“Smoulder to Life” gives Big Alice and Snowpiercer a common cause to work towards, but all is not entirely well on either train.
This recap of Snowpiercer season 2, episode 2, “Smoulder to Life”, contains spoilers.
You know how it is – you wait for ages for a train to come along and then two arrive at once. Then, when you join them together, you learn that perhaps the inhospitably frozen earth is beginning to thaw and you might not need either train after all! Well, the expression goes something like that, anyway.
Regardless, this is the predicament we’re faced with in the latest episode of Snowpiercer, “Smoulder to Life”, which is the first since the two locomotives were inseparably bound in the premiere. That gives everyone a new status quo to get used to as if the politics aboard the titular train weren’t already fractious enough. Having Mr Wilford himself only a few cars down gives people like Ruth a reason to keep up appearances, and other “friends” of the man, like LJ, someone to suck up to. Not everyone, remember, is entirely fond of “King” Layton, and the chances of the Tail ever being seen as equal by the rest of the classes seems increasingly slim.
Nevertheless, Melanie has the answer, since she has been outside and seen snow falling from the sky. Alex is sceptical of her discoveries and theories, but you know how teenagers are. Wilford, too, trying his best to retain some sense of order and control, reckons Layton’s reign will be brief. But Layton, for now at least, has some leverage in the form of Big Alice’s Chief of Hospitality, Kevin, who can’t wait to wrap his stiff upper lip around some Buffalo-style chicken wings in exchange for information that includes Big Alice’s passenger count (somewhere in the region of 100) and that Icy Bob, the hulking freeze-proof brute from the previous episode, has been augmented to be impervious to the cold.
With that nugget of intel and the fact that we’ve already seen the miracle goop curative in action and nobody has stopped talking about it since it’s obvious that Big Alice is more scientifically advanced than Snowpiercer and thus will prove integral in deciphering the exact state of the atmosphere and whether Earth will become ripe for colonization again in their lifetimes. Before that, though, there’s a prisoner exchange, Kevin for Melanie, which is really just an excuse for Wilford to make his presence felt and get his beady little eyes on Layton. It all goes ahead without a hitch, aside from Alex petulantly smashing Melanie’s snow sample on the ground, which turns out to be rather bad news for Kevin.
In a standout scene in “Smoulder to Life” dripping – quite literally, I suppose – with faintly homoerotic menace, Wilford cordially invites Kevin for a warm soak in the bath while he grills him about what he told Layton. It’s obvious that things are going to take a turn here, and that’s confirmed when Alex, presumably used to such scenarios, makes herself scarce and drowns out the noise with a Walkman while Wilford strips down and joins Kevin in the tub. His mistake, see, was wolfing down the chicken wings, which let on that the passengers of Big Alice were hungry, and therefore weak. His penance, aside from seeing Sean Bean’s drooping middle-aged physique, is to slit his own wrists with a straight razor while Wilford looks lecherously on. As Kevin bleeds out, Wilford’s dog trots in and starts hungrily lapping up the bloody water. See? Weird!
In the meantime, back aboard Snowpiercer, Layton tasks a newly-promoted Till with investigating the assault of Lights (Miranda Edwards), who has had a few fingers lopped off for mysterious purposes. After to a visit to a pastor whose carriage is basically a scrapbook of faith-based imagery, it becomes rather obvious that Snowpiercer season 2, episode 2 is floating the idea of a fervent, zealous sect of Wilford adherents who are sowing seeds of discord from within, a theory all but confirmed at the end of the episode, but of course, we’ll get to that.
Also re-introduced in “Smoulder to Life” is a comatose, severely frostbitten Josie, currently wrapped up like a mummy and hooked to an IV – if you want to bet me a decent amount of money that the goop will return her to her former, very pretty glory, then let me know in the comments. Either way, Zarah briefly contemplates putting her out of her misery but decides against it, and a little later, as a light cliffhanger, her eyes snap open just in time for Layton to arrive. Touching!
But, yeah, the Earth is warming up, which presents Layton and co. with an opportunity – hope. If the two trains are going to work together, and if people are going to believe in an idea grander and more substantial than Wilford himself, then they need hope for a return to their old way of life. It’s enough to entice Wilford himself for a sit-down meeting, flanked by Alex and Icy Bob, and the whole affair is obviously, embarrassingly fake, full of big smiles and empty pleasantries as everyone agrees to work together to keep things running until Melanie can be deposited at a research station and the results from the said station can be collected on the next pass. Whispery Wilford is up to something, though, and it doesn’t get by Till unnoticed. His Hitler-esque three-finger salute seems remarkably familiar; a lot like Lights’s hand, with its missing digits.