Daveed Diggs and Jennifer Connelly excel in this whodunit reboot of Bong Joon-ho’s class-conscious thriller.
This recap of Snowpiercer season 1, episode 1, “First, the Weather Changed”, contains spoilers.
Before Bong Joon-ho made the Best Picture-winning Parasite, he made the class-conscious cult classic Snowpiercer – and everyone knew he was onto something. Starring Captain America, Tilda Swinton doing an outlandish Northern English accent, and racing alongside the rigidly class-stratified remains of society confined to a giant train circling the devastating climate of a permanently frozen Earth, it was such great fun – and so underseen and underappreciated – that I’m surprised we’ve had to wait even this long for a remake.
Then again, “remake” isn’t entirely accurate here. This new 10-episode series, airing on TNT and Netflix, is a reboot of the film’s continuity, based as much on that as the original French graphic novel, Le Transperceneige. It retains the same premise and themes but stocks the train with new characters and swaps the idea of a mounting rebellion with a whodunit to mixed effect. Helmed, though, by Daveed Diggs (Blindspotting) as Andre Layton, a sleuth from the train’s tail who is enlisted by the higher-ups to solve a murder-mystery further along the compartments, and a stern-looking Jennifer Connelly, Snowpiercer episode 1, “First, the Weather Changed”, feels as though it’s building to something that might end up pretty special.
The keyword is “might”, though, since if we’ve abandoned the literal forward progression of the film’s uprising narrative, we need to gain something from having Layton bounce up and down the train from the more affluent carriages to the cannibalistic tail and back again. A large ensemble looks to justify this decision by splitting focus among many different characters while uniting them all both through the still-provocative themes – especially at present – and the overarching mystery. Over time, this could work very well, but introducing us to the players more gradually might have helped to ease viewers into this particular adaptation.
I’m not totally keen on the dialogue in “First, the Weather Changed”, either, which is often stilted and replete with a lot of post-apocalyptic colloquialisms – whether this is just a pet peeve of mine or outright bad writing, I can’t really say, since I’ve had a niggling issue with this kind of thing since I read A Clockwork Orange years ago. Either way, I noticed the lack of pep and rhythm, and more than once felt it was detracting from Diggs and Connelly doing otherwise admirable work in the lead roles.
What I’m looking for, and what admittedly seems to be missing thus far, is the frantic energy of the film version; you’d think shuffling through the carriages would be a perfect opportunity for some bonkers swerves, but Snowpiercer episode 1 seemed content to allow its production design to do the heavy-lifting in differentiating between the locations rather than really leaning into the essential weirdness of the premise. It still feels as though it’s expanding on the concept, though, which is welcome, and another thing that’ll mature over time.
Whether or not Snowpiercer can live up to Snowpiercer seems a bit beside the point; they’re intended, I think, to be taken together, both parts of the same whole, rather than one being a retelling of the other. That’s fine with me. There’s enough meat on the bones of the underlying idea – perhaps an ill-advised metaphor given how people get down in the train’s tail – for a richer exploration of the concept, and this show can provide that. Whether or not it will, at least for now, remains to be seen.
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