“Access Is Power” digs into the train’s unusual economy as drugs, sex, currency, and access all factor into the investigation of Sean’s death.
This recap of Snowpiercer season 1, episode 3, “Access Is Power”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
The title of Snowpiercer episode 3, “Access Is Power”, isn’t subtle – it’s making a literal point about how, on a 1001-carriage train to nowhere, your ability to move through it is everything. And it’s of particular importance in a murder investigation since the number of people who might have killed Sean Wise was once limited to those in third-class. With revelations in this episode, though, which helps several subplots to percolate without moving the main plot too far forwards, it becomes clear that there are ways and means of moving through the locomotive even if you shouldn’t be able to. Sean’s killer could, conceivably, be anyone.
This is a matter that Layton, a detective in the old noir tradition, has to contend with. That and a new drug, Kronol, even though it isn’t new to the Tail, from which it seemingly stretches all the way to first-class and back again. Worsening civil unrest follows a similar route, up and down, its access not defined by doors and passes. This is the train’s real economy; drugs, money, sex, all vices that some would consider worth killing for.
A big part of Snowpiercer episode 3 is Fight Night, a classic distraction from growing problems – such as the Tailies fretting over being uncoupled – and a classic dramatic device that brings a load of people together in the hope that something useful spills out. Here it’s smartly taken in from two distinct angles, the floor and the luxury balcony, which is fitting since it only reinforces how Snowpiercer as a conception is designed to divide; along lines of class and whatever else. Once the less privileged inevitably begin to fight among themselves, the metaphor is clearer than ever – not that it was subtle in the first place.
Kronol’s influence throughout the train and its connection to Shaun’s death is really the most substantial development in “Access is Power”, but it’s an episode not really designed to divulge too much crucial information. These early installments are clearly designed to better express the economics and politics of the train; the very specific set of circumstances that allowed for Sean’s murder, but also the context which might have encouraged it, and the limitations around carrying it out, getting away with it, and subsequently investigating it. Snowpiercer is blending elements of classic noir with a police procedural with class-conscious science-fiction, and while it’s taking its time to move all those elements into place, I’m glad it isn’t in too much of a hurry to get where it’s going. Hopefully, unlike its namesake, the show doesn’t end up going around in circles.
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