Joe Fathallah, Cardiff West Socialist Party

Warning: contains spoilers

Snowpiercer is an American science fiction series broadcast by Netflix in the UK, starring the likes of Daveed Diggs, Jennifer Connolly and Sean Bean. It is mostly set in 2026, seven years after a quick-fix attempt to stop climate change through chemical injection into the atmosphere backfires and freezes the earth.

The only remaining humans, numbering a few thousand, live on a train circulating the world in effectively perpetual motion by extracting hydrogen from the snow.

The train, Snowpiercer, was designed by the opportunistic and sadistic capitalist Mr Wilford (Bean), and it was intended that only the rich would be able to afford tickets and survive. However, in the first episode, several unticketed passengers manage to force their way onto the train before it departs to survive the ice age.

The train enforces a strict class system, divided by carriages. First and second classes are the paying passengers, i.e, those who were rich enough to afford a ticket, and live in absolute (first) and relative (second) luxury. Third class is the workers, who were brought by invitation by Wilford. Those who forced their way on are locked up in dire living conditions in the ‘tail’, the back of the train, and are known as ‘Tailies’. 

The role of the working class in changing society is a prominent theme in the series. In the first season, a group of Tailies led by former homicide detective Andre Layton (Diggs) organise a successful revolution to overthrow the class system, winning most of the third-class passengers over to their side. The regime had been highly oppressive, with a state apparatus willing to resort to measures such as cutting passengers’ arms off, and putting them into long-term sleep in a lab, to maintain its rule.

Having overthrown Wilford however, the Tailies discover that he wasn’t there at all, and had been secretly replaced by one of his functionaries, Melanie Cavill (Connolly), who had been using his recorded voice to mimic his presence. Melanie, and several other important figures in the regime, throw their lot in with Layton.

The relationship between the ruling class and the state which protects it is also an important theme. The first-class passengers, on discovering Wilford’s absence, try to organise a coup against Melanie, but are beaten to it by the Tailies. While the first class live exuberant lifestyles, and are virtually above the law, the regime isn’t afraid to remind them how lucky they are, if necessary.

In the second season, the newly classless society faces an invasion, and Layton is forced to abandon the young democratic system and impose martial law. In these circumstances, it resorts to political assassinations to remain in power. In the war situation, the invaders led by Wilford used inside agents, and technical sabotage, to ultimately overthrow the Layton government and reinstate the class system.

The third season is less overtly political, focusing on the complex relationship between Melanie and her daughter Alex (Rowan Blanchard), and Layton struggling with the pressures of fatherhood alongside trying to lead the train. The class system is overthrown for a second time, this time by the underground rebels launching a coup against Wilford without the mass participation of season one’s revolution. Again, they find themselves targeted by a terroristic campaign on behalf of the rich attempting to regain control. Ultimately, Layton is able to lead some of the train’s passengers to find a habitable spot on the outside.

Snowpiercer is very ‘plot-heavy’ and moves at quite a pace, sometimes with non-linear storylines, making it somewhat of a challenge to watch at times, but it’s worth it. Some negative reviews have been written by TV critics, but I cannot agree with these, as they fail to appreciate that what the series explores isn’t just the class system, but the role of the state and its complexities, with its sometimes-conflicting dual roles of protecting both the ruling class and itself. It’s exciting, extremely bingeworthy, and well worth a watch.

  • Snowpiercer is available now on Netflix