up steam while showcasing its style, even opening with an animation sequence reminiscent of the story’s French comic roots that illustrates the world’s fall and what led to Snowpiercer’s conception. The concise summary and the tail’s scenery give information on the tailies’ tribulations in contrast to higher class cars, with dark, grimy greys set against clean scenes of well-lit comfort and excess — it’s a thrill to look at and tells a story without over-explaining.
When Layton is taken from the tail to solve a murder and preserve Wilford’s precious order, the series takes a stand to set itself apart. By hitting crime thriller beats as Layton works through the case while planting the seeds of rebellion, both plotlines play off each other and bring something new to the table where they may have been forgettable individually. Layton’s internal struggle of whether or not he should cooperate is a deadly combo when paired with the human struggle of those he’s sworn loyalty to, still mounting in the tail after his exit. The moral ambiguity fuels tension through each sequence.
Not every scene is as smooth on the train that never stops. Layton’s engaging trek into higher class carts derails when he is faced with a former lover — an expository interaction that is painfully forced and more numbing than frostbite. It adds depth to his character, but its insertion feels jumbled among already sprawling subplots. Similar to the episode’s fight sequences that are certainly visceral and well-choreographed, it doesn’t stand out because of how many times it has been done before.
The series has potential — if Snowpiercer hones in on the whodunnit excitement of something like an Agatha Christie novel (which shouldn’t be too hard since it’s already on a train) and the middling character contrast of a film like Parasite, it might have something more appetizing to offer than a protein block. It likely can’t beat the film at its portrayal of the uprising itself, but the show can shine if it pulls its brakes and lowers the stakes.