“Many Miles From Snowpiercer” channels The Martian as Melanie attempts to survive alone in an inhospitable environment.
This recap of Snowpiercer season 2, episode 6, “Many Miles From Snowpiercer”, contains spoilers.
In my recap of last week’s episode, I lamented the fact that we were expected to care about what was happening with Melanie without actually seeing what was happening with Melanie, and I’ve got a touch of egg on my face now since “Many Miles From Snowpiercer” is entirely about what Melanie is up to. It’s a stripped-back episode, most of which she spends starving, exhausted, and delirious, and by its end, we’re not entirely sure of what was real and imagined. It’s a very effective mood piece and helps to provide some additional context for the initial launch of Snowpiercer, as well as cracking a window into Melanie’s headspace and the relationships she obviously considers most important to her.
Snowpiercer season 2, episode 6 does a lot with a little. The monitoring station where Melanie finds herself is a bleak place, almost entirely covered in snow, and everything she discovers is grim — a body with a bullet hole in its head, another with its wrists slashed, a severed arm in the freezer. All the wide-angle landscape shots are endless, featureless tundra. The claustrophobic, dimly-lit interior, with its nests of wires and racks of tools and shelves of whirring machinery, feels very much like a place one might go to turn insane and die alone.
A lot of the tension of “Many Miles From Snowpiercer” is whether Melanie will in fact turn insane and die alone. She’s starving to death, slowly, and exists on the cusp of hallucination at all times as she attempts to power up the station and remodel the climate while various familiar faces from Snowpiercer pop into her imaginings. This device, along with flashbacks and Melanie occasionally speaking aloud to herself, are useful ways to facilitate dialogue and provide context. Eventually, the whole thing takes on a surreal quality, halfway between dream and reality. Her crackers go missing; there is talk of cannibals outside; the arm in the freezer becomes more and more tempting as a meal.
The insights into the train’s original departure in Snowpiercer season 2, episode 6 are illuminating. Melanie was Wilford’s chief engineer, and they argued about the train’s construction and its passenger list. She thought the Night Car was a waste of resources and that six geneticists and their next of kin would have been a better investment than the same number of Jackboots. But Wilford, being Wilford, thinks that nothing is more important than order. What he means, really, is nothing is more important than his own safety, and the forced remodelling of the world in his own image.
The hungrier Melanie gets, the more she sees Layton, who reminds her of the predicament she put the Tail in. Will she, like them, resort to cannibalism? Should the previous occupants of the station have resorted to it in order to preserve the mission, and not allowed their compassion and sentimentality to leave them frozen solid in a powered-down husk? Questions, questions. It’s easy to imagine that a rat Melanie spots is another hallucination, a mirage born of starvation, but “Many Miles From Snowpiercer” flips that on its head when she baits and traps it, and then follows it to its nest in a wall. Behind that wall is a geothermal spring cracked open by the freeze. In there, she sees Alex, fittingly. Who better to accompany her discovery that hope still remains? And she cooks the rats, one at a time, keeping going as she recalls Wilford ordering the geneticists’ families to be gunned down in the frozen turmoil during the train’s boarding.
Throughout much of Snowpiercer season 2, episode 6, the climate software connecting to the weather balloons acts as a kind of ticking clock device, so there’s a mild subversive quality to Melanie losing all that data. She flashes back to the moment the Tailies stormed the train, and Ben talked her into leaving Wilford behind. In so doing, she also left Alex, and Jennifer Connolly agonizes over the decision for long enough that you feel her pain. It makes a slightly later moment have a stronger emotional payoff when Melanie has the climate model but can’t contact Snowpiercer. Resigning herself to her fate, she imagines a younger version of Alex, the one she left behind that day, console and hug her.
It’s unclear whether the episode’s ending is real. In it, Snowpiercer passes by at too great a speed, and no matter how quickly Melanie runs towards it, she can’t get there in time. Through the window, she sees Alex screaming her name, and is left behind to die in the snow, alone. You have to imagine it’s a fakeout, but it’s an evocative cliffhanger all the same.