Snowpiercer–Isolation takes a cold turn and gets off to a good start in new series

It’s a graphic novel that can’t be easy to translate to either the big or small screens, yet the first episode of a new TNT television series gets off to a good start.  First a series of graphic novels we discussed five years ago here at borg, then a movie starring Chris Evans (reviewed here and discussed here), the futuristic, post-apocalypse universe of Snowpiercer is now here and the first episode wastes no time maneuvering its very allegorical existence into something intriguing.  Academy Award-winning actor Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, Alita: Battle Angel, The Princess Bride) takes the baton from the movie cast’s Tilda Swinton in the leading female role, a different twist than you’ll expect if you’re familiar with the previous incarnations.  And though he’s not Chris Evans (who is?)–who starred in the film–male series lead Daveed Diggs (Ferdinand, Zootopia, Star Wars Resistance) jumps right into this insane, preposterous setting and gives it all to make you think it’s real.

Series creator Graeme Manson′s version offers something potentially greater.  This is the story of a train of 1,000 cars at the end of Earth before the entire planet freezes over–a wealthy touring train filled with the expected clientele.  But as the train leaves the station for the last time, it is boarded by rebels, poor, struggling “lower class” individuals that become that level of passenger for the first nine years they are riding the train.  The wealthy tolerate their existence, and the back cars live on the scraps of the passengers up front.  What begins as a flight attendant on a perpetual train ride to nowhere, presents something far more interesting by the end of the first episode for Jennifer Connelly’s character.  Daveed Diggs plays a former homicide detective in the back of the train, invited to climb the ladder to a better position if he agrees to help the powers that be find a killer who has left a bizarre murder in his wake up front.

Originally published in French in 1982 as Le Transperceneige by Jacques Lob with art by Jean-Marc Rochette, Snowpiercer, Volume 1: The Escape is available in an English translation by Virginie Selavy with follow-on English translations of Volume 2: The Explorers by Benjamin LeGrand and Volume 3: Terminus by Olivier Bocquet also available, and a prequel Extinction by Matz, on the way.  The film had the likes of John Hurt and Ed Harris, and its legacy is more a band of good actors in dark and gritty situations.  For the new TNT television series (available on Netflix elsewhere), several new faces and background actors join stage actor Diggs and Connelly.  And it’s already been renewed for a second season.

Repressive like the world of George Lucas’s THX-1138 and Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron, thematically political like the similarly wintry Dr. Zhivago, and drawn with the stark, black and white look of Aha’s Take On Me music video from the 1980s, Snowpiercer is a bleak, but ambitious, series of graphic novel about many things.  The back of the train like the back of the bus in the 1960s, or the lower sections of the ship on the Titanic, you can analogize the social strata of the train to many things. But neither the rumored horrors at the “tail” of the train, nor the “golden carriages” of the first class at the front of the train are what they appear to be.  At one level Snowpiercer is a strange, existential retelling of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.  As with the movie, the pilot episode presents something different from the graphic novel that inspired it, but maybe an alternate story of the train a la Beyond the Poseidon Adventure.

Look for ten episodes in all of the first season.  Snowpiercer airs Sunday evenings on TNT.

C.J. Bunce

Leave a Reply