Snowpiercer began as a locked-room mystery: Who, of the 3,000 humans remaining on Earth, all jammed onto this one train, killed Sean Wise? Sure, Layton can try to sort out who the murderer might be by thinking about motive, but until now there’s been an underlying set of rules governing who could even be part of the suspect pool, considering just how restricted access is to certain parts of the train. Sean lived in third-class, and couldn’t freely roam the walnut-paneled corridors uptrain, so it made sense to start Layton’s investigations with the Thirdies who were his kin.
But the tiny glass vial that’s passed hand to hand in this episode blows up that theory. Like any closed system, Snowpiercer has tiny exploitable holes that can be stretched and adjusted until finally an entire underground system of movement exists. That little vial, after all, essentially holds a key, an under-the-skin implant that allows its wearer to come and go freely throughout the train. Once that falls into a certain set of hands, the cruel, oppressive, capitalistic system keeping the Tailies penned into their own tiny, dark, cold gulag is one step closer to extinction. “It’s only doors between us,” Layton yells as he’s dragged from the Tail door at the end of the episode. Sure, it’s a cheesy romantic sentiment, but more importantly he’s reminding Josie and her crew of rebels that with that microchip in hand, they can now waltz right through them.
With the introduction of Fight Night, meant to provide a little distraction for passengers as everything goes to shit around them, we see what it looks like when the classes start to mix. The entertainment on offer is, of course, brute violence — why stage a cabaret when you can solicit two men to beat each other to smithereens? (How does one obtain tickets to such an event? That’s entirely unclear! Is money accepted on-board? Is it a lottery system? Tell me how Snowpiercer functions, dammit.)
For the first-class passengers like the Folgers, this is the equivalent of the opening scene in Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence, where upper crust families perch in their opera boxes, gold-handled binoculars trained on the rest of the audience instead of the performers — this is the voyeurism Olympics, not an artistic endeavor. The Folgers and other hoity-toits, for all their comic worth as the the most clueless white people one could ever dream up, are also paper-thin, an annoyance that comes to a head this episode when they pass excruciatingly lame lines back and forth and play strip poker in their dining car, as if by this point in the seven-year journey they all wouldn’t have slept with one another already. They’re also all strangely trusting in Mr. Wilford and his canned Churchill message that “by your steady hand we will ride out this hardship and outlive the ice.” It’s also entirely possible that the first-class passengers are drawn so flimsily because billionaires really are one-dimensional Scrooge McDucks greedily swimming in piles of gold! Up to you.
Fight Night is also a chance to mash a bunch of characters in a room together and see what gets spit out, a classic Gossip Girl trick. Leading up to it, Layton, whose little map of the train must have been seized by the jackboots, finally obtains another hint from Melanie about what information, exactly, the Snowpiercer staff already knows about the murder. Sean Wise, they tell him, was informing about the Kronole trade, a drug these dummies think was invented a couple weeks ago. According to Layton, it’s been in the Tail for two revolutions. The bit of intel he has for them is that the Breachman are a part of that trade — last episode we all watched Ossweiler the Midfielder get a blowjob for some Kronole, and now his bosses know about it.
There’s a problem with all this information sharing — of course, it’s a smart device to keep the narrative slowly building, to hand out little doses piecemeal while several other B-plots (the Tailies worry that they’ll be decoupled, the behind-schedule repair to the cracked train compartment and stress on the gine) simmer on the backburner. Except the logic system is all screwed up here. If Melanie is that desperate to have the murder solved, to move one of these massive problems off her plate, wouldn’t she just tell Layton everything she needed him to know for him to solve the case and then keep several trusted Breachman on him at a time? If Layton is such a threat, would he be able to just tell Roche “I lead this time” and then charge around the train? If literally everyone knows Layton is reporting directly to Roche and Melanie, would it matter if Layton showed up alone to question witnesses? This police procedural needs some Dick Wolf help, ASAP.
Layton does emerge with two valuable tips. The first is that Nikki is awake. She looks like a Walking Dead extra and she’s whispering that “it’s not like sleep” (meaning that the drawers are not as peaceful as they’re advertised), but she’s technically conscious. It turns out that Nikki can’t yet offer any pertinent facts for Layton, but the visit to Dr. Klimpt’s lair, and a look at Nikki’s black gums and pustuled face, does lead the detective to figure out that Kronole isn’t some entirely new concoction (or, like in the film, some kind of “industrial waste” converted into a street, er, train drug). It’s a derivative of the sedative administered to the Sleepers, traded out by Dr. Klimpt, he says, for supplies meant to keep them comfier in their suspended animation. “Mr. Wilford didn’t think of everything.” (Please do not fail to note that Dr. Klimpt is played by Happy Anderson, who also played Jerry Brudos, the shoe fetish serial killer (!!!) on Mindhunter.)
The second tip is from Zarah, who tells Layton that he should look for a janitor to find the link between Sean Wise’s death and the Kronole trade.
From there the episode gets a little chaotic. Nikki sneaks into the fight! Jennifer Connelly puts on a perfect red lip! As the prizefight descends into a ringside brawl, Layton manages a meeting with Terence — a head janitor who really has this whole mafia don posture down pat — who has big plans to overthrow the train’s hierarchy, too. “The train,” he somewhat helpfully points out, “is just a high rise laying on its side.” Which … is true. He passes along the news that he saw Sean the night he was killed, and that he was with a first class passenger, a man with a buzzcut — the same man who appears in the medical car as Snowpiercer’s limited electricity flickers on and off and kills Nikki. The same man who has been guarding the Folgers, whose eyes keep locking with L.J. Folger, the Wentworth Miller wannabe with one finger always on the trigger.
And Layton, that sly fox, has somehow boned his ex wife in an aquarium exhibit and declared his love for Josie with his tongue through the Tail door’s slot, meanwhile passing her the implantable ticket he scored in a trade with Terence. All in 48 hours. The engine will provide, indeed.