WARNING: The following contains spoilers for the series premiere of Snowpiercer, which aired Sunday on TNT.
Just as in director Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 film of the same name, the enigmatic Mr. Wilford looms large in Snowpiercer, TNT’s new post-apocalyptic thriller. After all, he’s the visionary who had the foresight, and wealth, to build the massive Great Ark Train, which circles the frozen Earth, carrying the last remnants of humanity. Now it’s Mr. Wilford’s desire for order that keeps the 1,001 cars with an often-brutal efficiency, with a class system that rewards the wealthy housed near the front, and confines the criminal “tailies” — common people who forced their way onto the train — into cramped, wretched conditions in the tail section.
In the film, the reclusive Wilford (played by Ed Harris) is revealed to have conspired with Gilliam (John Hurt), the spiritual leader of the tail section, to engineer Wilford’s potential successor in Curtis, the rebel portrayed by Chris Evans. Set about a decade earlier, the TNT drama couldn’t very well re-purpose that twist. (It wouldn’t be much of one, would it?) Instead, it brings into question the identity, and perhaps the very existence, of Mr. Wilford.
Of course, the series premiere, “First, the Weather Changed,” initially seems as if it’s going to rehash Bong’s movie, with Andre Layton (Daveed Diggs) poised to lead an uprising by the tail section. However, their plot is momentarily derailed when Andre, a former homicide detective, is removed by the brakemen — the train’s frequently ruthless security force — to investigate a grisly murder in the forward cars that’s virtually identical to another that occurred two years earlier.
And so a post-apocalyptic thriller about classism, economic inequality and environmental disaster is served to a basic-cable audience as a police procedural with sci-fi trappings. It works, too, with Andre acting as the viewers’ surrogate, touring the cars, and social structure, of Snowpiercer for the first time along with us. He’s guided by Lead Brakeman Sam Rouche (Mike O’Malley), the stereotypical veteran cop, and the far more cordial Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly), whose title as head of hospitality doesn’t do justice to the scope of her job, ensuring “smooth relations” aboard the train.
Recognized by Andre as “the voice of the train,” heard daily through omnipresent loudspeakers branded with the “W” of Wilford Industries, Melanie is also established as the personal representative of Mr. Wilford. She relays the wishes of the transportation magnate, such as a quick solution to the murder investigation, and ensures they’re carried out. Melanie even delivers a sushi platter prepared for “the boss” by Snowpiercer’s head of agriculture, after she helps to end a riot in the tail section.
But, in the episode’s final moments, when Melanie finally arrives at the train’s engine, she doesn’t report to some aging visionary. Instead, she changes out of her uniform and into an M.I.T. sweatshirt, pours herself a drink, and announces to engineer Ben Knox (Iddo Goldberg), “You’re in my chair.” Addressing her as boss, he asks, “You have a rough day charting the future of humanity?” as Melanie begins to enjoy her sushi tray. As he bids her goodnight, “You have the train, Mr. Wilford,” leaving no doubt who the boss is.
The question, at this early point, is whether “Mr. Wilford” was merely a creation of M.I.T. graduate Melanie Cavill, who designed and built Snowpiercer herself (and if so, why the pseudonym), or whether she’s his successor, with “Mr. Wilford” becoming a sort of title to help ensure continuity, and therefore order, aboard the train.
Based on the 2013 film and the 1982 graphic novel Le Transperceneige, by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer stars Jennifer Connelly, Daveed Diggs, Alison Wright, Mickey Sumner, Susan Park, Iddo Goldberg, Katie McGuinness, Lena Hall, Annalise Basso, Sam Otto, Roberto Urbina, Sheila Vand and Jaylin Fletcher. The post-apocalyptic thriller airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on TNT.
A gruesome murder is the entry point into TNT's Snowpiercer, but the bigger mystery of the post-apocalyptic thriller involves the train's creator.