Mr. Wilford himself makes an appearance in “The Time of Two Engines”, while Season 2 gives two trains for the price of one as a new dynamic is laid out.
This recap of Snowpiercer season 2, episode 1, “The Time of Two Engines”, contains spoilers.
The first season of TNT’s Snowpiercer (adapted from the graphic novel, like the 2013 Bong Joon-ho-directed, Chris Evans fronted film of the same name) was, in essence, about an uprising and a downfall meeting in the middle. The uprising came courtesy of Andre Layton, a former detective promoted from the titular train’s woefully neglected tail to investigate a murder. The downfall was of Melanie, head of Hospitality, and her carefully cultivated facade of normalcy, which included her posing as the much-talked-about but never seen Mr. Wilford, the train’s owner and the all-seeing, all-knowing benefactor of all its residents.
As the opening episode of the second season premiere, “The Time of Two Engines”, makes clear, the newly united(ish) Snowpiercer is heading for war. Following on directly from the first season finale, Melanie’s presumed-dead daughter, Alex (Rowan Blanchard), has arrived with a strict set of demands and hastily depleting time limit. As the temperature drops way below zero, Layton takes charge of the efforts to satiate the bizarre requests of Big Alice, another train that has tethered itself to the Snowpiercer. Melanie herself remains outside, sabotaging the connecting mechanism with a bomb, taking a sample of snow, and eventually, barely, making it aboard Big Alice.
It’s a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire, but by dividing its protagonists, Snowpiercer season 2, episode 1 neatly parallels the very different circumstances aboard each train. Melanie is immediately familiar with Big Alice, with its layout, protocols, and personnel, including the besuited Hospitality bod Kevin (Tom Lipinski), who zaps her with a cattle prod on her way to the plush domicile of Mr Wilford (Sean Bean) himself. He explains both how he survived and how he has been lurking, waiting for his moment to pounce; she explains how, since having been found out as a deceiver, she has lost the train and it is no longer hers to give back to him. This scene is worthwhile purely for the way a befuddled Sean Bean questions, “And what is a tailie?” when Melanie explains that Layton is in charge.
With Melanie ordered to the brig, by her own daughter, of all people, we can catch up with Layton, who is trying his best to organize the still very disparate factions of the Snowpiercer. The standard classist hierarchy has been abandoned, but the 994 remaining cars still need to be organized into some sort of structure. The Tail is now the border with Big Alice, since that’s where the connection is, and it’s to be guarded by the Brakemen. Ruth and the rest of Hospitality are to handle diplomacy, which is a tough sell given how madly devoted Ruth was to the very idea of Wilford not too long ago. A spanner is thrown in the works, though, when Zara reveals that she’s pregnant with Layton’s baby. This, according to Ruth, is a sign of hope and affords both Zara and Layton special privileges. While he orders martial law, he and Zara are put up in a swanky First Class suite. Is the power going to his head already?
Melanie, meanwhile, is held in a cell and eventually taken with a bag over her head to a medical examination, during which the doctors reveal that they’ve made several medical breakthroughs, including a synthetic gel they simply call “goop” which can patch up all the injuries she sustained in the frozen outdoors. How the mighty have fallen. How the downtrodden have risen.
But old habits die hard. When we catch a glimpse of LJ — still being chaperoned by John Osweiller — she’s eerily chanting “Mr Wilford’s coming!”. At the tail, Pike begins to trade fresh produce for vintage drugs, including a blunt, with his opposite number in the end car of Big Alice. This self-serving act speaks to how unlikely it is that these people will ever be able to co-exist, but it also gives Layton and Roche, who catch him high as a kite, an idea. Thus begins the only action set-piece of “The Time of Two Engines”. Using Pike’s offer of a juicy mango to get the carriage door open, the tailies and the Brakemen storm Big Alice, making their way through several cars and taking Kevin hostage until Mr Wilford hears of the attack and is able to quell it with the help of Icy Bob (Andre Tricoteux), a hulking brute who is able to breach the car and scare the Snowpiercer’s militia away with the frigid air. Since he’s totally unaffected by temperatures of seventy below, it’s pretty clear that Icy Bob has been subjected to some medical breakthroughs of a different kind. If that’s how Wilford rolls — another Bob is explicitly mentioned — then that’s going to be a fun source of antagonists for coming episodes.
With Kevin a captive of Layton, Mr Wilford is fuming and orders Alex to stop both trains, decouple them, and then reverse into Snowpiercer, pushing them back and killing everyone aboard. Melanie pleads with her not to go through with this, and while she visibly has second thoughts, she pushes the button anyway… playing right into Melanie’s hands. The attempted decoupling triggers the bomb, which damages the mechanism and keeps the trains permanently stuck together. The only solution is to get both trains moving before everyone dies, and find a way to work together — it’s a sneaky move that Alex is obviously quite impressed with, which is perhaps just as well. There’s a war to be fought, after all, and everyone is going to have to pick a side sooner rather than later.