“Without Their Maker” brings the murder-mystery plot to an abrupt close, as rebellion continues to brew.
This recap of Snowpiercer season 1, episode 4, “Without Their Maker”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Many people, myself included, were pleasantly surprised but more than a little wary when they realized that Snowpiercer had become a murder-mystery in its transition from graphic novel to big and then small screen. As of Snowpiercer episode 4, “Without Their Maker”, it isn’t a murder-mystery anymore, and the largely unsatisfying way in which it stops being one suggests it perhaps shouldn’t have tried to be one in the first place.
Of course, the murder of Sean Wise has always been presented as a symptom of the show’s underlying themes of class division, but the more interesting version of those themes is the brewing revolution that is gradually expanding further and further up-train – something that has been forced into the margins by the murder investigation. Now that investigation is over, and several episodes earlier than most people suspected, there’s plenty of time to really dig into the coming uprising. But in that case, why include the investigation in the first place?
I’m also not entirely sure what’s gained by having LJ Folger (Annalise Basso), a nothing character who throughout “Without Their Maker” becomes more and more of a silly caricature, be the sadistic mastermind behind the atrocities, especially for such a thin reason as she was bored and assumed her privilege would insulate her from justice. It works as an unexpected reveal, but only because nobody cared enough about LJ Folger to suspect her and it works as a metaphor because it’s so heavy-handed that it can’t not. But even with all this in mind it feels like such a flimsy conclusion that it’s hard to care one way or the other. LJ herself is underdeveloped, as is her relationship with Erik, and without the essential components of motive and means, none of it really amounts to anything.
It might going forwards, especially in how the truly interesting subject to emerge from all this is Nikki, who had connections to everyone and represented something substantial in the way that justice is done aboard Snowpiercer. She’s dead now, obviously, but that doesn’t necessarily mean much in a show that is quite explicitly about legacy – such things are, after all, how those in first-class have been able to retain their station, and how those in the tail have been kept under the heel of oppression.
This plot played in the thematic waters of class-as-social-construct, but that idea is much more prevalent elsewhere, often in incidental details, but especially in Melanie’s perpetuation of the Mr. Wilford myth despite him not being around anymore. Wilford is an idea just like first-class is, and the thing about ideas is that they can be played with and interrogated. Layton is sharp enough to not just put clues of a crime together but evidence of a large-scale ruse that plays on people’s fears and prejudices. Obviously, this is a much timelier subtext now than the show could have anticipated during its development.
When Snowpiercer episode 4 does visit the tail, it’s clear how much more effective these beats are, both in terms of dramatic stakes and details that reinforce the show’s underlying ideas. There’s a moment when Josie sees the sunlight for the first time that feels like a direct counter to LJ Folger finding it amusing that those in the tail are never able to do so; it’s showing the earnest humanity behind the kind of ignorance that proliferates in these hermetically-sealed bubbles of privilege.
As ever, it’s on the level of plot and character that Snowpiercer struggles, and “Without Their Maker” proves this to be the case once again; the core decision to focus on a large ensemble across the full length of the train perhaps proves a misguided one, even if the show remains one of the more interesting and potentially-great of everything currently airing. There’s still plenty left of this first season for it to make a better case for itself. Let’s hope that it does.
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