Wilford’s scheming comes to fruition in “The Eternal Engineer” as all the simmering tensions aboard Snowpiercer finally reach boiling point.
This recap of Snowpiercer season 2, episode 8, “The Eternal Engineer”, contains spoilers.
Roche narrates the opening of “The Eternal Engineer”, and he’s a fitting perspective from which to view the events that transpire within. He thinks, rightly, that everyone lighting red lanterns for Wilford, as seen in the previous episode, is because they’re all scared of each other. It’s clear that the current situation isn’t sustainable, and there’s a clear implication right from the jump that the tensions are about to boil over. As the bodies of the Breachmen as ejected from the train and sent tumbling to shatter on the ice far below, the point is clear. The end is nigh.
That’s the end of the season, obviously, which isn’t far off, but also the end of Layton’s tenure as leader of Snowpiercer. But we’ll get to that since it develops gradually throughout “The Eternal Engineer”, which veers from contemplative to tense to ominous with impressive alacrity. Despite Till having solved the mystery of who killed the Breachmen last week, everyone, including Boscovic, seems content to believe whatever they like anyway, and many of them believe that Wilford is incapable of having his own loyal men butchered. They’d presumably also believe that he’s incapable of engineering a catastrophic technical issue aboard Snowpiercer by tasking Icy Bob with shoving a rail spike into the train’s intake, but as we discover, that’s precisely what he did. As we also discover, that was only the beginning of his plan to retake the train.
I’m glad the focus of Snowpiercer season 2, episode 8 is largely on Roche. I enjoyed seeing his interactions with his wife, Anne, and daughter, Carly; I enjoyed how well he put across the idea of being trapped between a rock and a hard place, insisting to Layton that the Brakemen will keep order while telling Anne that they’re one dirty look away from civil war. He’s stuck between desiring the ideal that Layton represents but knowing deep down that he’ll never be allowed to realize it. Once the water pressure goes haywire and the cabins begin flooding, it’s obvious that this is going to be an episode in which things go from bad to worse.
At least Josie’s awake, and looking a lot better thanks to the Headwoods’ goop, but she doesn’t like what she’s seeing and hearing aboard Big Alice. She’s disgusted by Audrey’s defection, which we still don’t know if she’s going to commit to (I vote not), and is appalled at the state of Icy Bob when he returns from the tracks in a worse state than ever, his purpose apparently fulfilled. They enjoy a very loaded conversation about illusion and pain. Shortly afterward, she discovers that she, too, is now immune to the cold. But is that a gift or a curse?
Naturally, the engineering problem aboard Snowpiercer requires Breachmen to fix, and there’s only one left. Layton and Till approach Boscovic with the problem and he agrees to help, but not without making his point first. When he returns with obvious evidence of sabotage, though, he knows that Wilford betrayed him and his men and pledges his allegiance to Layton. But it’s too little, too late. The general sentiment among the passengers still leans more towards Wilford, even for Anne, who thinks that Wilford should be in charge for the sake of Carly’s safety. Roche thinks siding with Layton is putting his family first, but there’s an inevitability to his defeat that Roche clearly feels. At this point, he’s doing what he believes to be right, because in this frozen future, what else is there?
One issue leads to another in Snowpiercer season 2, episode 8. The next one, a knock-on effect of the first, will collapse the engine if a crucial component isn’t replaced. And, of course, that part isn’t aboard Snowpiercer — it’s aboard Big Alice and requires Wilford himself to come to the engine and replace it. He’s extraordinarily smug about being invited to do so, even though Layton and his inner council go to great lengths in order to ensure nobody knows he’s there, aware that news of his presence will spark an outright rebellion by his adherents. Nevertheless, the news spreads and his followers plot to keep him uptrain. Meanwhile, in the engine itself, the proposed fix doesn’t take because of a hack Melanie made years ago, prompting an ad-hoc solution proposed by Wilford that involves the engine being manually turned off and jump-started with a push from Big Alice. This is a tense sequence but also a fascinating one for how it shows Wilford in his element and allows us to see Layton’s reaction when he realizes that this isn’t just some garden variety psychopath, but a very intelligent and calculating man who suddenly has him beaten. As Wilford keeps reminding him, Layton isn’t an engineer. He doesn’t understand how the train works. How, then, can he lead it? When it’s time to turn the engines back on, Wilford himself takes to the tannoy to announce it. As the train comes back alive, chants of Wilford ring throughout it. Layton has lost Snowpiercer.
“The Eternal Engineer” ends on morbid terms. Layton is taken to Big Alice in cuffs, on the vague promise he’ll be treated well. Roche promises him he’ll do what he can for the Tail, but when he’s told to report to Wilford, he’s taken to the Headwoods, who have Anne and Carly on ice already. And Ben is forced to cede his position. “Mr. Wilford, you have the train,” he murmurs, as Wilford happily takes charge.