Snowpiercer is an American, post-apocalyptic, sci-fi series about a perpetual-engine-train on which humanity must survive after the world has frozen to death. Its story is based on a 2013 film by the same name directed by Oscar winning ‘Parasite’ director Bong Joon-Ho. The film was originally based on an 1892 French graphic novel called Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob. The show went through a turbulent development phase to then be released to an onslaught of criticism for deviating from the original film’s plot. Despite this, it managed to garner decent popularity among its audience.

The Graphic novel, Source
The 2013 film, Source

After three years in “development hell”, the series first premiered on the American cable channel TNT on the 17th of May 2020 and was released to Netflix about a week later. Throughout development, the series’ showrunner was replaced twice due to disagreements over the creative direction of the show. The show was also transferred from one WarnerMedia network (TNT) to another (TBS) and back (to TNT), further delaying production.

The responses from critics to its release, however, brutally compared it to the film – one article on GQ describing it as a “show nobody asked for”. Despite the wealth of articles highlighting the shortcomings of the show in comparison to the film, it received a decent 73% critic rating and 72% audience rating on rotten tomatoes


The first episode of the show tells the story of how the world ended with a freeze. Scientists attempted to combat global warming by releasing gases into the atmosphere to cool down the earth. The solution worked too well — freezing the Earth to its core. One eccentric billionaire, Mr.Wilford, foresaw this fate and engineered a massive train with a perpetual engine that can endure the cold. He planned to ride it around the world, preserving life inside, until a solution is found. 

Wilford created a ticket class system. The richest of the rich can afford the first class where they spend their days lounging around and enjoying the spoils of the train. The slightly-less-luxurious second class was for prestigious workers; the doctors, agriculturalists, biologists, and such. Janitors, plumbers, and other blue collar workers were afforded a place in third class in exchange for their service. On departure, the train is raided by mobs of passengers who were not given a spot on the train. These unwelcome passengers are confined to a single, cramped cart at the end of the train – “The Tail”. They are fed “mysterious black protein-blobs” and are left with no personal space or resources.

First class on Snowpiercer. Source
The “Tail”. Source
Food served in the Tail. Source

The train in the series is kept very similar to that of the film. The film’s story centers around a revolution by the “tailies” (the unfortunate passengers of the tail cart) moving from the back of the train to the engine, revealing more and more of the train as they go. The series, like the film, also involves a “tailie revolution” but adds another dimension to the story when the protagonist, tailie Andre Layton, who is a detective, is called up-train by Mr.Wilford to solve a crime mystery. Through this additional storyline, the series manages to reveal more about life on the train in the upper classes while the revolution is still brewing.

Andre Layton – tailie and “Train detective”,
played by Daveed Diggs of “Hamilton”

The story touches on issues of “class warfare, social injustice and the politics of survival”. Characters often have to question how far they are willing to go to maintain order in the train and when it is moral to sacrifice the few for the many. Mr Wilford believes order can only be achieved through a class system with law enforcement and punishments to keep people in their place. The revolution’s mission was to challenge that system and establish “One Train” where all passengers are treated equally.

Most of the series’ reviews, naturally, focused on comparing it to the film. Some critics enjoyed the claustrophobic, gritty interior of the train in the film and did not appreciate how the show made it seem a bit ‘glossier’ and more spacious. The TV version is:

 “bathed in a basic cable aesthetic that couldn’t be more mainstream. Even its grit has a bit of gloss on it.” – Vulture.

Critics also comment on how the plot in the series comes off as more “confused”. The film, according to one article, got its momentum and kept the viewers’ attention through the gradual reveal of interesting parts of the train as the revolutionaries moved linearly up to the engine. At each point in the film, the viewers knew as much about the train as the rebels did. The TV show, having more time to fill, had to abandon this dynamic of traveling up-train throughout the movie, leading to a ‘complicated plot’. They do, however, agree that this plot confusion mostly affects the beginning of the show as it struggles to gain its footing. A few episodes in, the story picks up speed and those who haven’t seen the film are likely to enjoy it. As an article from Independent described it: 

“Given the longer running time, it’s not surprising that Snowpiercer the TV series can’t match the frenzied momentum of the film, but there are compensations”. –  Independent

The Snowpiercer show is often merited for its timely release: 

“It’s hard to imagine a better moment in world history to release a television show about people forcibly confined to tight quarters during an apocalypse caused by careless plutocrats who use brutal methods to ensure their own lives of idle luxury will continue uninterrupted while the less fortunate suffer and die.” – Slate

With the current lockdown restrictions, it is easy to relate to the characters reminiscing about fresh air and going for walks.

The show is currently rolling out its second season on Netflix and has already been renewed for a third. 

Season 1 trailer

Season 2 trailer (Spoilers for season 1)

Written by: hiba

Edited by: pei zoe

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