After a long wait, Snowpiercer finally got rolling on Sunday with a series premiere that introduced us to the world of the great ark train and its major characters — and laid out a mystery that could take up much of the season. While the series is inspired by the original French graphic novel, Le Transperceneige, as well as director Bong Joon-ho's film, this incarnation of Snowpiercer isn't going down exactly the same track. The show has different characters, a unique plot, and, of course, some major revelations about what's really going on inside the train. That sense of independence from other versions of this story paid dividends throughout the pilot episode, but it hit another level in the final minutes, with a big character twist that will help set the tone for the rest of the season.
**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Snowpiercer Season 1, Episode 1, "First, the Weather Changed."**
For much of its first episode, this Snowpiercer shares one key thing in common with Bong's film: The enigmatic presence of Mr. Wilford, the mastermind behind the train who tends the engine at the front of it all and never reveals himself to passengers. Throughout the pilot, we hear Wilford's name and listen to tales of his benevolence and brilliance, but we never see him. In the film, this sense of mystery only makes the inevitable confrontation with Wilford at the very end of the movie more intense. In the series, though, something much different happens. In the final moments of "First, the Weather the Changed," the show reveals to us that there is no Mr. Wilford, at least not anymore.
Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly), the train's head of hospitality and Mr. Wilford's conduit to the passengers, is actually running things, tending the engine, and keeping up appearances in Wilford's absence.
While we don't yet know how or why Melanie came to be in this position, or what it means for the future of the show, Snowpiercer showrunner Graeme Manson did tell SYFY WIRE that it's a cornerstone of the series that was in place even before he came onboard — one he wasn't willing to part with.
"It poses a bunch of questions we peel back as we dive deeper into understanding Melanie during Season 1," Manson says. "Who is she really? What drove her to steal the train? The answers become Melanie's character arc, and the challenge for Jennifer was to slowly humanize the villain over 10 episodes, and that's what we so carefully worked toward with the writers."
For Connelly, finding out Melanie's true role on the train had the same kind of immediate magnetic effect the show's creators hope it will have on the audience.
"That was the thing that got me, was when you understand what she’s carrying and who she really is," she tells SYFY WIRE. "I wanted to know more. I was like, 'Yes.' I loved that. I love that there was a woman in that position, and I wanted to know how she got there and who she was."
Because Snowpiercer went through a change in creative direction after the first incarnation of the pilot was shot, Connelly found herself working alongside Manson and his writers' room to figure out exactly who Melanie is, as well as who she was before boarding the train. Because of the nature of the series, which is primarily set seven years after Snowpiercer departed with the remnants of the human race on board, it's important for Connelly to emphasize that who Melanie is and who Melanie was are not necessarily the same thing anymore.
"You know, it’s interesting because she’s not who you think she is when you first meet her," she says. "Then, somewhere along the way, I think she has this realization that she’s not the person anymore that she always thought she was. So, that was kind of a lot to work with and think about. I think Layton [played by Daveed Diggs] is really a catalyst in her life, and that interaction she has with him really turns her world upside-down. To do what she’s been doing has meant that she’s kind of lost a part of herself, buried a part of herself. He really brings that to the surface.
"So, that process I found particularly interesting, the reawakening," she continues. "You know, there were always kind of these two sides of her from the beginning, but then there was sort of the truer version of her, which I think starts to emerge even later in the season."
Snowpiercer will spend the rest of its first season digging into the many mysteries posed by its pilot, including the question of exactly who Melanie is and how she came to run the train as a kind of one-woman shadow government. Connelly, who confirmed to us that she will be returning for the show's second season, couldn't tell us exactly what we can expect from her character, but she did say that even she isn't sure whether she can root for herself or not at any given time.
"I think that some shows you watch, the characters that you see in the beginning, it kind of sets you up for what’s going to happen for the rest of the show. And I feel like this one doesn’t really work that way," Connelly says. "I feel like the people that you meet in the very beginning, and especially I think it’s definitely true with Melanie, you don’t end up in the same place. By the end of this journey, she is in a very different place than she was when she began. And I think, along the way, people have really different feelings about her.
"I had different feelings about her when scripts were coming in and I was reading them and was working on this, in terms of, 'Oh, God, I can’t believe she’s doing this. This is so awful,' you know?" Connelly continues. "And then sometimes I thought, 'Well, she’s kind of noble,' and then sometimes I was like, 'Oh, no, she’s treacherous and awful.' But I think she’s kind of a polarizing character in that way, which for me was kind of interesting and fun."
Snowpiercer airs Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on TNT. Outside of the United States, the show will be available on Netflix beginning May 25.